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Braves 2010 Season in Review: Derek Lowe

By the season's end, nobody was more reliable than Derek Lowe was.
By the season's end, nobody was more reliable than Derek Lowe was.

Entering the second year of a questionable 4-year, $60 million dollar contract, there were a lot of clashing opinions about Derek Lowe.  Some were simply willing to accept that what was done was done, and to hope for the best from our $15M a year pitcher, while others would simply voice their disdain for the contract, and sadistically hope for the worst to prove their point.  And many felt a bit of disappointment in the off-season, when the Braves made an attempt to move Derek Lowe, were unable to do so, and instead moved the well-liked Javier Vazquez, to the Yankees in a much-criticized move that brought to Atlanta, Melky Cabrera, among others.  Admittedly, I was one of them; after all, with Tim Hudson secured for three more years, why did the Braves need two groundball pitchers, not to mention that I would’ve been thrilled if the Braves were able to shed the expensive contract.

But by the season’s end, Derek Lowe had won many a hearts of Braves fans with his renaissance, and in the closing months of the season, where nothing could go right for Atlanta, with injuries, inconsistencies, more injuries, and over-exposures, the man who was too expensive, washed up, "the fifth starter," a burden, and sucked, was the only thing going right.

It was a tale of three seasons for Derek Lowe in 2010, and the most important thing was how he finished it – on a high note.

From the start of the season (April 5th) all the way until June (2nd), Derek Lowe was an enigma.  He wasn’t exactly pitching like the ace that deserved a $15M a year contract, but the Braves were still winning a good deal of the games he was starting.  Due to massive run support, Derek Lowe went 8-4 in this stretch (As well as the team), where in the games in which he received a winning decision, he was pitching roughly six innings a game, while receiving on average 7.5 runs a game.  Three times, Lowe left the game with a tie score, but the offense immediately took the lead while he was still on record, delivering wins to the vulture’s nest.  The games Lowe lost were a different story, as he was pitching an average 5.2 innings per loss while giving up close to 5 earned runs a game. 

Overall, in season 1, Derek Lowe’s performance was a respectable 8-4 record, a cringe-worthy 4.44 ERA, a BABIP of .295, a slightly below the norm 5.3 K/9, one more than career average 3.8 BB/9, a sort of plain for a groundball pitcher 1.39 GB/FB ratio, and a mediocre 1.394 WHIP.  Yet, on average, Derek Lowe contributed a pretty decent +0.210 WPA during his starts.

From June (7th) through all of August, the wheels kind of fell off the wagon for Derek.  And here’s the worst part, and where we’re all reminded of how cruel the game can actually be, especially for pitchers.  In Lowe’s next 16 starts, the Braves went a woeful 5-11, resulting in a poor 3-8 record.  Mostly due to the fact that the Runs Support Fairy that blessed Derek Lowe all throughout the first two months of the season must have run out of magic dust, because the Braves just weren’t scoring for him nearly as much anymore.  The ironic thing is that Lowe wasn’t pitching that poorly during all this, because he was still on average going six innings, but the offense was downright anemic during these losses, averaging 2.1 runs per game in the eleven losses.  Even Lowe’s 3.37 ERA in these losing efforts couldn’t combat such poor support.  He was chased from the game early (<5.0IP) only twice, and the Braves came back to win one of them.

In season 2, Derek Lowe went 3-8, with an overall ERA of 4.60, a noticeable spike in BABIP at .323, an improved 6.4 K/9, a back to norm 2.7 BB/9, a hair improve 1.31 GB/FB ratio, and a WHIP of 1.445.  To say Lowe was a little bit of a jinx during this period is indicative by his WPA of -0.324.  He got his strikeouts up, walks down, and due to little support from the offense, as well as a little bad luck with balls in play, Lowe’s the one who looks like the biggest problem – that’s pitching for ‘ya.

After being unceremoniously and mercifully pulled out of the game on August 29th after only pitching three innings, but having given up five earned runs to the Florida Marlins, Derek Lowe was an unhappy and dejected pitcher.  Maturity can be measured, all sorts of ways, but in the case of Derek Lowe, he realized that things just weren’t working, and admitted that he needed help.  Starting from scratch with pitching coach Roger McDowell, Lowe purportedly re-discovered his slider, and essentially changed his game plan approaches.  The results were instantaneous, and Derek Lowe dominated his way through September, going a perfect 5-0 on the way, and earning the National League’s Pitcher of the Month award.

When season 3 ended, Derek Lowe was close to perfect.  As mentioned he went a perfect 5-0, with a miniscule ERA of 1.17.  His BABIP was .322, but it was kind of irrelevant, since he was allowing less than a hit per inning during this stretch.  The rediscovered slider contributed to a sizzling 8.6 K/9, and obviously prevented him from walking guys as indicative by a 0.89 BB/9.  When he wasn’t whiffing the opposition, they were back to hitting groundballs again, to the tune of a 2.14 GB/FB ratio, and his WHIP was that of an elite 1.092 WHIP.  When the dust settled, Derek Lowe couldn’t lose, and it reflected in his average WPA of +0.945.

