Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Jed Lowrie Conundrum

Okay, so it was a good thing that Marco Scutaro wasn't traded.  If he were, Jose Iglesias would be the starting shortstop for the Red Sox right now.

I'm not going to pretend that Scutaro is a great player or someone who should play everyday over Jed Lowrie, considering Lowrie's considerable hot streaks along with his cold streaks.  But we're now four years into the Jed Lowrie experience, and he hasn't been able to stay on the field.  Sorry.  But this is true:

2008:  Missed 56 games between May 10 and July 12 with a hand injury.
2009:  Missed 84 games between April 11 and July 18 with an unrelated wrist injury.
2010:  Missed first 94 games with mononucleosis.
2011:  Placed on 15-day DL with shoulder injury.

Lowrie's baseball career has been 543 games long.  Counting these four spells of absence, but NOT EVEN COUNTING any regular 1- or 2-day breathers, Lowrie has missed 49% of his career.  That sucks.

And it's probably not the guy's fault.  He doesn't seem like someone like two of their outfielders who won't play at 99%, as he played through that wrist injury for a long time in 2008.  But sometimes, you have to face it:  There are a lot of bodies that cannot handle a six-month baseball season.  And Jed Lowrie's body very well might be one of them.  Granted, he might be able to overcome this, but more likely he'll end up having a career a lot like Tim Naehring's.

Naehring exceeded 100 games in a season twice in his career.  He was an infielder who could play a couple of positions.  He wasn't bad (he hit above .300 in his healthiest season).  He was a hard-working, likable player who, unfortunately, was working in the Cincinnati Reds system in a baseball operations role by the time he turned 32.

Going back to Lowrie, there are some stretches where he looks like a very formidable baseball player.  There are also some stretches where he is wretched at the plate and plays like he has never played baseball before.  Who really knows whether these bad stretches have been the result of poor health or something else.  But it's crucial that the team has an equal-caliber replacement for Lowrie for now and for the foreseeable future (which may mean until Iglesias is ready for prime time).  It's clear that Lowrie, while he can catch some of that Daubach fire and hit .350 for a month or six weeks, cannot maintain that kind of production for a long time.  Jed Lowrie's position is one where the hot hand must be ridden.  And here we are right now:  Lowrie's on the DL and Scutaro's the hot hand.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

DV

First thing I thought about when I read the title was 'Tim Naehring.' Keeping Scutaro was obviously a good move and the hope is that one or both guys will be able to play adequate SS throughout the year. I'm guessing that short will never be a strong, strong spot for the Sox, but that it won't kill them either.

PF

You're about five weeks away from the exam right now so I'm not trying to rile you up, but the question is legitimate--the Yankees have played great since Jeter went down. If they continue to excel in his absence, does Gardner stay in the lead-off spot? Does Nunez platoon with Jeter?

I think we both know that the answer is no, but the better question is, should they?

--the Gunn

Anonymous said...

nothing rile up worth there gunn, that's a reasonable conversation topic.

the answer may be yes and the answer may be no. either way i don't think the determination will be based on how the yankees played with vs. without jeter thus far in 2011. yes, they are 5-1 since he went down. but they were 16-9 in the 25 games before he went down. small sample sizes all around, and it's tough to tell how much jeter/gardner/nunez are or are not impacting things. really, the yankees are just playing well. your question was forward looking, but even if the yankees won every game until jeter got back i can't see him batting anywhere but leadoff and playing shortstop his first game back.

but that doesn't mean the determination doesn't need to be made at some point based on how the players involved are playing. since april 26 in a span of 50 games, brett gardner is batting .350/.436/.493/.928. guys get hot and cold, and he has clearly been red hot for about a month and a half now. that said, it's 166 plate appearances, and that's getting pretty close to a significant sample size. i think this type of thing will drive the decision more than team performance.

ultimately it's a tricky spot. let's say they went the gardner leading off route. now gardner has to deal with sharing a locker room with a first-ballot hall of famer who he just bumped from leading off to the 9-hole. even if jeter and gardner handled that professionally (as i would expect from both), we can't ignore that the pressure that would be on gardner on the field.

i think nunez is going to develop into a solid player. he has some plus tools, and really has some pop in his bat for a middle infielder. his game needs to be refined, but right now he is noticeably shaky in the field. my hope is that he can develop into a suber-sub at ss/3b, an important position for this club in the coming years as jeter and rodriguez need more days off. and i think he'll get there. as impressive as he's been in some areas, he's not there in others, and as such i don't think we're ready for a platoon...yet. if nunez keeps it up and jeter struggles upon returning, you could see a mini-one start to develop.

i've probably given you more analysis then you wanted, so let me try to conclude with a more brief and direct conclusion: unless a situation develops with any one or more of the players that the yankees simply cannot ignore, i don't think they should change anything. because it's a legacy player you have added considerations like the distraction such a move (dropping him in the order, platooning him, etc.) has. so you really have to be SURE that the positive on-field benefits are going to outweigh the potential off-field negatives. and i don't think we are there yet. jeter has shortcomings in his current form, but still provides value. nunez isn't there yet, and gardner is streaky. i'm not saying he won't be able to lead off, but i've been of the mind for a while that part of his value is being a menace at the bottom of the order as opposed to someone you rely on at the top. a "gravy" kind of player offensively, considering his defense and speed as his primary attributes, if that makes sense. his numbers the last 50 games suggest otherwise, but he has also shown himself to be streaky (see: 1st/2nd half splits last year). until we see more that gardner should can be relied on i don't think it's time to make the move, because once you do that, it's tough to go back. if you're girardi, you really have to commit to it and that's it.

good question.

- pf