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How Brandon Lowe got 2021 back on track

Tampa Bay Rays v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

After the trade deadline, the Rays got other bats that were the missing piece, Nelson Cruz and Jordan Luplow helped the lineup with some struggles when facing a left-handed pitcher. These additions have powered up the lineup to one of the best in MLB, Rays rank 1st in runs scored, just ahead of the Astros. They also rank 7th in home runs, which has helped the offensive production. However one of the best acquisitions of the Rays so far is getting Brandon Lowe back.

The team’s undersized power hitter had a rough start in 2021 slashing .188/.289/.361 until June 9th, on top of that he couldn’t buy a hit against lefties. After that tough road trip when the Rays lost 7 in a row against the Mariners and White Sox, everything has changed.

The loss streak ended, and once June 21st arrived, he has a stat line of .277/.383/.636, which are all-star numbers without a doubt, even a return to team-MVP numbers.

One of the main reasons for Lowe’s success is that he is crushing lefties as he did in 2020, before June 9th he was hitting .090/.163/.218 with a wRC+ of 8, on top of that he had -10 WRAA in 86 PA. Since that same dividing point, Lowe has put together upper-class digits .295/.377/.557 with a wRC+ of 159 in 69 PA.

Here’s what changes to get Lowe’s season back on track.

1. Plate discipline

Brandon Lowe has always been a strikeout machine, which is part of his game and he has never shown signs of stopping that trend. However, he made a couple of adjustments that are helping him foul of more pitches and have better plate coverage.

Before June 21st he had a 31.8 K%, after that date until today he has a 24.2 K%. That 10% drop is enormous and that has been the base of the story, but Lowe has a similar whiff% before and after July 21st, the difference is just 1% so what is he doing to strikeout less?

Lowe has been able to swing more consistently at pitches inside the zone and more importantly making contact. The contact is practically identical before July 21st and after, with 68% against 69.3%. But the real contrast comes where Lowe’s swing is spotted, before July 21st he had an O swing% of 35.8% and after 29.7%, and a direct consequence is the Z- swing, which is close to 10% better after July 21st.

As he is swinging in the zone more often, the strikeouts have dropped, and he is not chasing as much out of the zone as he did early on the season. As a consequence, Lowe is walking 2% more since the middle of July, which is leading to an outstanding 0.6 BB/K, which is two times more than he had at the start of the season (0.3).

With the better pitch recognition and plate coverage he is putting balls in play more, instead of striking out.

2. Improving contact

A logical extension of the strikeouts mentioned above, Brandon Lowe is a player that comes with the high whiff%, which stands 6th percentile in the majors. As he has hit the ball better recently, before July 21 he had a 52.9% medium contact and 31.6% in hard contact. After that date, he has increased the hard-hit % to 39.4% (where medium contact dropped to 42.3%).

This type of contact is made because of Lowe’s great barrel rate, which is within the 91 percentile in the league.

Editor’s Note: In addition, Brandon Lowe could be improving on fouling off pitches. His season long pitches per plate appearance (3.87) is slightly behind last season (3.94). In researching this article we were not able to quickly find a mid-season split for this stat, and although it may likely be calculable using raw statcast data, we are running the article now in the interest of time.

When Lowe hits the ball consistently he provides a much better run contribution, since July 21st Lowe’s hard-hit rate has led to 20.6 WRAA in just 230 plate appearances, before the established date he had -2.3 WRAA in 280 plate appearances.

3. Eliminating Ground balls

In the first stage of the season surprisingly Lowe had a very high ground ball rate, usually, ground-balls have a more likely poor outcome than fly-balls. Early in the season, Lowe had a 40.1% on ground balls and 40.1% in fly-balls, however, in the second stage of the season, Lowe has increased the fly-ball percentage to 52.8 and decreased dramatically the ground-ball percentage to 26.4.

Said another way, when Lowe hits 4 fly-balls, 1 of them ends up in the bleachers.

Lowe is considered an extreme pull hitter, and defenses usually put the extreme shift on when Lowe steps in the box. That hasn’t changed during this hot streak either. Before July 21st Lowe had 45.2% off the balls to the pull side, and 31.6% to the middle of the field. After July 21st he has barely decreased his contact to the pull side, by just going 41.5%, with the trade off to the middle of the field at 35.9%. By getting the ball in the air, the results on pulled balls have gone from 143 wRC+ to 314 wRC+ in the same split.

One result is a direct consequence of the other, Lowe has better plate coverage and less strikeout rate, which leads to better contact. Eliminating ground balls and putting balls in the air leads to more homers, which also plays a role in the immense increase in the OPS category.

Every facet of his game is getting one step closer to his proper form, and it’s potentially coming together at the right time for Lowe to finally have a strong showing in the playoffs, where he has a lifetime .137/.196/.305 batting line over 102 PA.