Appreciating Derek Lowe

Ever since he became a full-time member of Red Sox the starting rotation in 2002, Derek Lowe has been one of the best in the game at eating innings and simply inducing ground balls. Lowe has made at least 32 starts every year since 2002, and has contributed at least 2.5 WAR each year.

During his early run as a starter, Lowe’s GB% bordered on the obscene. Prior to signing with the Braves in 2009, Lowe’s ground-ball rate never dipped below 60%, and it rose to 65% on four occasions. Frankly, if we compare Lowe’s current rates to what he did in the past, his recent performance has been unspectacular. How often can we say that about a pitcher who’s still getting grounders over 58% of the time?

From a fantasy angle, Lowe has always been a bit under appreciated. Since leaving the Red Sox, Lowe has never won a ton of games, and his ERA and WHIP were rarely elite enough to make up for pedestrian strikeout totals. However, the complete package that is Derek Lowe has usually been worthy of a roster spot as long as the rest of your rotation could provide the strikeouts, at least until the advanced aging started in Atlanta.

Not convinced that Lowe could still be worth a pickup at 38 years of age? I understand your concern, but I would like to present you with one more piece of evidence: Lowe’s pitch f/x heat maps. Below are images showing Lowe’s sinker and slider locations this year, and you can click on them if you wish to enlarge them for your viewing convenience.

As you can see, Lowe refuses to throw his fastball in the upper third of the strike zone, instead knowing how his bread is buttered and pounding the bottom of the zone. Also, as you can see, he is going to completely stay away from lefties, hopefully forcing them to reach out and pound a ball into the ground. If you look at his graphs from the past few seasons, they will look very similar to what Lowe is doing in 2011.

Lowe knows his strengths, and his uses them to his advantage, even if he’s getting older and losing some effectiveness. He should be able to stave off some aging just thanks to his pitch selection and control, and is certainly worth having around in NL-only leagues.

Zach is the creator and co-author of RotoGraphs' Roto Riteup series, and RotoGraphs' second-longest tenured writer. You can follow him on twitter.

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11 years ago

What I can appreciate about Derek Lowe is how he switches up his pitches every year to fit what works. In 2004, hitters were eating up his FB. What does he do in 2005? Throws it over 11% less. 2005 his CH became a negative pitch, so he drops it from 16% to 11%. 2009 his slider just wasn’t working, so he throws it almost 50% less the next year. He had a couple ‘meh’ years with the Cutter, and dropped it altogether until recently throwing it again.

This dude is wiley. I’m guessing he has a great baseball IQ which he’ll have to lean on as he ages.