I have tried to be supportive of Derek Lowe. Watching what he did last September and October revealed to me that he still has value. He has shown glimpses this season of the potential that he has and the reason why the Atlanta Braves gave him the 4 year $60 million contract before the 2009 season. In my heart and mind, I have been hopeful that what I watch regularly was not true and what I hear about Lowe being a “big-game” pitcher was still the case.
I have been a realist, however. I have claimed on many accounts that Lowe cannot be considered a “Big-Game” pitcher any longer. He has now pitched almost 3 full seasons for the Braves, and he has had roughly 6 weeks of meaningful games which he performed well (last September and October). He has had almost two full Septembers which he has not performed well. So, I have asserted that he is cannot be considered what everyone constantly has said in his 2+ years with the Braves.
I read an interesting article at Capitol Avenue Club recently entitled “Derek Lowe isn’t THAT bad.” Kevin Orris wrote that according to Lowe’s FIP and WAR, he isn’t as bad as his ERA reveals. You can read the article here.
I have been thinking about this article and Lowe for about a week now. I have poured over FanGraph’s pitcher values and pondered if Lowe is actually an anomaly or whether he was more valuable than he has pitched…or seemed to pitch all season.
After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that Lowe is currently the Anti-Sabermetrics Pitcher. There is no way that he is as valuable as FanGraph’s somehow rates him. Anyone that watches him pitch knows that he cannot possibly be as valuable as the numbers show.
Fangraph’s has Lowe ranked as the 53rd most valuable pitcher according to WAR. His 2.6 WAR is tied with Shaun Marcum, Mat Latos, John Danks and Jeff Francis. His WAR is better than Yovani Gallardo and others. Realistically, when you consider some of the other pitchers on the list that are lower than Lowe, there is SOME possibility that this is an accurate reading.
The second part of this equation is Lowe’s FIP. FIP is “Fielder’s Independent Pitching”. You find this by measuring a pitcher’s levels over things that the pitcher can control. A pitcher has control over walks, strikeouts and home runs. Thus, a value is determined and a pitcher is given value based on an ERA scale of what they actually have control over. (A base hit is not an indicator of this because with a good defender, a hit for one pitcher may be an out for another).
According to FanGraph’s, Lowe has a respectable 3.61 FIP. If this was his ERA, the Braves would be pleased and fans would not be as critical. According to this metric, Lowe is the 36th best pitcher in all of baseball. This says that he is better than Matt Harrison and John Lester, among many others. (Please note that he is ranked 99th in ERA among active pitchers).
So, how is it that Lowe could be so respectable in terms of WAR and FIP and still be so horrible on the field?
What is obvious is that Lowe undermines the sabermetrics system of measuring value. I recognize that ERA does not justify the true value that a pitcher has, neither does a win/loss record, strike outs or anything like that. The reality is that many pitchers are much better than their record indicates and should not be as bad as their ERA shows.
Lowe, on the other hand, has been as bad as his record and as bad as his ERA. He also can’t be as good as his WAR and FIP indicates.
First of all, Lowe is a contact pitcher. This fact completely feeds into lowering his FIP in comparison to other pitchers who strike out more hitters. Lowe throws a sinker which helps him get out of trouble with some double plays. He induces a ground ball 59.3% of the time. Lowe is giving up 10.2 hits per 9 innings this season. This is the 3rd highest totals of his career. (He allowed 10.7 hits per 9 in 2009 and 11 in 2004 with Boston). In his career, he has allowed 9.2 hits per 9, which is a high total. Lowe is dependent upon having fielders who can field at a good level. So, a bad defense undermines the type of pitcher that he is. Considering the Braves’ defense, he has a solid shortstop, first baseman, center fielder and right fielder. Left field, second base, third base are suspect to say the least.
Lowe’s Ks per 9 is at 6.72 which is the highest total since 2001. His BB per 9 is 3.46 which is his 2nd worst mark of his career. He has the lowest runners stranded on base % of his career, outside of his rookie year. He has also allowed an opponent batting average of .281 this year.
All of these things added up means that Lowe has pitched one of the worst seasons of his career. Outside of his Ks, there is nothing that is happening right now that shows that Lowe is as serviceable as FanGraph’s rates him in the advanced metrics.
Lowe has run into a lot of bad luck this year too. Every time he walks a batter or gives up a bloop single or has a runner reach on an error, these things baloon to the big inning. What this reveals, though, is that Lowe is incapable of avoiding the big inning. This also means that he is incapable of pitching the big game.
The sad state is that the Braves have to ride him for the rest of the season. Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson’s injuries have hurt this team in ways that we cannot fathom fully. One of these ways is the possibility that Lowe will have to pitch in the playoffs. That is…if the Braves pitch in the playoffs. The way Lowe is pitching right now, that is no certainty.
If the Braves make the playoffs, they will almost certaily have Lowe in their rotation. They are still hopeful that Fangraph’s and last September may prove him more valuable than he has shown. What we have seen, though, is that he is a train wreck and the anti-sabermetrics pitcher.