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The best slugger on the Tampa Bay Rays is still Brandon Lowe

Rhymes with WOW! or POW! or holy COW!

Will Vragovic / Tampa Bay Rays

Brandon Lowe may not look like the stereotypical power slugger. He doesn’t stand out as the guy that is gonna drop the barrel and smash balls into the upper upper decks with the Cruz’s or Stanton’s or Judge’s or Ozuna’s or Gallo’s of the world.

However, just like the Rays as a team, looks can be deceiving.

Lowe has hit more than a few HR that have made players and fans react like Willy did on this one:

Just a peek at the Barrel rates showcases just the spectacular hitter and slugger that Lowe is and the company he keeps.

In 2020, Brandon Lowe ranked 4th (!) in all of baseball in Barrel%, and ranks in the top ten since he debuted in 2018. Here is that Barrel% leaderboard (min. 500 PA):

The higher the Barrel% the more you have squared up the bat to the ball and making hard, loud contact at advantageous angles that should result in hits.

Brandon Lowe puts the barrel on the ball a ton. This list is a who’s who of sluggers, and in his short career so far, Lowe has been right boppin’ right there with them.

Team MVP

If 2019 was Brandon Lowe’s coming out party, 2020 was his statement that he’s here to stay at the top of the 2B lists and leaderboards. He improved on just about every aspect of his game from his 19’ All Star campaign (albeit with the gigantic caveat that 2020 sample sizes and situations are a wholly unique situation).

When it comes to 2020, we all have to take everything with a Mount Rainier-sized mound of salt. But every single player was on a similar footing of short season, stop-start Spring Training, and ungodly levels of stress.

What Lowe was able to do in his 2020 campaign is post a whopping 150 wRC+, which bested Fernando Tatis Jr and Mookie Betts. His .554 slugging percentage was higher than that of Bryce Harper. The AL’s best 2B is a fun 3-way debate between DJ LeMahieu, José Altuve (depending on how you view his age and potential decline), and Brandon Lowe.

Defensively, Lowe also improved quite a bit at 2B. He’s not a Gold Glove level 2B, but he can flash some impressive athleticism and make web gems out there. The most important thing is that he has brought a steady level of effort and play at 2B, where he can be trusted to start day in and day out. You need to get that bat into the lineup, and he does it while making the plays you expect him to (and some of the ones you wouldn’t).

I mention this company, and the extremely known players he performed better than, to showcase how quietly Brandon Lowe has emerged into a star-level player without star level recognition. Of course the team and Rays fans all realize just how good and important Lowe is to this team. In 2020 he was voted, unanimously, as the Don Zimmer Most Valuable Player Award (Rays MVP) by the Tampa Bay members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

His place atop Top 10 lists and wide spread recognition might have taken a hit or at the very least delayed, by what was an incredibly tough and frustrating postseason. Lowe had a chance to have that Randy Arozarena postseason. The October that makes the league take notice, makes beat writers around the country press pause on the newest Springsteen record on their Zunes. Instead, Lowe put together quite possible the worst month he’s had as a professional ballplayer.

Lowe Regular Season vs Postseason

224 0.269 0.362 0.554 11.2 25.9 0.309
82 0.118 0.183 0.276 7.3 34.1 0.114

Postseason samples are extra small, and slumps happen, but it’s clear to see the problem. Lowe K’d more and walked less. He was also super unlucky with his Batting Average on Balls in Play a full .200 points less in the postseason. With Lowe’s career BABIP is .334, and with the number of Barrels he tends to smack, I’m pretty comfortable saying that 82 PA stretch is not panic-button press-able.

Even “struggling”, Lowe provided some big clutch hits, 3 HRs in the World Series, including this Game 4 heroic go ahead HR:

The real Lowe is almost certainly somewhere between a top 10 slugger in all of baseball and the guy who got just a handful of hits and a lot of strikeouts in The Series. The last thing we remember tends to take the majority view.

With 2020, the positives often get chalked up to small sample size by pessimistic fans — and lord knows us Tampa sports fans tend toward the pessimistic side — however, it’s extremely important to weigh the glass as both half empty and half full.

How to get Lowe Out

The book on Lowe in 2020, especially in the 2nd half and into the postseason, became quite clear: work him down and in, and lean heavy on the change-up.

Last year Lowe saw a big increase in change-ups (16.9% in 2020, up from 13.1% in 2019, and 11.5% in 2018). While Lowe was able to hurt change-ups well in 2019, and struggled with breaking balls, it became the reverse last year. B-Lowe was able to handle the breaking balls throughout the season, but change-up gave him fits falling into the negative in run value on such pitches.

Breaking balls and offspeed in this zone absolutely has given him fits for his career, with a whiff rate of 36%, by far his highest of any quadrant

And when it comes to whiff per swing it gets even uglier.

Offspeed and bendy stuff down and in is going to generate plenty of whiffs on anybody, and this is exactly where you want to work to neutralize a power bat.

But this is where in 2020 Lowe made his best strides: he stopped swinging at so many breaking balls and became more selective:

Swing Rate by type of pitch

Reverting to some bad habits, getting exploited by pressure and pressing to try and do too much to break out of the slump may have contributed to his down October.

Moving forward, Lowe is going to get fed a heavy diet of offspeed and bendy stuff down-and-in until he can consistently spit on those to set up the pitches he can do real damage.

2021 Outlook

So what do the various projections think of Lowe in 2021?

BLowe 2021 Projections

Projection BA OBP SLG wRC+/DRC+
Projection BA OBP SLG wRC+/DRC+
ZiPS 0.243 0.319 0.474 110
Steamer 0.247 0.329 0.458 110
PECOTA 0.251 0.332 0.483 118
The Bat 0.249 0.333 0.469 122
FG Depth Charts 0.245 0.324 0.466 110

All the projection systems agree: Brandon Lowe’s LOUD bat will continue to wake the neighbors and get noise complaints.

Its time to put aside last October, and get ready for another monster campaign from the second base slugger.