Am I For Lowrie, Or Against Lugo?

Jed Lowrie, SS, Hitting Third

I admit it. The primary reason I root for Jed Lowrie is my assumption (read: hope) that if he plays well enough, I won’t have to watch Lugo anymore. That’s not the only reason, of course. By all accounts, Lowrie is a good, respectful kid and I generally enjoy seeing products of our farm system perform well. Also, he wears a Red Sox uni.

But my affection for the player is as much a function of my disaffection for the player he’s effectively replacing as anything else. Sad, but true. I’ll root for Lugo, because he plays in Boston, but there’s not much about him as a player that I appreciate.

Which begs the question: how is the kid doing?

The answer? Not too bad. Not too bad at all.

His season numbers are nothing to complain about: .289/.342/.423. For the sake of comparison, at the time of his injury Lugo was at .271/.355/.330. In other words, Lowrie is out-OPSing his competition by just short of a hundred points .765 to .685, and Lugo is also giving up almost twenty points of average.

So far so good.

Better is the fact that Lowrie’s numbers have only improved since the All Star break. With the requisite small sample size warning, over the 16 games he’s appeared in since, I have (meaning I did the math, so take it with a grain or three of salt) Lowrie at .296/.387/.426. An .813 OPS from a rookie shortstop? Yeah, I’ll take that. Provided that he can make at least the routine plays. And it is that question, frankly, that is most relevant, as defense is and always has been the wild card with respect to Lowrie. Most observers believed he’d hit, but opinions on whether he could handle short on an everyday basis have varied widely.

So can he? Hell if I know.

But the early returns look acceptable, in that he’s more than holding his own versus the incumbent Lugo in nearly every defensive metric available. Fielding percentage, we can throw out, because Lugo’s got dozens more chances and thus can’t be expected to match Lowrie’s perfect 1.0. More interestingly, their range factors are identical at 3.70. Zone Rating favors the kid heavily: .905 to .823. Baseball Prospectus favors him, if less obviously, giving Lowrie an even 0 in Fielding Runs Above Replacement (meaning he’s zero runs better than the lowest replacement available) against Lugo’s -2 (he’s not). Last, he have The Hardball Times telling us that by their Revised Zone Rating (RZR), Lowrie is…again…better: .829 to .786.

For those that skimmed all those numbers and weird terms above, the gist is this: Lowrie’s equal to or better than Lugo in every measurable category. Sometimes by sizable margins. Hell, while we’re here, why don’t we see how the kid measures up to Cap’n Jetes? Just for kicks.

BA OBP SLG RF ZR RZR FRAA
Jeter .281 .343 .393 4.18 .837 .865 -12
Lowrie .289 .342 .423 3.70 .905 .829 0

Lowrie wins a few and loses a few, but all around he doesn’t look bad next to the future Hall of Famer. True, the latter is having a very poor season offensively and on the downside of his career defensively; to the extent that the whispers of moving to first have already started (not surprising after his abysmal ’07 defensive showing). But still, Lowrie’s acquitting himself well, I think.

What does this tell us? Not a whole hell of a lot, at least definitively, given the state of today’s defensive metrics (and I’m far from up-to-date on the state of the art in that department). But it certainly suggests that while Lowrie may be perceived as a borderline candidate for the shortstop position, he mans it at least as well as the guy he’s subbing for. Setting the bar with Lugo is, of course, dangerous, but that’s where we’re at.

Meaning that, logically, he should keep his spot when Lugo returns from his injury. Whether or not things actually play out that way remains to be seen; it took Tito an awful long time to make the Ellsbury for Crisp swap last year, but that was more defensible given Crisp’s defensive value.

Beyond the the in-season implications, however, lurks the question of what to do next year. There are two fundamental questions to be answered: will Lugo be with this team? And if the answer to that is no, would they trust Lowrie with the position full time.

Again, I haven’t the faintest. But I must say that the news that our payroll come November could be down to $110 millon gives me hope. Hope that the Red Sox will recognize the (foolishly, IMO) sunk cost that is Lugo and send him on his merry way.

In the meantime, I’m rooting for Lowrie. For his own sake, yes, but also for mine.

Update: More from Peter Gammons – “One NL team’s defensive statistics, scouting and ratings have John McDonald of the Blue Jays as the best defensive shortstop in the majors. No surprise. They have Boston’s Jed Lowrie at No. 5 among the 62 ranked shortstops, even if his sample is small.”