Bobby Cox used to say (and presumably still does): “If you think you’ve got enough pitching, better go get some more.” This would seem to apply to the team Cox once managed, which believed it had so much pitching it could pay one pitcher to go away.
Update: Derek Lowe, banished to Cleveland, has won seven games; no Braves starting pitcher has won so many.
I know what you’re saying: Lowe was terrible last season. No argument here. (He lost 17 games.) He wasn’t very good in 2010, either. (He won 15 games but had an ERA of 4.67.) But this year he has been quite good: He’s 7-3 with an ERA of 3.06. And here’s the worst part: The Braves are paying two-thirds of his salary.
Put another way, the Braves are paying a pitcher who pitches for someone else more than they’re paying any pitcher who pitches for them. (And Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.)
Lowe wasn’t the greatest buy in the history of free agency, but he wasn’t the worst, either. He won 40 games (while losing 39) over three seasons here. As advertised, he ate innings. (Between 187 and 195 each of the three seasons.) His September 2010 performance got the Braves in the playoffs, which hadn’t happened since 2005. (We can also argue that his September 2011 showing kept the Braves out of the playoffs.)
In sum, there was no easy way to sum up Lowe as a Brave: He wasn’t as good as advertised but wasn’t a complete dud. He didn’t fail because he didn’t try hard. Indeed, his work ethic was considered a model. But he conceded after his final start as a Brave: “I’ve always said hitters will tell you what kind of stuff you have.”
His stuff, sad to say, was substandard. Opponents hit .285 against him last season, .301 in 2010. This year opponents have hit .297 against him, but he’s getting more ground balls than he did as a Brave, which is a major consideration for a sinkerballer. He has worked nine Quality Starts — at least six innings with three or fewer earned runs — in 11 outings, and he has done this in a league that employs the DH.
There is, it must be noted, a feeling among some stat mavens that Lowe’s strong start is Not Sustainable. (Here’s a post from Mike Podhorzer on FanGraphs that explains why.) That said …
The Braves’ starting pitching has been substandard. (Theirs is the second-worst ERA for starters in the National League, though the past two outings — by Brandon Beachy and then Tommy Hanson — have been quite good.) Jair Jurrjens is in the minor leagues. Mike Minor could join him soon. Kris Medlen has been dispatched to Gwinnett to “stretch out his arm,” presumably to replace Minor. When you see all this, you can’t help but think:
Given that they’re paying him $10 million anyway, would it have done great harm to keep Derek Lowe around one final season?
UPDATE: Here’s an intriguing look at why Lowe’s season might indeed be “sustainable” by Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus.
By Mark Bradley