For the sake of transparency, I initially had another player in mind for this deep dive but as I was looking into some of the stats for said player, it was actually Brandon Lowe who stuck out to me in the stats I was diving into.
Next thing you know I decided to jump on in and get lost in the rabbit hole. It landed me here writing this deep dive on Brandon Lowe so I can share what I found and share my 2020 outlook on him.
Let’s get to it.
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Deep Dive: Brandon Lowe
Brandon Lowe was limited by injury in 2019. He still managed to play 82 games and get 327 plate appearances. In those appearances, he managed 17 home runs, 42 runs, 51 RBI and 5 steals. This was accompanied by a triple slash of .270/ .336/.514.
He was on pace for what appeared to be a pretty good year. With that said, there is always more to the story and that is the point of this article.
For me, this is where the fun really starts.
Advanced Stats And Plate Discipline
This is my go-to starting point with just about any hitter. I feel that plate discipline, both past and present, can start to paint a picture of production potential.
When you look at Brandon Lowe you notice the high K-rate. It was a staggering 34.6 % in 2019. With a K-rate that high, it is unusual for a batting average to be around .270. Which is where it was at the time. The good news is that his walk rate wasn’t terrible. It was slightly below league average at 7.6 %.
When you dig a little deeper, it shows why he was striking out as much as he was.
There are obvious holes in his swing. With a chase rate of 34.1% and a SwStr% of 19.1% there is a real concern for his batting average to bottom out. The chase rate was a 5% increase from 2018 to 2019 and the SwStr% was 1.5% increase in that same period. The swinging strike rate was already high and for it to get worse is definitely concerning.
One thing worth noting is that Brandon Lowe was more aggressive at the plate than he has shown in the past. That definitely added to the poor plate discipline numbers. If there is a reason for optimism it’s that he made slightly more contact this season while raising the swing rate from 49.4% in 2018 to 54.2% in 2019.
Putting more balls in play with how hard he hits the ball and his above-average speed, both of which we will address in-depth later, likely is what helped produce a .377 BABIP.
I do admit I expect the BABIP to drop, but he has put up BABIP rates in the .340 to .360 range in the minors on a few occasions. His minor league track record also suggests there should be an improvement in the discipline numbers as well. The lowest walk rate of any stop in the minors was in 2018 at Triple-A where he had a 10.7% walk rate. The highest K-rate in the minors was 25.7% in 2017.
Although the stats won’t necessarily translate directly to the majors, to say the numbers won’t improve more towards what the track record indicates may too be a mistake. It’s a fine line and it could go either way.
Essentially, there is concern with the early strikeout issues, but I believe there is definitely a chance to improve given that track record of plate approach.
Batted Ball Data
There was a bit of a change in approach. You can see Brandon Lowe made a conscious effort to pull the ball more in 2019. It showed in the numbers a bit and is highlighted within the ground all spray charts. Here is 2018.
Although he was a bit pull-heavy, at least there were some balls hit up the middle. Let’s take a look at 2019.
It is clear that the focus was to pull the ball more. Another notable change was the decrease in ground balls. This is exactly what you want to see. The ground ball rate decreased by 13.3% from 2018 to 2019. Putting more balls in the air in the form of line drives and fly balls typically leads to more success.
This change in ground ball rate was accompanied by a change in launch angle. It went up from 13.9 degrees in 2018 to 18.7 degrees in 2019. This could explain the added holes in the swing as well as the decrease in ground balls. There is a little give and take going on here.
If you take the increase in pull rate and pair it with the increase in fly balls, you typically get an increase in power production. I believe this change is encouraging enough to buy into the power gains we saw prior to the injury that derailed Lowe’s 2019 season.
Lastly, there was a big jump in barrel rate. This could too, at least in part, be attributed to the newfound approach. The barrel rate increased from 10.9% to 16.3%. This rate further backs the idea of the power being sustainable. I expect some regression to that barrel rate over a full season but even with some regression baked in, the power output should still be there.
A lot is made of Lowe being on a strong side of platoon. When you look at the splits against left handed pitchers and right handed pitchers, that may be the case.
The sample size is limited and to say he cannot hit lefties may be a bit premature. In 2019 he hit 3 home runs in 68 plate appearances. He managed a serviceable .242 batting average against them.
However, he also had a terrible 52.9% K-rate and a wRC+ of 77. That won’t get the job done but I think he will get an opportunity to build on the small sample and not be completely stopped from facing lefties.
If he starts the year off struggling against left-handed pitchers then the strict strong side of platoon could be utilized. That would cap the ceiling of the counting stats but could play in his favor for the overall triple slash. By taking away his at-bats against lefties, in theory, you’re taking away much of the negative production. That could actually raise the floor in some of the production.
The Statcast Data
Due to the limited playing time, you don’t get the pretty chart with all the red and blue on it. So you have to do a little digging. First, let’s note the expected stats verse the actual stats.
As previously suggested, the power seems to be legit, but the batting average may be a question. What can help him out-produce his batting average is the above-average sprint speed. It is in the 69th percentile so Lowe is fast enough to help sustain some of the BABIP we discussed earlier.
Brandon Lowe has a sprint speed of 27.7 Ft/Sec. To put in perspective how fast that is, it is the same sprint speed as that of Danny Santana. It is also slightly higher than names like Fransisco Lindor, Keston Hiura and Kolten Wong.
These are all players we peg for double-digit steals. Lowe was on his way to roughly 10 steals last season, so given the speed and small track record I believe he can obtain those double-digit steals in 2020.
As far as the power metrics, I went searching for some of those and they are just as intriguing.
Brandon Lowe's power is legit.
Of players w/ at least 100 BBE:
– 10th best Brls/BBE of 16.3%
– T-19th w/ Acuna for Brls/PA of 9.2%
– T-45th w/ Springer & others w/ a Max Exit Velo of 114.3 MPH
– T-45th Avg. Exit Velo of 91.1 MPH. Ahead of names like Story & Bellinger#RaysUp pic.twitter.com/6TOLB1fzUZ
— Mike Kurland (@Mike_Kurland) January 26, 2020
I must say, that is not bad company to be among on the power side of things either.
At the end of the day, Brandon Lowe is a cheap gamble this draft season. He is a late-round, high upside type of player. He offers that upside at a position that lacks quality depth. Lowe also offers that power and speed combination that is so highly sought after and coveted in drafts.
Platoon or no platoon I believe the production will be there. Sure, he gains value in daily leagues but can be a solid middle infield option even in weekly leagues. You just need to plan accordingly on weeks Lowe is facing a heavy lefty rotation. Ultimately, Brandon Lowe will be a draft day bargain you look back on and be thankful you grabbed him.
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