Last year, Jed Lowrie was the second worst second baseman in all of baseball. This year, he’s been the fourth best second baseman in all of baseball. That’s a big change!
There’s a myriad of reasons Lowrie has so vastly improved. In 2016, he made a change to his approach, zigging to be more of a groundball hitter while the league zagged to get balls in the air.
Lowrie’s change failed in hindsight, but the reasons for it were sound. He faced the shift a significant portion of the time, eating up many of his hits to the right side. His gameplan shifted, intentionally hitting the ball up the middle more frequently to mitigate that issue. The move was also spurred by his move from the friendly confines of Houston’s Minute Maid Park to the pitcher’s paradise that is the Coliseum, whose marine layer is death on numerous flyballs. Further exacerbating that problem is Lowrie’s rapidly increasing age, which has gone up a year each year for the past 32 years. Hitting succesfull flyballs at age 32 is more difficult than 27, and Lowrie bet on a more base hit, groundball based approach.
So in theory Lowrie’s idea made sense, but in practice it was a disaster. A large portion of that was due to extraneous issues - Lowries injury problem sucked his power and his inability to get great sleep played a part too. He’s healthy now while getting quality sleep, and he’s reverted to his early career style.
Lowrie is hitting flyballs a healthy 43.4% of the time up from by far his career low 32% in 2016. Nearly all those lost flyballs were groundballs a year back. In purposefully turning those groundballs into flyballs, the quality of Lowrie’s contact has returned in spades too.
Just 2.3% of his flyballs last year were dingers. This year it’s at a much healthier 9.1%, a sign of regained power that has translated into more hits, more walks as pitchers aren’t so willing to give in, and a guy who has a legitimate claim to an All-Star game appearance.
Lowrie has pretty much reverted to his 2015 self. He’s traded the groundballs he sought a year ago for flyballs, he’s hitting the ball harder with more regularity, and he’s hitting fewer balls the other way.
The difficulties of evaluating a front office
If you go back three years, a relative minute in baseball terms, the A’s looked like the best run team in baseball. Even with a low payroll and limited appeal, they were the best team in the game.
Jump forward a hot second to present day, and they certainly don’t look like a team that’s all that well run. They’ve gone from AL West champion to cellar dwellar. It’d be easy to say that management is a disaster, but it’s not that simple.
Take the Jed Lowrie trade. A year ago, it looked like an unmitigated disaster. While the A’s only gave up an intriguing but low rated (and ultimately meth using) relief prospect, their scouting ability looked pathetic. Lowrie was completely done, reflecting miserably on the A’s.
Likewise, the A’s trade for Yonder Alonso originally looked disastrous too. His power was non-existent in his first year in town and his already meh bat had a down year. On the flip side, Drew Pomeranz turned into a bonafide ace in San Diego and then Boston, fetching one of the top prospects in the game in the process.
Now, Pomeranz is having trouble justifying his place in the Red Sox rotation. Alonso is this years breakout candidate du jour, a swing change gone completely right. With any luck, the A’s will be able to flip him for a solid prospect package at the deadline or potentially keep him as a true asset long term.
Those are two trades that are hard to evaluate. On the one hand, things worked out well. The A’s gave up a little and received a little bit more. Alonso and Lowrie are putting up star seasons for pennies on the dollar, something the A’s need to be successful. Look at it one way, and you can say hey, the A’s have still got it!
On the other hand, one could easily argue the A’s have been wildly lucky to come out anywhere near even in their recent trades. Alonso is the product of a swing change, one that might not have been inspired by the A’s organization. They’re lucky to have him. Lowrie is the product of septum surgery and again, the A’s were rather lucky.
Anyway, this isn’t really much more than a rambling of thoughts upon the resurgence of two veteran players. I legitimately have no idea how to evaluate this franchise that’s got a surprising number of assets for being such a whatever team. It’s weird to look back at their recent moves that led them to being one of the worst teams in baseball for and realize hey, that kind of worked.
That is far from true for all of them, of course. You’d be hard pressed to argue the A’s deserve a far better fate than they’ve enjoyed as of late.
But weirdly, some of their recent moves look like gems, and it’s hard to tell how much credit they really deserve for them. Maybe they deserve none, maybe they deserve our praise. Maybe those moves are just a reminder that building a contender is a slog and that baseball works in cycles. Maybe it just means baseball is stupid.