Lowe's favorite guy in the world 

High on Lowe
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
March 30, 2006

High on Lowe

Derek Lowe posted a 3.61 ERA in 222 innings last year, yet hardly anyone noticed.  Is this because he A) posted a 4.62 ERA between May and July B) was on a Dodgers team that went below .400 after their 12-2 start C) only compiled a 12-15 record on the season or D) was still overpaid despite that quality season?


I don’t have the answer, naturally, since I am one of the few who noticed.  I am also one of an even more select group who predicted that Lowe would lead the NL with 24 wins and win the Cy Young Award for 2006.  Why am I so high on Lowe?  Glad you asked.


Splitsville, Baby


Statisticians will tell you that there’s no evidence of players in baseball showing a consistent tendency to succeed more during the first or second half of the season.  To them, I say, “Johan Santana.”  But whether you agree with them or not, you might have to admit that pitchers with good second half numbers probably figured something out during the season.  Whether they were tipping off pitches, missing their release point, or simply trying for too many strikeouts, odds are that if a pitcher struggles at the beginning of the season and fixes it midseason, that he will make it a point to carry that adjustment into the next year.


At this point, let’s review Lowe’s 2005 splits:

































Webb and Lowe stick to keeping it low 
Interestingly enough, Lowe’s strikeout and walk rates actually took a hit in the second half, while all of his result numbers improved drastically.  For most pitchers, this would be a red flag, but maybe not so with Lowe.  Derek is the second most prolific groundball pitcher in baseball today behind Jake Westbrook.  Brandon Webb does have a higher GB/FB ratio, but he also strikes out a lot of batters (relative to Lowe).  The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2006 lists every pitcher’s percentage breakdown of ball types, and Lowe’s batters hit grounders 48% of the time off of him while striking out 16% of the time for Webb it’s 47/18. 


Groundball pitchers give up more hits than flyball pitchers do, but they’re less costly ones.  According to THT 2006, 6.1% of outfield flies go for doubles, while only 1.9% of grounders do (makes you think twice about guarding the lines, doesn’t it?).  11% of outfield flies go for homers, whereas grounders did not even produce an inside-the-park homerun between 2002 and 2005.  The double play factor should be fairly obvious as well.  


Point being, the average run value of an outfield fly is .035, but -1.10 for a ground ball and -.287 for a strikeout.  Obviously, a K is a better result for a pitcher than a ground ball is.  But when you’re inducing twice as many ground balls as the average pitcher, you can make ground balls into a defensive weapon.  Derek Lowe makes for a legendary groundball pitcher, but just a mediocre strikeout man.  As long as his K/BB ratio remains near his 2.4 mark of the second half of ’05, concentrating on inducing grounders should be the way to go for Lowe.


Defense (clap-clap!) Defense (clap-clap!)


There’s a reason that Neddie Colleti broke the bank with Rafael Furcal.  That reason begins with a D and ends with a Lowe.  My trusty Fielding Bible shows Adam Everett to lead all shortstops with +33 plays last year, but Furcal was not far behind at +26.  Also, Furcal was able to turn a DP in 64% of his opportunities, while Everett could only do so in 59% of his.  More importantly, Ceasar Izturis and Oscar Robles, the primary clowns manning shortstop for the Dodgers last season, combined for +2 plays above average and a 55% DP ratio.  Furcal should help a groundball pitcher like Lowe enormously.


His new double playmate, Jeff Kent, is not considered a good second baseman.  That’s probably because he has the reaction time of a drunk horse.  In fact, you can put much of the blame for Izturis and Robles’ poor DP ratios squarely on Kent’s shoulders.


Kent: Less ground to cover? 
Hovever. Kent is a savvy veteran who compensated for his lack of athleticism with keen positioning skills.  So much so, that he made two more plays than the average second baseman last season.  We can only expect fewer balls to get by him, as he now has a top defensive SS on his right and an average defensive SS on his left, giving him far less ground to cover this year.


That’s right.  For those who missed it, Nomar Garciapara, the Dodgers' new first baseman, was not a terrible defensive shortstop, even in recent seasons.  His 3-year Plus/Minus as a shortstop was -1.  I’m betting if he has enough range to play shortstop that he’ll have surplus range over at first base.


On the other side of the diamond, you have reliable old Bill Mueller with a +6 last season, where five Dodgers combined for +4 last year.  All in all, the infield is much improved defensively, and will be even more so when Izturis returns form injury to spell Kent at second every now and then (say, every time Lowe starts?).  Izturis may only have average range and arm for a shortstop, but those skills would be a plus as a second baseman.  See Craig Counsell for an example of how that works.


Run Support


The Dodgers only scored more than four runs in 15 of Lowe’s 35 starts last year, and one of those was five runs in a Coors Field loss.  This year’s squad should not only score a lot more than 685 runs in a division where quality non-Dodger pitching is scarce, but they should be able to put up runs on a more consistent basis with one of the game’s premier leadoff hitters now on the club.  Furcal has scored triple-digit runs in each of the last three years, bringing the ability to score runs without a string of three consecutive hits or a dinger.  Last year, Furcal was 46 of 56 in stolen bases, while the entire Dodgers team went 58 for 93.   


He finished strong, has a defense tailor-made to fit his style of pitching, and a team behind him that should dent the scoreboard day in and day out.  What’s not to like?  Lowe for Cy Young in 2006! (24-7 2.69 139)           


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Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith Glab resides in Chicago, Illinois, and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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