Using comparisons to evaluate baseball players is an imperfect science, yet our brains can’t help but note similarities between players. This is especially true for young players, as we are all trying to make conclusions about what they might or might not become.
When watching the Rays newest rookie Josh Lowe, there are all kinds of parallels that might pop into your mind. Maybe his tall, lanky and athletic frame reminds you of Houston Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker, or maybe his long (and quick) strides when rounding the bases of his first big league triple reminded you of Minnesota Twins star Byron Buxton.
It’s fun to think this way as a fan, but instead of using visual observations to make comparisons, what if we used data? This way, we can nail down a player’s specific strengths and weaknesses and match those up with other hitters in the league today. This method should give us an idea of what the range of outcomes for a young player might be, and for this exercise the young player of focus is Josh Lowe.
Let’s start with one of Josh’s largest strengths: plate discipline. Per FanGraphs, Lowe only chased 23.2% of all outside-the-zone pitches he saw this season. That is the 21st best mark among all hitters who have amassed 70 plate appearances this season.
Chase rate is a metric that stabilizes fairly quickly, which means that this trend from Lowe looks legit, and it’s probably safe to assume that he is a disciplined hitter. Players who don’t chase pitches very often tend to post above average walk rates, and Lowe’s very strong minor league career 11.4% walk rate is only more evidence of his keen eye at the plate.
While Josh showed a strong ability to discern strikes from balls, he didn’t always take advantage of the strikes that were thrown to him. He struggled to make contact on pitches in the strike zone, and posted a 74.2% in-zone contact rate which ranked in the bottom five of all hitters with 70 plate appearances this season. Fastballs in particular were a struggle for Lowe to catch up to, nobody in baseball is whiffing at 4-seamers as much as Josh Lowe this season.
Moving into his batted ball trends, one area that stands out is the direction that Lowe often hits the ball in. In his first big league stint, Lowe only pulled 21.1% of his batted balls, per FanGraphs, which is the fourth lowest mark of all hitters with 70 plate appearances this year. Josh’s career minor league Pull% is 37.9%, so we can probably expect his big league pull rate to increase in the future. However, that rate is still quite low compared to most hitters, which means that he’s always been a guy who has sprayed the ball all over the field.
There is obviously a lot more to hitting than just these three components, but since these are the areas where Lowe has fallen on extreme ends of the spectrum, they do a good job of painting the overall picture of his strengths and weaknesses.
Now that we have a better understanding of Lowe as a hitter, we can dive into other batters who have a similar approach. Again, the three metrics of interest here are chase rate (O-swing %), in-zone contact rate (Z-contact %), and pull rate (Pull %). Using these metrics, we can search for other hitters who make good swing decisions, struggle to connect with pitches in the zone, and do not pull the ball very often.
It doesn’t make sense to use Lowe’s exact metrics as the thresholds in this exercise because it was only a 71 plate appearance sample for him. We also don’t know how these metrics might fluctuate throughout his career, so to give him a bit of a buffer, let’s use nice round percentiles instead. Here is the criteria:
- Less than a 29% O-Swing% (30th percentile)
- Less than a 83% Z-Contact% (30th percentile)
- Less than a 38% Pull% (30th percentile)
Since the 2022 season is fresh and samples are small, we’re going to use the 2021 campaign to make these comparisons. Here is the list of hitters with at least 200 plate appearances during the 2021 season who met each of the three criteria above:
2021 Hitters who looked like Josh Lowe
Just to reiterate, Josh Lowe has posted a 23.2 O-Swing%, 74.2 Z-Contact%, and a 21.1 Pull% so far this season.
One of the first observations here is that Lowe’s pull rate is a good bit lower than all of these players. However, because of his career minor league trends and the small 2022 sample size it’s logical to assume he’ll eventually start pulling the ball a bit more.
On top of that, Lowe also posted a better chase rate than all of these players, which is good, but a lower zone contact rate came with it, which is not so good. While these comps may not be perfect, it does give us a good idea of which hitters look like Josh Lowe in today’s game, so let’s dig into them.
Starting from the bottom, Yoshi Tsutsugo is certainly a familiar name for Tampa Bay fans. While his stint with the Rays didn’t go as expected, some of his under-the-hood metrics were surprisingly strong and he did perform better upon joining the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. This season hasn’t been as kind to Yoshi, but maybe he’ll be able to settle into MLB as a corner lefty bat. Hopefully Lowe is able to squeeze more production out of his profile than Tsutsugo has to this point, but the comparison is an interesting one given the ties to Tampa Bay.
The next name on the list is D.J. Stewart, a left-handed corner outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles. Stewart owns a career 105 wRC+ against right-handed pitching and had a successful minor league hitting career as well. The most glaring difference between Stewart and Lowe lies in their Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). Lowe’s career BABIP in the minor leagues is .340 which is a very strong figure, and Stewart has only registered a .256 mark in the major leagues so far. BABIP is driven by a number of factors, but because of this disparity, Stewart probably isn’t the best comp for Josh. The table above shows that there are definitely similarities between the two players though.
Akil Baddoo is next on the list and there are reasons to believe this is the best Josh Lowe comp yet. Both of them are athletic lefty-hitting outfielders with above average speed. Baddoo also handled right-handed pitching very well last season (127 wRC+) which has been a strength of Lowe’s in the minors. Additionally, Baddoo posted a high whiff rate against fastballs (though not as high as Lowe’s) last year. Akil’s 2022 season is off to a rocky start, but his 2021 campaign looks like a good blueprint for what a successful big league season from Josh Lowe could be.
Buster Posey is the fourth guy on the table, and his 2021 season represents what Josh Lowe’s production could look like one day if it all clicks for him. Buster’s tremendous 2021 season shows that it’s possible to be a very productive hitter even though he was getting beat in the zone fairly often and not pulling the ball all that much. This bodes well for Josh, and while he and Posey may not be all that similar, it’s refreshing to see a hitter thrive this much while possessing the same strengths and weaknesses that Lowe has.
Two players who have been DFA’d, a recent successful Rule 5 pick, and a potential hall-of-famer. It’s safe to say this list takes you through a wide range of outcomes for Josh Lowe.
While digging further into hitters with this similar style of approach, a couple more names who popped up were Mike Tauchman, J.D. Davis, Bobby Dalbec, Clint Frazier, Ian Happ, Austin Slater, and Tampa Bay’s very own Brett Phillips. This may not be the most encouraging list of players in the world, but there are productive big leaguers amongst this group.
Josh Lowe has some things to work on in the minor leagues, but this exercise points out that there are ways for Lowe to be successful if he can slightly improve upon a few areas of his game. Hopefully he’s able to crush AAA pitching for a little while and rejoin the Rays during the stretch run.