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Zombie Jed Lowrie still a cold-blooded Professional Hitter

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Let me tell you a story about a man named Jed

MLB: AUG 10 Athletics at Indians Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Let me tell you a story about a man named Jed.

He could drive in a run like he’s hopping out of bed.

This song is based on Beverly Hillbillies.

But he’s straight out of The Walking Dead.

***

Everybody assumed Jed Lowrie was finished. The New York Mets signed him for two years and $20 million, and he only managed eight plate appearances for them due to injuries. Statcast’s underlying metrics agree that he indeed didn’t play very much in 2019-20.

But everybody forgot two things. The Mets are an embarrassment, and Lowrie only stays healthy when he’s on the Oakland A’s.

In April, Peter Gammons of The Athletic reported that the Mets had misdiagnosed Jed’s knee injury, and when he went out and got a more accurate second opinion, the team wouldn’t let him get the surgery he needed. So he sat around waiting for his contract to run out, and when it did he got the operation. His deal with New York had expired, but not his MLB career.

***

Two months before Gammons’ report came out, the A’s signed Lowrie to a minor league contract and invited him to 2021 spring training. He was about to turn 37, and he basically hadn’t played the previous two seasons. The brain said this was just a fun flyer on an old fan favorite, and unlikely to yield any serious impact. The heart pleaded otherwise, yearning for the Return of the Jedi.

There was precedent for the optimism. Lowrie had been in the majors for 13 years, five of them for the A’s. He’d never appeared in 100 games in a season for any other team, but he’d played 130+ four times for Oakland and 150+ three times. From 2013-14 he was the shortstop on a contending team, and then in 2016-18 he came back as a second baseman and got even better, earning his first All-Star berth and helping the next young core to the postseason. But was he really going to pull that trick again, for a third stint with the club?

During the Cactus League it was surreal to see Zombie Lowrie back on the field wearing green-and-gold. It had been so long, since he’d played here or anywhere. But with each passing day it became less of a fantasy and more of a spectacular reality, and by the spring he’d made the Opening Day roster and lineup.

That comeback story would have been incredible enough even if it never went any further. Lowrie had been left for dead by most of the baseball world, but he’d risen from the ashes to at least return to the majors. That’s more than anybody had expected.

But it didn’t end there. It was only beginning. Lowrie didn’t just play, he thrived, and three weeks into the season he was one of the hottest hitters on the A’s. Zombie Lowrie was doing legit damage, feasting on brains left and right.

It’s now August, and he’s still at it. His numbers have settled into a more reasonable range, a notch below his career-highs from his last stint in Oakland but still well above-average, and he’s stayed remarkably consistent from month to month. And he’s already surpassed 100 games played, for the fifth time in both his MLB career and his A’s career.

  • Lowrie, 2021: .255/.331/.406, 109 wRC+, 12 HR, 9.8% BB, 19.9% Ks, .351 xwOBA

Statcast loves him even more than those basic numbers. His xwOBA mark is second on the team behind only Matt Olson, and so is his 91.2 mph exit velocity. He keeps his strikeouts low, he makes lots of contact, and he hits it as hard as anybody in the lineup.

But where Lowrie has really shined has been clutch situations, where he’s reaffirmed his label as a Professional Hitter. This is a tough area to analyze, because “clutch” has a lot of small-sample noise and isn’t considered a useful indicator of the future. But it’s been impossible to ignore how thoroughly he’s Just Effing Dominated when it’s counted most.

Lowrie is batting .370 with runners in scoring position, which ranks fourth among all qualified MLB hitters. The only names above him are Max Muncy, Brandon Crawford, and Vlad Guerrero Jr. Whether he’ll keep it up remains to be seen, as this is a trait that only exists until suddenly it doesn’t, but for what it’s worth he has a career track record of success with RISP and was especially good at it when he last played in 2017-18. With RISP this year, his strikeout rate drops a full two points (down to 17.8%).

Even if he doesn’t keep hitting a full .370 in these clutch spots, it’s not an accident that he succeeds a lot. He’s a hitter who makes tons of hard contact, and when he comes up in situations that require hard contact, he tends to make tons of hard contact. It’s not rocket surgery.

And you also don’t necessarily need an actual hit to knock home a runner. A sac fly could do the trick, or perhaps an RBI groundout, like he delivered last night against Cleveland to tie the game in the 8th inning.

At that point he was 0-for-4 on the day, and yet he was still one of the heroes who saved the game. That’s a Professional Hitter.

He got another chance two innings later in the 10th, this time with runners on first and second and two out. A productive out wouldn’t work here. He’d need a hit instead, so that’s what he delivered, into the LF corner. The RBI double gave Oakland the lead and proved to be the game-winner, but for Lowrie it was just a Tuesday.

These recent examples are the norm we’ve come to expect from Lowrie. Throughout the year he’s had 259 runners on base when he’s come to bat, which is second on the team behind Olson and fairly high among all of MLB. Here’s what he’s done with them:

  • 17.8% of those runners have scored as a result of his plate appearance. That’s second on the team behind Sean Murphy, and the MLB average is 14.6% scoring.
  • With a runner on third and less than two out, Lowrie has knocked him in 56.5% of the time (13-for-23), MLB average is 50.9% success.
  • In terms of simply productive outs, by measure of Baseball-Reference he’s come through 12-of-34 times that he’s had the chance (35.3%). MLB average is 27.7% (shoutout to Tony Kemp at 44%).

This isn’t just your brain remembering the anecdotal good times and forgetting the failures. Lowrie has been a beast in the clutch. And we haven’t even mentioned his walk-off homer in July.

The year is 2021, the A’s have an actual zombie batting cleanup, and it’s going great. Jed Lowrie was finished, but then he swapped his Mets warmup gear for his old No. 8 Oakland jersey and reanimated into exactly the Professional Hitter he’s always been — here in the Bay Area, that is.

There are still almost 50 games left in the season, and tonight we’re all invited back for another heapin’ helpin’ of Jed driving home baserunners. Y’all come back now, y’hear?