But since all this happened in the time span of one official season, Derek Lowe’s overall line is unfortunately not nearly as pretty as his September; but wouldn’t look close to how it ended without it.  A 16-12 record, with an overall ERA of an even 4.00, in 193.2 innings pitched.  He struck out 136 batters to the tune of 6.3 K/9, and walked 61 men to the tune of 2.83 BB/9.  Being the groundball pitcher he is, his BABIP rests at .312, but he had an improved over the previous year 58.8% GB rate which contributed to him inducing 22 Jose Vidro specials (GIDPs), en route to a team leading 3.65 xFIP.

Derek Lowe also has the unfortunate, dubious honor of leading the team in hits allowed, runs, and earned runs allowed. 

It should also be worth nothing that Derek Lowe fielded his position quite well, committing ZERO errors in 2010, and if the pitcher’s Gold Glove were measured on fielding percentage, than Derek Lowe would be a lock with a perfect 1.000 FP.

In the playoffs, Derek Lowe continued his dominant pitching throughout the NLDS, but was rewarded with nothing but an ungrateful 0-2 record, en route to elimination.  In two starts, he pitched 11.2 IP (with in game 2, taking a no-hitter into the sixth), gave up only 6 H, yielding only 3 ER, striking out 14, and unintentionally walking 5.  Giant hitters hit 21 ground balls versus five flies, so he was doing his job excellently.  It should have been the moment of the year, when Derek Lowe convinced Bobby Cox to stay in the game, after telling him that he owned Pat Burrell, and then immediately got him to hit into an inning-ending GIDP, the Braves would come from behind and win the game, the series, to where Lowe would dominate the Phillies, and we’d be in the World Series right now.  But instead, Lowe fell victim to a debatable call by the umpire, and Pat Burrell walked, and the rest is unfortunate history.

Instead, my favorite memory of Derek Lowe this year, was on September 13th, when I was at Turner Field when Lowe struck out a career-high 12 batters against the Washington Nationals.  His success actually almost cost me a very expensive dinner, because after he breezed through the first two innings, my best friend, who happens to be a Nationals fan, and I started arguing over text messages about how he thought Lowe was going to get to 15 Ks on a complete game shutout, and I told him "no way, I’ll buy you (Fogo de Chau-like dinner) if he does."  And then eight innings later, Lowe’s at 12 Ks, I’m sweating in a mild September evening, and I’m being taunted.  But thanks to Bobby’s reluctance to let anyone go the distance, I was spared a $70-a-head dinner, and instead left with a happy memory of Lowe’s dominance that evening.

So in conclusion, it really depends on the type of person to interpret what kind of season that Derek Lowe had.  Anyone relying solely on wins, losses, and ERA might not be impressed, and some could further beat the horse with Lowe’s low strikeout total, or the fact that he has yet to hit the 200 IP plateau he was boasted as being able to do annually.  Others might examine the WAR aspect, to where according to FanGraphs, Derek Lowe improved his war by a tenth from last year, posting a +2.7 WAR, and notice that despite the mediocre traditional stats, he did improve upon his strikeout rate, walk rate, groundball rate as well as his fielding.

Is he worth $15 million dollars a year?  No – but really, there aren't a whole lot of ball players genuinely are worth their value in WAR and win shares; some are overpaid, and way more are underpaid.  But be reminded of this notion, if the Braves didn't lock up Lowe, there was a good chance that the Mets would have.  And if the Mets locked up Lowe, they wouldn't have locked up Oliver Perez.  Imagine if our roles were reversed . . . on second though, don't.

But looking back at 2010, to the Braves fans who watched the games all season, when nothing was going right for the Braves in September, and the team was reeling, it was Derek Lowe who brought stability to the rotation and wins back in the column, when it mattered most.  And continuing hope, and having a reason to play, is priceless.

Next Year:

Whether you like it or not, Derek Lowe is a lock in the starting rotation in 2011.  He’s still going to make another $15 million dollars in the process too.  And regardless of how strong he finished out the season, that kind of money is still going to be essentially impossible to trade.  So all we can really hope for is that he still starts another 32+ games, contributes another 190+ innings and another 15+ winz.  I’d really like to see him get that GB% back up to 60% but he’s not getting any younger at 37 years old, so I’d be more than content and happy if he could pitch close to like it was September 2010, more consistently in 2011.


One funny thing that stood out to me, here at Talking Chop was the creation of the whimsical "DerekLoweWin" stat, by our very own pacgnosis.  In short – get the win, but also give up 4+ ERs in the process.  After Derek Lowe earned the DLW on Opening Day which kind of prompted Pac to write his discovery, Derek Lowe himself didn’t earn a single DLW there afterward.  And that's a good thing . . . right?


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