See if these numbers ring a bell:
.207, three home runs, 29 runs batted in, .265 on-base percentage, .291 slugging percentage, .556 OPS.
No? How about these:
.208, 12 HRs, 40 RBIs, .342 OBP, .379 slugging, .721 OPS
Little better? OK, one more.
.234, 18 HRs, 65 RBIs, .305 OBP, .399 slugging, .704 OPS
While it could be argued that the first set of numbers might possibly be worst production ever generated from a major league hitter, exhibits B and C don't exactly scream out "Silver Slugger" either. And yet, each of the three particulars in question put up the following lines respectively in our most recently followed Major League Baseball season.
.304, 30 HRs, 87 RBIs, .366 OBP, .636, slugging, 1.002 OPS
.271, 32 HRs, 87 RBIs, .440 OBP, .535 slugging, .975 OPS
.283, 40 HRs, 100 RBIs, .375 OBP, .534 slugging, .909 OPS
Quite the difference, huh? The Arizona Diamondbacks' Tony Clark's 30 home runs (in just 349 at-bats) were the most for the slugger since he hit 31 in 1999, and his 1.002 OPS would have put him just behind Derrek Lee and Albert Pujols in the National League had he had enough at-bats to qualify. That's a heck of a rebound after his revolting 2002 season in Boston (represented by the first line of number above), and back-to-back so-so seasons with each of the New York baseball teams.
Player No. 2 in question is Jason Giambi, the reigning AL Comeback Player of the Year, who after battling back from a benign tumor that seemingly denigrated his career rebounded to post the highest on-base percentage in the league last season (the second line of stats above represent Giambi's numbers for 2004).
The third line of stats is courtesy of Paul Konerko, circa 2003. He has since turned himself into an MVP candidate and World Series champion with the White Sox.
Three different players under three very different sets of circumstances, each turning what was deemed by many as the definitive sign of decline into rebounding seasons of value. Each was vilified during their down times, something Mike Lowell can certainly attest to.
He is, after all, the man nobody wanted, the throw-in for any team that could afford to pick up the last two seasons and $18 million on his contract in order to get potential No. 1 starter Josh Beckett. And now, he is the starting third baseman for the Red Sox, a key question on a team full of them with spring training a matter of weeks away.
Lowell's six-year averages: .272, 23 HRs, 95 RBIs, .339 OBP, .461 slugging, .800 OPS
Lowell in 2005: .236, 8 HRs, 58 RBIs, .298 OBP, .360 slugging, .658 OPS
Not only is Lowell coming to Boston with some ugly recent numbers on his resume (albeit some fabulous ones prior), he is also supplanting the ultra-popular Bill Mueller at third base, which means the blood-thirsty Fenway crowd's tolerance for failure will be even lower than it would normally be for any new players in town. See Renteria, Edgar.
If Lowell puts up more of what he did in 2005 with the Marlins, he will become public enemy No. 1 in Red Sox Nation, a scenario that is a definite possibility. But at 31 years old, there's still plenty of opportunity for Lowell to turn things around and prove that 2005 was indeed an aberration, and not a sign of things to come.
Otherwise, the creator of the MikeLowellsucks.com blog has made it known that he will transfer ownership of the domain for free to one lucky member of Red Sox Nation.
In 30 career at-bats at Fenway Park, Lowell has hit an even .300 with three home runs. That provides at least some sense of encouragement for Sox fans, who are looking for the silver lining wherever they can find it in late January (Lowell's Gold Glove resume might do the trick as well, but many fans are still stinging from the memory that Edgar Renteria came to town with that in his history too).
Even more encouraging are the recent track records of guys like Clark, Giambi, and Konerko, who all were once in the same situation that Lowell is in now, with faith in his ability to regain his stroke at an all-time low.
Aaron Gleeman of The Hardball Times recently compared Lowell's down 2005 season to those of Konerko and Pat Burrell, who fell off the map in 2003 with a .209 average, and suggests that Lowell could be in for a comeback similar to the ones both players have undergone since then.
"Konerko actually bounced back to become an even better hitter, posting back-to-back 40-homer, 100-RBI seasons. Burrell basically just picked up right where he left off before his mess of a season, and hit .281 with 32 homers while ranking second in the NL with 117 RBIs this year," Gleeman points out.
Because it happened to Chuck, Paul, and Jimmy, that obviously doesn't mean it's going to miraculously happen for Bobby. But with the recent trade of Coco Crisp to the Indians that sent third base prospect Andy Marte to Cleveland, there is now no room for error for Lowell. Some had opined that if Lowell got off to another rocky start, perhaps Marte may be ready in 2006 to take the reins at third, an option no longer viable. Nor is shifting first baseman Kevin Youkilis back from first base to third, as the mainly defensive replacement J.T. Snow is not a full-time player anymore. He's likely content to play the John Olerud/Doug Mientkiewicz role.
Lowell was once the face of the Marlins' franchise, one of the stars of the 2003 World Series team. But his slump in the second half of 2004 (He hit just .221 in August that season, with an ugly .282 on-base percentage) started his journey out of Miami. In fact, it is the year-plus timeline in this decline that has some questioning whether Lowell can rebound to any semblance of a productive player in Boston.
But while his stats from the second half of 2004 can't be discounted (and are in part blamed by some as a reason the Marlins did not make the playoffs that season), let it be noted that even though he batted just .221 in August and .238 in June, he did post averages of .301 in July and .308 in September of that season. In 2005, only in one month, July, did it appear Lowell might return to his former self. He hit .322 for the month.
Now a key component to this Red Sox lineup, he'll hit anywhere from fifth, behind David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez, to eighth, behind Trot Nixon. His permanent spot in the lineup won't be decided until he shows what he can do at the plate. There is perhaps no player on the roster outside of Keith Foulke the Red Sox need a rebound from as badly as Lowell. The only reason he's here is so the team could bring someone else to town. He knows that. The fans know that. He is the girlfriend's brother you had to take to the movies on your date.
One more example. In 1992, following four solid seasons with the Reds, but after batting .246 with 14 home runs and 66 RBIs his final season in Cincinnati, the team shipped one disappointing player at the age of 30 to the Yankees, where he emerged to hit over .300 six straight seasons, and won four World Series rings.
The career averages for said player: .288, 22 HRs, 100 RBIs, .363 OBP, .470 slugging, .833 OPS
Nobody is saying that Mike Lowell can be to the Red Sox what Paul O'Neill was to the Yankees, but he enters 2006 with the opportunity to be either the most surprising player in the AL East, or the target for so much daily criticism it would make even Kevin Millar cringe.