Why the Braves could still use the unlamented Derek Lowe

Twins Indians Baseball

Derek Lowe in his most recent start. He won it. He has won often since leaving town. (AP photo)

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

105 comments Add your comment

Buddy Greene

June 5th, 2012
10:17 am

first…between what we are giving lowe and JJ our payroll is hamstrung

Buddy Greene

June 5th, 2012
10:21 am

it really depends on what they used the 5 million in savings on…they re-signed Hinske , Jack Wilson,and Peter Moylan with that cash.

Mark Bradley

June 5th, 2012
10:21 am

Kudos, Buddy G.

Rickster

June 5th, 2012
10:26 am

Dang… guess I have to settle for pseudo kudos.

Karl Hungus

June 5th, 2012
10:26 am

In 2010 Lowe won 16 games with a 4.00 ERA.

josh

June 5th, 2012
10:28 am

Mark, we have bigger guys to sign- like Jack Wilson & Chad Durbin. This from Braves site after the trade, “the Braves should have just slightly more than $10 million to spend as they look for a starting shortstop.” Oh wait, that money was never spent and had no intentions of being spent… welcome to atlanta

http://atlinsight.com

shlomo

June 5th, 2012
10:28 am

Classic second guessing. where were you when the trade was made.

Blake

June 5th, 2012
10:29 am

Mark, your work is becoming harder to read every day. Bradley was the first saying “get rid of Lowe” and now he is wishing Lowe was still part of our staff. Yeah, looking back, any team can say “woulda coulda shoulda” but I mean come on man, write about something that enlightens the audience. Your days working for the AJC have to be numbered.

Herschel Talker

June 5th, 2012
10:30 am

MB:

You’re incorrectly assuming he would have pitched the same way here had he stayed.

HT

Najeh Davenpoop

June 5th, 2012
10:30 am

I didn’t read the FanGraphs link but Lowe’s WHIP is around 1.50, so I am pretty confident that his ERA will be in the mid 4s by the end of the season.

Mark Bradley

June 5th, 2012
10:31 am

I never said the Braves had to get rid of Lowe. Never.

And here’s what I wrote after the trade:

http://blogs.ajc.com/mark-bradley-blog/2011/10/31/buyers-remorse-braves-pay-d-lowe-10-million-to-go-away/

Ron

June 5th, 2012
10:32 am

It easier to pitch in Cleveland when you’re hungover, less humidity. Less see how he pitches in the summer months when hes sweating out he booz.

Supes

June 5th, 2012
10:33 am

slow and rainy news day in sports huh Mark, to bring out the ole Derek Lowe ? like that…what’s done is done, other than being a very, very expensive bullpen arm the Braves have no other need for Lowe’s services. Given that Wren didn’t want to deal any of our young pitching prospects (Minor, Medlen, Teheran, Delgado, Beachy etc) they HAD to find out of any of those “kids” can cut it and be rotation ready in 2012. They have an unknown or unproven commodity at this level…or you can trot out a retread like Derek Lowe…take your pick.

Ron

June 5th, 2012
10:33 am

Karl Hungus

June 5th, 2012
10:36 am

Lowe currently has 2.66 K/9, his groundball rate is steadily declining–already down 3% since the Fangraphs article was written less than two weeks ago–and his xFIP is higher than any season he was with the Braves. On top of that, the Braves have one of the worst infield defenses in MLB (though it has been improved somewhat by Simmons coming up), so Lowe wouldn’t be seeing nearly the results he is in Cleveland if he were still with the Braves.

The Oddball

June 5th, 2012
10:36 am

Hindsight is 20/20. There was absolutely no reason at the end of last season to believe that Lowe would pitch any better in 2012 than he had in 2011. If the Braves had kept him, and he didn’t improve, you’d be writing a column right now calling for heads to roll. If Lowe flames out later this year, will you write a column that says “Gosh, they were right all along”?

JoeyBagOBravos

June 5th, 2012
10:37 am

Everyone wanted Lowe gone, and that’s what we got. Yes, the Bravos pitching is struggling, but geez, we knew the pitching staff would be young… do we expect Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz out of these guys right now? Yes, the Jurrjens thing was a little unexpected and Huddy’s early struggles.. but we’ve got to give these young guys time to adjust to major league hitters. They need the chance to gain ML experience and confidence which they couldn’t with Lowe in the rotation. None of the big three above had Hall of Fame seasons the first season or so.

