New Astros GM Jeff Luhnow made an upside play this past offseason by trading incumbent closer Mark Melancon to the Red Sox for shortstop Jed Lowrie (and Kyle Weiland). Lowrie, while waylaid by mono and wrist and shoulder injuries in Boston, nevertheless represented a switch-hitting, up-the-middle-player under team control through 2014. The move has paid off handsomely for Houston, as Lowrie leads all shortstops in OPS+ (143) and is tied with J.J. Hardy for the lead in homers (11) while Melancon hopes to return to the majors after a demotion to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Lowrie's big year is a result of his two-strike slugging. Most hitters are helpless with their backs against the wall, but Lowrie is thriving in such situations. He has the highest two-strike slugging percentage among qualified batters, and it's not even close:
Highest slugging percentage with two strikes in 2012
Jed has jacked a major league-leading nine home runs in two-strike counts. Whether a result of the 'Stros lacking many other potent hitters or a belief that the ultra-patient Lowrie won't chase off the plate, pitchers are giving him more offerings in the strike zone with two strikes (45 percent) than the average hitter (41 percent). If Lowrie keeps making opponents pay, that may well change.