The Lowe Down
David Nathaniel Lowe was a popular breakout pick entering the 2022 MLB season. After being ranked as high as 67th on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list, Lowe played parts of 2019 and the short 2020 season in Tampa, before being dealt to the Rangers over the offseason. During his first full length MLB campaign in 2021, Lowe produced a .264/.357/.415 triple slash while tallying 18 home runs, 75 runs and 72 RBI. That .357 on-base percentage was inside the top 20 for MLB first basemen with at least 300 at-bats, but the .264 batting average and paltry .415 slugging percentage were below-average for the position. Still, Lowe proved that at least his strong on-base skills could translate to the majors. He had shown good pop in AA and AAA. There was definitely room for growth.
A Rising Tide
There were, in fact, several reasons to be excited about Lowe taking a potential step forward in 2022. Two of those reasons are named Marcus Semien and Corey Seager. The Texas Rangers made two huge splashes in the off-season, committing a cool five hundred million dollars to the two free-agent infielders over the next 10 seasons. Semien was coming off a career best season in Toronto, which saw him finish with an .873 OPS, while Seager finished the season with a .915 OPS, coupled with a phenomenal .394 on-base percentage.
It was easy to envision Lowe setting at least a new career high in RBI batting behind two excellent hitters in a much improved Ranger lineup, but there were also reasons to believe Lowe could take his game to another level before Texas made those two big additions. The table below illustrates how Lowe’s contact profile compared favorably to the MLB average in 2021, while highlighting the biggest issue holding him back.
Pretty easy to see why experts and prognosticators could see a breakout in the works. The 6’4″ 220 pound lefty was already hitting the ball harder, and barreling it up at a rate much greater than the league at-large. He possessed strong on base skills with a walk rate in the top ten percent of Major Leaguers, as well as a chase rate in the top fifth of the league. Lowe seemingly just needed to adjust a bit to get the under the ball more often, hit more fly balls and the extra base hits would start coming.
So far, 2022 has looked a lot like Lowe lovers hoped it would. The former 13th round pick has slugged his way to a .364/.408/.470 triple slash, while accumulating six runs, and nine runs batted in over his first 71 plate appearances. That triple slash line represents career bests across the board. In fact, at the moment this is being written, Nate’s OPS is a full 100 points above his career average. But are these gains real and sustainable? Lets see how his batted ball data stacks up with his previous seasons.
Egad! That is not what Lowe enthusiasts or Ranger fans were hoping to see. His launch angle has gotten even lower! Lowe has also taken steps back in barrel percentage, average exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, and of course, ground-ball percentage. He’s making the poorest contact of his career, hitting more worm-burners than ever, yet somehow managing to find holes all over the infield. Sure, Lowe has consistently had a batting average on balls in play well above-league average, but he had also hit the ball harder than league average during the previous three seasons. If Lowe continues to make this level of contact, that BABIP and his batting average will come crashing down eventually. This is not the breakout you’re looking for.
Thankfully, Lowe got off to a hot start for the second straight season, and there may still be an opportunity to trade him to a team in need of a first baseman. Maybe the owner who drafted Joey Votto is desperate for help and can be swayed by Lowe’s strong early-season average. Lowe is still young, and I think the upside is still there, but he’s trending in the wrong direction this season. If he’s unable to start getting under the ball more often and continues to be such an extreme ground-ball hitter, he’ll be a player who is only worth rostering in deeper leagues, or ones that score OBP. If you are rostering Lowe in standard mixed leagues, look to see if Rowdy Tellez is available on your league’s waiver wire.