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Statcast Bonus: Return of the Jed

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics
Jed Lowrie Belts a Walk-Off Dinger. vs. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

At the request of AN community member, MoonOverMarin this post is about Oakland A’s second baseman Jed Lowrie. But really, Jed is deserving of some recognition after nearly everyone begged for him to be jettisoned from the roster. It’s funny how things work out, isn’t it? All winter we clamored for Lowrie and Yonder Alonso to be sent packing and here they are, two of the team’s best hitters. I guess it’s a good thing we don’t get to make decisions.

What Lowrie is doing this season is impressive, considering he’s a 33-year old coming off 3-straight below-average seasons. However, if you take a look at Lowrie’s numbers from another angle they don’t look all that surprising.

Jed Lowrie 2017/Career Stats

2017 10.9 14.6 0.309 0.167
Career 9.1 16.2 0.291 0.143

A Healthy Jed is a Happy Jed

Yes, Lowrie has been a better hitter this season relative to his career numbers, but that is to be expected considering he’s healthy. The first time Lowrie played for the A’s was in 2013 and he was one of the team’s best hitters. His full season line looked awfully similar to his current batting line.

Jed Lowrie’s 2013/2017 Numbers

2013 7.6 13.7 0.319 0.156 0.345 120
2017 10.9 14.6 0.309 0.167 0.355 132

2013 might just be the last time Lowrie was fully healthy, too. His production fell off in 2014, but he’s was still roughly a league average hitter. Then in 2015 he started the season on fire for the Houston Astros before he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb and needed surgery. His 2016 season was ruined by a bunion on his left foot (Koo-dos to Jeremy for that headline, btw). He had surgery on his foot to remove the bunion, a cyst, and repair a ligament which is when it was discovered that he had another issue. He had surgery to repair a deviated septum as well as remove bone spurs, correcting an issue he didn’t know that he had but one that had plagued him many years.

Lowrie was discussed on a recent Fangraphs podcast during which Eno Sarris shared about a conversation he had with Lowrie. Sarris said Lowrie told him that a simple but necessary thing like sleeping was troublesome as a result of the deviated septum that he didn’t know he had. Imagine not sleeping well for several years in addition to other random injuries and then having to play a professional sport. It doesn’t sound too easy.

Jed Lowrie’s rolling wOBA.

You can see in the chart above that during the stretches when Lowrie is healthy (2013, early 2015 and 2016, and now in 2017) his wOBA peaks. Now Lowrie is healthy and the A’s are reaping the rewards. Statcast has given us a glimpse into what is driving Lowrie’s success: driving the ball.

Jed Lowrie’s Statcast 2016/2017

Year Player BA ISO BABIP SLG wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
Year Player BA ISO BABIP SLG wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
2016 Jed Lowrie 0.263 0.059 0.316 0.322 0.288 0.293 0.253 81.1 MPH 17.3 deg.
2017 Jed Lowrie 0.283 0.167 0.309 0.45 0.358 0.367 0.288 88.7 MPH 16.2 deg.

Lowrie has increased his exit velocity nearly 8 MPH from 2016 while maintaining a mid-to-upper teens launch angle. Lowrie’s average exit velocity and launch angle this year produces the following hit probability: BA: 0.747, 1B%: 66, 2B%: 9.

Jed Lowrie’s AVG EV/LA Hit Probability

Batted Ball Distribution

I wanted to see what else was behind Lowrie’s resurgence so I broke down his batted balls into categories: ground balls, line drives, and fly balls. Was one particular batted-ball group leading to better results? Let’s look at the numbers.

Jed Lowrie’s Ground Balls 2016/2017

Year BA ISO BABIP SLG wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
Year BA ISO BABIP SLG wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
2016 0.371 0.028 0.371 0.399 0.343 0.32 0.34 82.6 -4.9
2017 0.2 0 0.2 0.2 0.18 0.224 0.239 85.1 -11.7

It appears that despite hitting ground balls hard in 2017 than 2016 Lowrie has fared worse. A -11.7 launch angle will do that to you.

Jed Lowrie’s Line Drives 2016/2017

Year BA ISO BABIP SLG wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
Year BA ISO BABIP SLG wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
2016 0.458 0.167 0.449 0.625 0.461 0.585 0.523 95.5 18.7
2017 0.647 0.324 0.636 0.971 0.697 0.674 0.616 93.5 16.1

We see an uptick in both actual production and expected production on line drives. What stood out to me, though, is the decrease in exit velocity from 2016 to 2017. This will be something to watch as the season goes on. Also Lowrie’s line drive rate sits at 25%, one of the highest marks of his career and well above his career average.

Jed Lowrie’s Fly Balls 2016/2017

Year BA ISO BABIP SLG wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
Year BA ISO BABIP SLG wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
2016 0.136 0.114 0.111 0.25 0.157 0.147 0.11 86.7 37.7
2017 0.148 0.333 0.04 0.481 0.246 0.288 0.19 90.2 38.4

Fly balls is where we see the biggest change both in production and quality of batted balls. Lowrie’s exit velocity jumps four MPH while his launch angle is nearly the same. I believe this is why we’re seeing an increase in slugging this season compared to years past. Lowrie is hitting the ball at the same angle, but he’s hitting it much harder. Even though the overall numbers on fly balls aren’t great we see a huge increase in ISO, SLG%, wOBA, and xwOBA.

Overall balls hit in the air have been much friendlier to Lowrie in 2017 than 2016.

Jed Lowries Lofted Batted Balls 2016/2017

Year BA ISO BABIP SLG wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
Year BA ISO BABIP SLG wOBA xwOBA xBA Exit Velocity Launch Angle
2016 0.304 0.141 0.287 0.446 0.314 0.373 0.325 91.2 27.9
2017 0.426 0.328 0.379 0.754 0.494 0.5 0.427 92 26.1

Hitting the ball harder won’t do it alone, however. You need to hit the ball hard and in the air with consistency and frequency to see the benefit. That is where we see a great improvement from Lowrie compared to where he was a year ago.

Jed Lowrie’s Batted Ball Distribution 2016/2017/Career

Season GB% LD% FB% LD%+FB%
Season GB% LD% FB% LD%+FB%
2016 42.5 25.5 32 57.5
2017 30 25 45 70
Career 33 22.1 44.9 67

Lowrie is hitting the ball in the air nearly 13% more often than he did last year. That coupled with greater exit velocity is leading to a great improvement in production. He is hitting more often the types of batted balls that lead to greater production (LD and FB). The balls that are wasteful (GB) are being cut out of his batted-ball distribution and fueling his return to relevance.

Lowrie has already reached the 1 fWAR threshold, which is a nearly 2-win improvement over 2016 and puts him on pace for one of the best seasons of his career. I’d also like to note that Lowrie has seen an improvement in his defense which is likely a result from greater mobility thanks to the foot surgery.

All Lowrie needed to do to return to being a quality hitter was become healthy again. Now that he seemingly has done that he’s making fools out of us.

(Personal News)

Next week my wife and I embark on a journey to the Pacific Northwest as we’re moving to the greater-Seattle area. This article is in lieu of Tuesday’s regular post.

We’re leaving Angels territory for Mariners territory and I grew up in Athletics territory. One more AL West territory and I’ll get a fifth free!