Here’s something I just got irrationally excited about: Statcast data suggests our rookie/prospect 2B Brandon Lowe may have an elite bat. Sounds crazy, right?
It might not be.
I mean, Lowe has put up some pretty incredible numbers in the minor leagues since being drafted in the third round in 2015 out of Maryland. His rapid rise to the majors broke all of the Rays prospect conventions and even angered family members of other prospects.
Let’s take a look at the roughly two months of MLB data he gave us when he was called up in early August.
On the surface, Brandon’s numbers are okay but not earth-shattering. He slashed .233/.324/.450 in his 148 plate appearances, telling us he has some nice pop and eye for walks, but potential contact issues. Walk rates and strikeout rates are some of the quickest baseball statistics to stabilize in sample sizes, and his fell in line with his career minor league norms. The power numbers take a little longer to settle in, so that elite .217 ISO is noteworthy but not yet reliable information.
Things get really interesting, though, when we move on to his Statcast batted ball data.
Based on the 92 balls he put into play, he hit the ball harder, at a better angle, more often than the average MLB player. His 10.9% barrel rate means he squared the ball up perfectly nearly twice as often as the average. His 89.3 average exit velocity was exactly 2mph faster than average. His 13.9 degree launch angle was 3 degrees higher than the 10.9 MLB average, and his 43.5% hard hit rate was far above the average of 34.1%.
These are all really good signs and may suggest we have a real slugger here, but let’s compare those statistics to the Statcast leaderboard to see how he ranks up against the best of the best. For context, setting the minimum to 90 batted ball events gets Brandon Lowe onto the board and qualifies a total of 406 players in 2018.
Brandon Lowe’s average launch angle of 13.9 degrees ranks 147th (64th percentile) and happened to be the exact same as some guy named Bryce Harper last season. It’s also very similar to many other big name sluggers, like Nelson Cruz, Victor Martinez, Manny Machado, JT Realmuto, and Joey Votto, but it’s also in the same range as some very light hitters like Adeiny Hechavarria. Cruz in particular has been tied to the Rays this offseason as the rumors start to heat up for free agent signings.
Read More: Rays free agent target: Nelson Cruz
What’s the lesson there? You have to have the power behind the bat to take full effect of that ideal launch angle, so let’s look at how hard he hit the ball.
We already know his overall exit velocity was 2 mph higher than the MLB average from his profile, but the leader board shows us something a little better: It separates fly balls and line drives from the weaker contact and gives us the average EV on just those balls. Sorting by that column, we find Brandon was 55th in baseball (86th percentile) with an average of 95.3mph on those balls, while Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo top the list at 99.7mph. Lowe shares his range with guys like Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, Ronald Acuna Jr., our own Tommy Pham, Xander Bogaerts, and Manny Machado (again).
Those two lists combine into one hell of a Venn Diagram. Here are some other notes for hitters with 90 batted balls last season:
- Brandon’s hard hit rate of 43.5% ranks 62nd (85th percentile) in baseball and lands him in company with Paul Goldschmidt (again) and Javier Baez.
- Brandon’s barrels per batted ball event rate of 10.9% is 56th (86th percentile) in baseball, listing him near Bryce Harper and Manny Machado again.
Based on his Statcast batted ball data, it’s not crazy to think Brandon Lowe may have a pretty special bat going forward. There just aren’t many guys hitting the ball harder than him, at a higher angle than him, and barreling the ball as often on contact. In fact, here’s the entire list: Joey Gallo, Gary Sanchez, Teoscar Hernandez, Matt Olson, Hunter Renfroe, Khris Davis, Mike Zunino, Luke Voit, Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, Tyler Austin, Mike Trout, Randal Grichuk, Mookie Betts, and Ryan O’Hearn. That is 15 players out of 406 qualifiers, and most of them are pretty darn good.
Lowe’s mission in 2019 now needs to be that last piece of the puzzle. Contact. His 25.7% strikeout rate in 2018 was acceptable because of the power that came with it, but it dampened his overall production to just merely “above average.” Brandon can be one of the truly great bats in baseball if he figures out how to keep the power while making contact just a little more often.
The projection model Steamer has Brandon as the second best bat on the team at the major league level, as his 109 wRC+ behind only Tommy Pham’s 118 wRC+ (and Nathaniel Lowe has not cracked the majors with the team yet, but he is projected for a 111 wRC+ and would push Brandon to third on the team).
With that kind of production, Steamer projects him for a 2.4 fWAR / 600 PA pace, which is pretty special for the otherwise conservative projection model. Only Pham is clearly projected to outpace that kind of production, with Daniel Robertson, Matt Duffy, and Kevin Kiermaier all in a similar tier as Lowe.
The Rays should have money to spend this offseason, but who needs to sign a pricey Designated Hitter when you have Brandon Lowe?