This player preview was written by Timm Davis, who can be found at his blog, Rain Delay, and also posts here as... wait for it... Rain Delay.
Going into the winter, I was one of the few voices (at the time) that was lobbying for the Braves to sign Derek Lowe over AJ Burnett. Thankfully Burnett chose the bright lights of New York, instead of the muggy summers in the south. I will also state for the record that I have man crushes on guy's that can throw that sinker and get ground ball after ground ball.
Like Crash Davis says: "Relax, all right? Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic."
After apparently having "no interest" in Lowe at the beginning of the off season, the Braves front office wizened up and went after him (maybe it had something do to with the Padres trying to be greedy, and Burnett going to the big apple). He's come in to a 4 year, $60 million contract and is to be the ace of the staff. There's an argument that he's not what people term as a 'true ace', like say a Jake Peavy, Johan Santana or Carlos Zambrano. What matters is that he's the ace of this staff, a staff that was missing its two aces by the end of last season. So while he's not your prototypical "Ace" as some would lead you to believe, he's still a TOR pitcher and that's what we want.
So now you're thinking, how much of a difference is Lowe and Burnett, in reference to their 2008 performance. Well, lets take a look shall we?
At first blush they look fairly similar, but look again. Check out the disparity in GB%, Lowe has him beat by about 12%. For Lowe he was off his career average, which is a robust 64.4 GB%, he's (by product of the sinker) less homer prone, which seemed to be a problem with the Braves pitching staff last year.
One thing is for sure, he's going to make our infielders work hard. I have all the confidence in the defense behind him. Escobar, the second best defensive shortstop in baseball, Casey Kotchman who's a picking machine, Kelly Johnson who will hopefully improve on the league average defense he provides (though some people will swear on a stack of bibles that he's the second coming of Rafael Ramirez) and Chipper over at third, who for the most part has improved his defense at third after being sent to the outfield and then returned to the hot corner (he was 10th in the Majors in +/- with a +9 according to John Dewans metric).
Now there is a age factor to consider, as by the time his contract ends Lowe will be 40. It's really nothing to worry about though -- maybe if he was a power pitcher -- but he's not and should be able to survive off his sinker for some time. In 2008 he posted the highest ERA+ he's seen in the last 6 years with a 131.
Even though I think ERA is pretty worthless, I might as well point out that he hasn't posted an ERA over 4.00 since 2004, and I see no indication that this trend will change. His career GB/FB sits at 3.32, even though he posted a career low 2.63 last season -- likely just a blip on the radar. We shouldn't worry about any sort of decline, though some of the main stream pundits think that his removal from Dodger stadium might hurt him in the long run.
As the ace of the staff, and part of the Braves new rebuilt pitching philosophy, he's going to be depended on to go out an chew up a ton of innings (something Braves starters didn't do in 2008). Since 2002 when he went from being a closer to a starter, he's dipped under 200 innings pitched only twice. He had 182.3 in 2004, and just missed the 200 mark in 2007 with 199.1.
The 2009 Atlanta Braves are hoping to pencil him in for 200+ innings, an ERA+ in the 130's and a TON of ground balls. He's the anchor of the staff who's going to set the tone, eat a lot of innings (giving an over used bullpen in 2008 some rest) and take some pressure of the young guys like Jair Jurrjens.
Thanks to Timm for a great preview of our pitching ace.