Just over a week into this season, the conversation had already begun. Everyone was talking about the blazing start Jed Lowrie had gotten off to. He was healthy and playing off-the-charts baseball. In his first 11 games, Lowrie hit .341 with a .408 on-base percentage and five of his 15 hits had been for extra bases.
Hot starts seemed to be nothing new for Lowrie, but neither was having his stats drop off steeply somewhere mid-season. Any of the successful seasons he’d ever enjoyed appeared to be anomalies, over the course of what would likely end up just another mediocre career. This is especially true when looking solely at the numbers he had put up since making his big league debut in 2008.
Even looking beyond the numbers wouldn’t help you to believe that Lowrie could be actually having a breakout season at age 34. Having a breakout season in your 30’s is rare, but not unprecedented. In Lowrie’s case, looking at the number of stints he’d spent on the disabled list alone would be enough to make you believe that he was another injury-prone player whose body couldn’t withstand the everyday strain that travel, training, and baseball tends to put on it.
However, looking deeper into the causes of those trips to the disabled list reveals that Lowrie is the exception and not the norm. He isn’t just a mediocre player who excels from time to time, only to see his stats fall because he just isn’t very talented or his body refused to hold up.
Lowrie was never really “injury prone.” His career had been consistently thwarted by on-field accidents and medical conditions. One of those conditions was a misdiagnosed deviated septum that affected Lowrie’s ability to become rested even after a good night’s sleep. Even this season Lowrie was in a collision with teammate Stephen Piscotty on a routine play during a July 13 contest with the San Francisco Giants. The accident left Lowrie with a bone bruise on his lower leg just days before he was about to make his first appearance at the midsummer classic as a MLB All-Star.
The injury, luckily, did not knock him out for a significant period of time. Lowrie went on to play in the 2018 All-Star Game and was able to return to the A’s without any time on the disabled list. It did, however cause an almost month-long slump that saw his batting average drop from .289 on July 13 to .265 on August 7. It was then he admitted that his performance had been hindered by the collision and that he was still suffering from its effects, saying,
“I haven’t been able to do the lower body work that has made me successful. I need to build that leg strength back up.”
It was just five days later when the A’s took on the Los Angeles Angels that Lowrie, who had already surpassed his career season-high home run total with 17 long balls, hit just his second home run in a month. It was one of his two hits on the day. The other, a double, was what has become his signature hit since setting Oakland’s single-season doubles record in 2017 with 49. That day Lowrie broke out of his slump. The following evening back in Oakland he went 3-5 with 4 RBI against the Seattle Mariners. Since those bounce-back games Lowrie has added four more home runs, nine doubles, and 23 RBI to his season totals and brought his batting average back up to .274 on the year.
I first wrote about Lowrie just 11 games into the season and wondered: what if? What if he remained healthy? Could this year really be a breakout season for a 34-year-old, ten-year-MLB-veteran second baseman? Now with just 11 games left to play in the 2018 regular season, it appears that this has definitely been Lowrie’s big breakout season. He’s now had back-to-back seasons in which he has excelled, at least in part because he managed to stay healthy enough to remain on the field, and he’s been able to prove that those anomalies earlier in his career were really flashes of his true ability. The past two seasons might be how his entire career could have gone had it not been derailed by repeated, bizarre strings of injuries that mostly appeared to be bad luck.
Currently, Lowrie is on the verge of driving in 100 runs for the first time in his career, he’s already past the 20 home run mark. He’s been a leader both on and off the field and yet he’s played like players in their late-20’s. Lowrie has likely known at least a teammate or two over the last decade who have retired at the same age he is now. It shouldn’t be too surprising if Lowrie were able to sustain this level of play for at least a few more seasons as long as he can steer clear of his teammates in the field.