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Brandon Lowe continues to be among MLB’s best second basemen

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Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

I am sure the Rays early departure from the postseason is still top of the minds of most fans, and that sense of disappointment centers around the lack of contribution from several key hitters, most notably Brandon Lowe.

But don’t let his performance over those four games, or even during the longer 2020 postseason, mislead you. Brandon Lowe is very good hitter, one of the best the Rays have had on their roster.

Lowe has been solid throughout his career

Brandon Lowe built on his breakout 2020 season with one of the best offensive seasons in Tampa Bay Rays history. He hit .247/.340/.523 and put up a 137 wRC+.

Lowe’s 137 wRC+ is tied for fourth best behind 2007 Carlos Peña (167 wRC+), 1999 Fred McGriff (140 wRC+), and 2010 Evan Longoria (139 wRC+) among players who amassed 600 or more plate appearances.

Lowe’s 39 homeruns tied with 2009 Peña for second most in franchise history behind Pena’s 46 homers in 2007.

In 2020 Lowe showed what he could do in a smaller sample putting up a .269/.362/.554 line and 152 wRC+ though due to the COVID shortened season he only was able to make 224 plate appearances.

2021 Improvements

In some ways 2021 was an improvement on Lowe’s 2020 breakout. He was able to sustain elite run production over a full season instead of a 60 game season. His overall line was inflated by an absurdly hot .300/.417/.720 line and 208 wRC+ against left handed pitchers over 60 plate appearances. In 2021 that fell back to his career norms with a .1998/.261/.401 line and 83 wRC+.

This year Lowe did most of his damage against right handed pitchers. In 2020 he hit .259/.341/.497 and put up a 131 wRC+ against right handed pitchers. This year he stepped that up to a .270/.375/.581 line and 161 wRC+.

Lowe improved his strikeout rate by almost 3% against righties and increased his power output. He’s a far worse hitter against left handed pitchers as most left handed batters are. His strikeout rate is significantly higher while he also walks less. He still hits for power, but makes far less contact.

This is what an elite hitter looks like

This comes as a shock to me as I saw him flail around at AA pitching in 2017. He swung at nearly everything and the contact he made was very soft. It was only 101 plate appearances but a 2.0% walk rate, 25.7% strikeout rate, and .137 ISO is not the combination you want to see out of an advanced college bat when being promoted to an appropriate level.

The slender slugger has taken major steps forward in his four years in the majors and that has culminated in the 27 year old being one of the best hitters in the game over the last two years.

Among qualified batters Lowe has hit .253/.346/.532 and put up a 141 wRC+. The 141 wRC+ ranks 9th in the majors and ahead of some star hitters like Shohei Ohtani (136 wRC+), Mookie Betts (136 wRC+), and Nelson Cruz (134 wRC+).

Silver Slugger Snub

This year there were four finalist named for the 2B Silver Slugger Award and none were Brandon Lowe.

Marcus Semien 724 PA, .265/.334/.538, 131 wRC+, 45 HR, 115 R, 102 RBI
Jose Altuve 678 PA, .278/.350/.489, 130 wRC+, 31 HR, 117 R, 83 RBI
Jorge Polanco 644 PA, .269/.323/.503, 122 wRC+, 33 HR, 97 R, 98 RBI
DJ LeMahieu 679 PA, .268/.349/.362, 100 wRC+, 10 HR, 84 R, 57 RBI
Brandon Lowe 615 PA, .247/.340/.523, 137 wRC+, 39 HR, 97 R, 99 RBI

Marcus Semien, Jose Altuve, and Jorge Polanco had really good offensive season, but the fact that DJ LeMahieu was named a finalist is absurd.

Maybe the snub can be attributed to more limited playing time. The well-rounded Rays give their players more rest than most teams do which in Lowe’s case may protect him from facing more lefties. However he still faced his fair share of southpaws — 30.6% of his plate appearances.

If I had a vote I would likely vote for Semien because of the 100 plus plate appearances despite slightly lower rate based production. I expect he’ll win and would be a deserving winner; however Lowe certainly deserved to be a finalist.

Expectations entering 2022

Lowe is still in his prime having just turned 27, so we shouldn’t expect much of a dropoff in production. It will be some time before most projections are available, but Steamer has Lowe tied with Jose Altuve at 4.5 fWAR for the best 2B next year. Steamer projects Lowe will hit .243/.332/.477 and put up a 125 wRC+. He’ll hit 30 homers.

Lowe was a top 10 AL MVP candidate last year and likely will once again come in the top 10 this year. Lowe should continue to be one of the best bats in the middle of a dangerous lineup in 2022.