If the Pittsburgh Pirates feel that their infield still needs attention, a slow-to-develop market for an established, productive player could work to the team’s advantage.
The Pittsburgh Pirates addressed their middle infield needs by way of the Lonnie Chisenhall signing. Chisenhall’s presence in right field frees up Adam Frazier to primarily play second base. Shortstop can be manned by Kevin Newman and newcomer Erik Gonzalez.
Yet if the club wants to continue to chase improvement regardless of what they currently have in the cupboards, there might just be a “value signing” to be had that could produce at a higher clip than the team’s in-house wares.
Profile and Performance
Jed Lowrie will play 2019 at the age of 35, yet he is coming off of the best season of his career. The infielder posted a 4.9 fWAR/122 wRC+ season at age 34. Having logged 680 plate appearances, he did not arrive at those figures cheaply. Lowrie has been durable over the past two seasons, as he logged 645 trips to the plate in 2017. Prior to 2017, Lowrie had played in 100 games in any given season just twice.
That fact combined with his age should raise a red flag or two, but Lowrie’s offensive profile cannot be diminished by those concerns. He has maintained a strikeout rate below 20 percent since 2010, and has walked at an elite rate (11.4 percent) in each of the past two years. He knocks the ball around — 37.3 percent hard hit rate over the past two seasons — and gets the ball in the air.
Lowrie does this by avoiding bad counts at an excellent rate. Of all hitters with at least 500 PAs in 2018, Lowrie ranked 15th in terms of the percentage of at-bats in which he saw at least one pitch while behind in the count. That figure was 25.1 percent, not far off from Joey Votto’s MLB Leading 22.6 percent figure.
In other words, Lowrie sees 74.9 percent of his pitches while even or ahead in the count. That’s an awfully good place to find ones self in. In many ways, Lowrie creates a kind-of Utopian hitter’s ecosystem. He creates scenarios in which he can succeed, and then follows through.
Having previously spent time at both middle infield spots, Lowie has decidedly tilted towards primarily serving as a second baseman over the past two years, save for a smattering of innings at third. At second, he can be considered a slightly above average defender with a +1 DRS rating in 2018 — though it must be mentioned that this was his first season with a positive rating since 2010. Shortstop is an even bleaker picture, with a -36 DRS there for his career.
Career to Date
The case for
- There is no denying that the Pittsburgh Pirates would benefit from Lowrie’s insertion right in the heart of their everyday lineup. Lowrie is as complete an offensive middle infielder as one may find out there.
- We mentioned Lowrie’s batted ball skills above, but his plate discipline is just as impressive. He doesn’t chase (25.2 percent O-Swing last season; MLB-rate was 30.9) and his swinging-strike rate of 8.5 percent in 2018 is 2.2 percentage points better than the league rate.
- The Ben Zobrist comparison is out there for Lowrie — and warranted. Zobrist was traded to the Cubs at age 34, and has continued to serve as a productive player for most of the time since.
The case against
- But then again, Lowrie will be one year older than Zobrist was at that time, and brings with him a more checkered injury history. Are two productive as heck seasons at ages 33 and 34 enough to waylay these concerns?
- If Chisenhall is the default right-fielder until Polanco returns, bringing in Lowrie would kick Adam Frazier to one of two places: shortstop or the bench. Barring any super utility deployment, both of these locals ahve their drawbacks: Frazier’s defense is not as strong at short, and his bat was too torrid as 2018 ended to think of him as unworthy of at least a shot at a regular role.
- Though Zobrist continues to play all over the field, Lowrie may struggle anywhere other than second base. He has played some third base over the past several years, but the club already has a platooned planned there.
What it might take
Fangraphs listed Lowrie as their ninth-best free agent heading into the Hot Stove. Even with the concerns swirling around his age and health, this feels about right. FG also predicts a 2-year/$30 million dollar contract.
That might just price him out of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ plans. However, through an industry source, I can confirm that the Pirates have checked in on the asking price, with the market being described to me as “slow-moving.” That just may work in the club’s favor, perhaps to the point where something like 2-years/$22 million might get it done.
With the Winter Meetings kicking off early next week, expect the market for Lowrie to get real hot really quickly. If he is settled on Lowrie being his club’s marquee offseason acquisition, Neal Huntington might want to move more aggressively than he has in the past.
Putting Lowrie into the Pirates’ lineup would give the ma consistent run producer they will miss while Polanco is rehabbing. Though his power may sap back to his pre-2018 levels, Lowrie should continue to be a productive player for at least the next two years. When Polanco returns, the club’s lineup could suddenly turn from solid to fearsome.
With a solid rotation and an intriguing bullpen in place, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ biggest deficiency is their lineup. Depending on his market, Lowrie could be the perfect bandaid for this gaping wound.