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Lowe on Lowe
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 1, 2006





Okay, I have somehow allowed myself to be lured into this debate where I have the unenviable task of defending the obvious position, and Keith gets to take the maverick position. This means if Lowe is mediocre this season, Keith is vindicated because he saw that Lowe would be decent at all, while my vindication never arrives because Lowe being terrible is simply too obvious to even call a prediction.

 
Rock Solid for Half a Season Out of Three? Hand him the Hardware! 
I will deal with the most obvious issue first, because it is really not Derek Lowe's fault, but the issue is there. Since going 21-8 in 2002, Lowe's won-loss percentage has slipped each subsequent season, from 21-8 to 17-7 to 14-12 to 12-15. But, as we all know, won-loss percentage is probably the stat least representative of what the pitcher is actually doing on the mound, so this is of little importance to our analysis. But it is there. He is on pace to go 11-17 this season.

Actually, Derek Lowe was much better in his 12-15 season last year than he was in his 14-12 season the year before. His record indicates his streakiness, but it also indicates the struggles the Dodgers had last year vs. the lack of struggles the Red Sox had in 2004.

Last season, Lowe posted his lowest ERA since his breakout 2002 season. He also pitched 40 more innings than the year before, but walked 16 fewer batters, and his strikeout total increased by 41. Lowe was a different pitcher last season than the season before, and his performance was more reminiscent of his 2002 season than any other.

One stat from Lowe's line sticks out, though, and it is a puzzler. When Lowe came to the Dodgers, the fun thing to say was that Lowe was a groundball pitcher moving to a pitcher's park, so he would be successful. Yet, somehow he managed to give up 28 dingers in 2005, or one less than he gave up in 2002 and 2003 combined. How odd.

In 2006, with Lowe turning 33, I don't know which Derek Lowe I am supposed to expect to take the mound. Is the Derek Lowe that broke out in 2002, but then steadily declined for two years with ERAs of 4.47 and 5.42? Or will it be the Derek Lowe that posted a 3.61 ERA last season and was rock solid the second half. I am leaning heavily towards expecting the Derek Lowe of the preceding two seasons rather than the Derek Lowe of 2005.

In 2003 and 2004, Lowe's K/BB ratio was 110/72 and 105/71. Last year it was 146/55. Spot the anamoly.

In 2003 and 2004, his ERA was over 4 each season. Last year, it was under four. Anamoly?

Truth be told, I am not being fair because Lowe has four seasons as a starter, and two of them have been good and two have been bad. But in that sense, Lowe is more inconsistent than anything else, and I think it is silly to expect great things from him.

I am sure Lowe supporters will point out that he was hot the second half of the season. Well, isn't that a sign of inconsistency, hot and cold tendencies? What if Lowe doesn't heat up this time? Maybe he will, maybe he won't. But we don't know because he is too inconsistent. When a young pitcher in his first or second year finishes the year on a hot streak, I tend to think of that as a sign that he has figured out a thing or two, and is maturing as a pitcher. When a 32 year old veteran finishes the second half on a hot streak, I am less inclined to see this as a turning point, and more inclined to see it as a hot streak. I may be wrong. I don't think I am.

Lowe supporters will point to the fact that he plays in a pitcher's park with a solid defense behind him. Well, he does play in a pitcher's park, but he gave up 28 dongs last year. The infield defense around Lowe will be Mueller, Furcal, Kent, and Garciaparra. On paper, this looks solid, but how old are Kent and Mueller? How healthy will Garciaparra be? And the Dodgers have not lacked defense at the shortstop position, though Furcal is the best in the league at this point.

In centerfield, 39 year old Kenny Lofton has played 140 or more games once since 1998. Jose Cruz Jr. in left field is certainly no slouch, and J.D. Drew in right is solid in the field and excellent at the plate when healthy, but the outfield simply does not instill me with a lot of confidence.

Simply put, his half a season of solid play is not enough to convince me that Derek Lowe is suddenly going to be dominant in 2006 for the second time in his career. Lowe's overall trend is downward, and I think he will continue in that direction.

Think of it like this Derek Lowe was pretty good last year. What are the odds of that happening again?


Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher resides in Alexandria, VA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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