Ron

June 5th, 2012
10:37 am

I wish we had Elvus Andrews, Wainwright, and Jason Schmidt. Comon man, we have had more hits than misses over the years. Tell me 5 people you know who, at the end of last season, wanted to keep Derek Lowe. Its easy to look back and wonder “what if”. Heck, if I knew my girlfriend durin college would have turned out to be so rich and good looking 10 years later, I would have never dumped her.

bulldogbubba

June 5th, 2012
10:44 am

What would Clusters do?

shlomo

June 5th, 2012
10:50 am

I stand corrected.

BoroBall3

June 5th, 2012
10:52 am

This article is 2nd guessing at its best. Would you have wrote it had he been 3-7 w/ a 5.11 ERA? Show me one ATL Brave fan who wanted Lowe back this season.

Karl Hungus

June 5th, 2012
10:55 am

@BoroBall3 With Atlanta’s infield defense, Lowe could have been 3-7 with a 5.11 ERA, even if he had pitched exactly the same as he currently is in Cleveland.

Spyro

June 5th, 2012
10:56 am

20out

June 5th, 2012
10:56 am

I guess it all depends on how you want to look at it. The money the Braves freed (5 mil?) – was that worth getting rid of Lowe. I don’t know how to answer that. I’m still waiting for the Braves to spend money, well for years now actually.

Blauser

June 5th, 2012
10:56 am

After the way the Veteran making $15 mil a year choked at the end of last year, I dont want him back.

oldmarriedwoman

June 5th, 2012
10:58 am

Don’t forget Lowe is in the last year of his contract and he wants to get another one after this year, so he knew he had to pitch better to get that contract.

Don

June 5th, 2012
10:59 am

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG??
AFTER ALL – Pitching is the name of the game – the most essential element in winning.
AND AFTER ALL – The Braves have a wealth of Pitching — JJ, Hanson, Medlen, and Hudson all established as great pitchers (J.J., Hanson, and Medlen all young).
WOOPS – JJ, HANSON, MEDLEN, AND HUDSON ARE ALL COMMING OFF INJURIES and injured Pitchers SELDOM RETURN TO THEIR FORMER GREATNESS.

markie mark

June 5th, 2012
11:04 am

yes…the fan base would have rioted if we kept Derek…..

Blauser

June 5th, 2012
11:08 am

Bradley does have nice hair, Dan Patrick-esque.

Orange Brave f/k/a Billy Jack's BBQ

June 5th, 2012
11:17 am

lotsa of folks think I am nuts, BUT

one reason Lowe did not succed here in Atlanta BUT will do better in Cleveland is the lack of heat and humidty.

His sinker sinks better when it is wet and cool.

Huddy has the same problem, but to a lesser degree.

Just ask either of them. Most sinkerball type pitchers SUCK when it is hot and humid.

Do I have stats? nope, but watch them yourself. Huddy pitches tonight in So. Florida. Check the weather before placing your wager……..

Dawgdad (The Original)

June 5th, 2012
11:17 am

Speaking of 20/20 hindsight, what would have been nice is if Frank Wren had traded some of our supposedly fantastic arms stockpiled in the system, before they were exposed. Now that their trade value is devalued, we still do not have a big banger, but we have an excess of AAA pitchers. We need to fire Frank Wren and get someone who can make better decisions.

Jack in Macon

June 5th, 2012
11:18 am

Mark, this is the kind of article a columnist will write when he has nothing meaningful to communicate. This is old news and why would any true Braves fan want to second guess Braves management after seeing Lowe pitch for Atlanta. Lousy article. You can do better. Shame on you.

Bob

June 5th, 2012
11:18 am

After last season, there was no reason to keep him. However, he would be better than Mike Minor, in the 5th Starter slot so far this year. But I don’t think Lowe will sustain what he is doing all season, and I think Mike Minor, with a little time in AAA (Medlin to fill in) will find his stuff again.

stizz

June 5th, 2012
11:31 am

Hell no!

Come on Mark, there are better options out there, especially not a guy who’s already had his name dragged through the city.

fuzzybee

June 5th, 2012
11:32 am

Sometimes a new venue is required to shake a player up. In this case, maybe Lowe dried out over the summer and came back strong. Had he stayed with the Braves it would have been the same as last year. Now that he has made a good impression in Cleveland, he may be backsliding into the bottle.

