Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mike Lowell

Mike Lowell is apparently a good guy. He's a great defensive third baseman, he is, by all accounts, a great teammate and valuable guy in the clubhouse, and he had a very good season in 2007.

But the contracts that people are talking about are just silly. He had a career year, and suddenly, the last contract, which was an albatross at $9 million a year, is chump change. The Red Sox have reportedly offered him $12 million per year for 3 years, which is a 3 year extension and a 33% pay increase. But people are talking about 4 years guaranteed at $15 million. If someone gives him that, then so long, Mike. It was nice having you for a couple of years.

I said that he had a career year. I repeat it. His previous career high OBP was .365, in 2007 it was .378. His previous career high batting average was .293, in 2007 it was .324.

Knowing that I don't think much of batting average, why do I mention that? Because it's relevant. What he did in 2007 represented, I believe, not a new performance level, but an extremely fortunate level of hits. Particularly singles. Basically, his rates for walks, strikeouts, doubles, home runs are all basically in range of what he has typically hit over the course of his career. His singles rate was about 33% higher. His AVG, OBP and SLG were all inflated by 36 balls that he put in play which are typically outs, and were singles this year.

I do not believe that represents a change in ability. I believe it represents a change in luck. And I don't believe that it is sustainable.

If order to get his number of singles down to a typical Mike Lowell level, you've got to take away 36 of them. This table shows his rate stats for the past 7 years on all of the items that I've mentioned. And there is one more data point, labeled "2007 (adj.)." What that represents is Mike Lowell's 2007 season if you turn 6 singles into doubles, and 30 more into outs.

Lowell's rate stats

Assuming that you turn 36 singles into 6 doubles and 30 outs, all of a sudden his line drops from .324/.378/.501/.879 to .282/.340/.469/.809. Any offer that anyone makes should be made with the assumption that that's his baseline.

Furthermore, that's his baseline at age 33. He's going to be 34 for the 2008 season. If someone gives him four years, he'll be playing for that team at age 37, and getting paid for it based on this year's performance. I'd be willing to be large amounts of money that he won't put up anything like a
.324/.378/.501/.879 line at age 37. I don't expect to see that again for a full season at any age.

And if he signs with anyone other than Boston, he'll be playing those aging, "twilight of his career" seasons in a park that is less conducive to his particular offensive abilities than Fenway. Over the last two years, he's hit .317/.372/.506/.878 with a home run every 25 at-bats at Fenway, .293/.345/.470/.815 with a home run every 32 at-bats everywhere else.

As a Red Sox fan, I'd love to have Mike Lowell back at 3rd base in 2008. But I have no interest in the team being committed to $15 million for him in 2010 and 2011. The contract that they've offered strikes me as more than fair. I wish him luck, but someone's going to overpay him. The Red Sox are offering to overpay him by a little bit, and I hope he takes it. But if someone's going to overpay him by a lot, I'd rather it were someone else.

Chris Lynch thinks that Lowell will be back. I'm less optimistic, but not really concerned. I think Boston got Mike Lowell's best season in 2007, they won a World Series with it, and if he leaves, they'll replace him.

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