ATLHawk

June 5th, 2012
11:33 am

Not to mention, Derek lowe isn’t pitching against a red hot marlins club, an up and coming Nationals team, the scrappy Mets, and the Phillies. Instead, he faces the overhyped kansas city royals, the terrible twins, and has to play the white sox, who have about 3 good hitters, and I will give you the detroit tigers. No comparison.

space monkey

June 5th, 2012
11:34 am

The last thing we need is another soft-tossing starter. What we need is a power pitcher. I would trade Delgado and Minor for a guy who can hit 96 consistently and has a decent slider or change up. Beachy is our only starter who pops the mitt. Hanson’s shoulder injury and new windup have ended any discussion of him as a power pitcher. Cox’s dictum should be changed to: You can’t have enough power pitching. The Nats have Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmerman, all power pitchers. We have no one who can match them. One of the reasons why the Braves won only one championship in the ’90s was our dearth of power pitchers. Yes, we had Smoltz and early on Avery. But we had too many finesse guys on staff. And good hitters trump finesse. Who would you rather have in a three-game series Schilling and Johnson or Maddux and Glavine? Power pitching rules the post-season.

CJ

June 5th, 2012
11:54 am

The same ol’ Bradley! Get rid of him! Now! oh…we should have kept him. You’re as reliable as the ocean tide….at changing your mind. Please, if Lowe were back w/ the Braves he would be 3-7 w/ a 6.30 era. Besides being in a different league there are many other factors to consider ie. run support, does he face the ace of the other staff, is the defense behind him bettter? All these things factor into his win/loss and his era. Put all the facts together and then make a wish. Also, as mentioned earlier, what did the Braves do with this $10 million extra? Of course, pocket it, for just in case of…..say a trip to aruba or the french riviera anything to get out of Denver for a week.

steve brown

June 5th, 2012
12:13 pm

King of the second guessers. You can not invest in retrospect. What you could write about is the Braves front office inability to judge talent. The scouts seem to do a good job but when I see the ex-Braves doing well elsewhere that is an indictment of Wren, John S and the rest of the front office. Are the players that have been replaced such as Lowe, Infante, Francoeur, Saltamacchia, Furcal, Kelly Johnson, Adam LaRoche, Elvis Andrus, etc., really inferior to what we have kept.

The wasted money on Chipper and an inability to judge talent will haunt the Braves until we have a regime change. Have the moves the front office has made over the past seven years made an incremental difference? I don’t think so.

Delbert D.

June 5th, 2012
12:16 pm

He would be a bargain for one year and he would eat innings. Pardon me while I look for some more hindsight. I know exactly where to find it, and I understand they use anesthesia these days.

walknbalk

June 5th, 2012
12:18 pm

Mr. Bradley,

Why would you even post an article like this? Lowe is gone, and if you are honest you were hoping he would be gone at different points last year.

Darryl Blackberry

June 5th, 2012
12:28 pm

Even Lowe himself has said this year in interviews that part of the reason for his success is being away from the hard, fast infield at Turner Field. If he’d stayed, who knows if he’d have this kind of success in Atlanta.

jarvis

June 5th, 2012
12:31 pm

Right….and what a great guy he is. Wish we had him back driving drunk all over our roads and abandioning his wife for the local skirt. He’s was wonderful.

Good riddens.

Whiskey Breath

June 5th, 2012
12:38 pm

Come on Mark, it was obvious his problem was he needed a change in towns.
A lot of times a player just needs a change in scenery. Nothing new.

reckingball

June 5th, 2012
12:38 pm

I think that Lowe’s current success, may have something to do with Cleveland’s close proximity to Lake ERIE.

gwbroo

June 5th, 2012
12:40 pm

Mark. Just stop. Nothing else to write about today?

AZBravoFan

June 5th, 2012
12:44 pm

By the end of the year, D. Lowe will be right where he always is. ERA in the mid 4’s, probably around a .500 record with double digit wins and losses. Beachy, Hanson, Hudson will all have better numbers. And I bet at least one of Minor, Medlen, or Delgado will have comparable numbers.

reckingball

June 5th, 2012
12:48 pm

I liked Lowe, I don’t judge other people’s marriages, and he did not get a DUI, but he really needed to go.
The pitching that the Braves have now is very talented, and one or two of the younger pitchers are learning as they go(OJT).
I fully expect JJ to rebound, and Minor and Delgado to settle down.
I hope Lowe the best of luck. Hope he doesn’t have to sweat out 6 or 7 gallons every time he pitches up there.
go braves!

show me kid

June 5th, 2012
12:54 pm

Anybody could say this now. Why didn’t you say this last year? I know-I didn’t either.

GTanner

June 5th, 2012
12:56 pm