Derek Lowe: Sell High Candidate

The first month of the season has gone by. How is your team looking? Are you satisfied? Probably not, right? Does the urge to drive to Miami and beat up the slumping Hanley Ramirez grow stronger by the day? Are you sending threatening letters to Carlos Pena? Do you believe Jered Weaver’s hot start has been aided by the Luck Dragons?

If your answers to the above questions is “yes”, well, you may need more help than I am able to provide. However, if you feel capable of moving on, then may I suggest it time for you to start looking into the trade market. Today I’m going to focus on a pitcher with familiar names who, while off to great start, isn’t likely to keep up his current level of performance, creating an excellent sell high candidate.

Derek Lowe is a strange dude this season – that’s aside from the fact that he enjoys drinking and driving. For his career, we know what we’re getting from Lowe. He’s going to throw roughly 200 innings with an ERA somewhere around 4.00 with a middling strikeout rate. A better real life starter than fantasy, surely. Something has changed so far in 2011, however. Instead of a K/9 of 5.93 (his career average), Lowe has seen his spike to 8.61. A strikeout rate that high with the durability he provides can be a valuable asset. The question is, how confident are you he can keep that up? Your answer should be somewhere in the neighborhood of “not very.”

Diving in further shows us a couple of strange, and likely unsustainable, figures. His SwStr% is at all time high of 10%, while his Swing% is at an all time low of 39.8. Also, Lowe’s O-Swing% has remained in line with his career rate while his O-Contact% (26.7) is way, way down from the past two seasons (51.5%). That leads me to believe that Lowe is getting pretty lucky. I had FanGraphs’ own Carson Cistulli calculate the total, and this season batters have swung at 12.9% of his pitches outside of the strike zone. League average is ~9.5%, and Lowe himself was only at 9.3% and 7.2% the past two seasons.

Our pitch classifications have Lowe throwing a cutter 9.9% of the time in 2011, up from 4.5 in 2010 and 1.5% in 2009. It could be that Lowe has more confidence in this pitch, or the classification could misreading his fastball. I’m not going to credit that with any of Lowe’s increased whiffy-ness yet, but it bares keeping an eye on. In any case, this man with the 37K in 38.2 IP is not the Derek Lowe we’ve grown to know over the years. As P.T. Barnum famously said, there’s a sucker born every minute. Maybe there’s one in your league who will take Lowe will his value is high.

Erik writes for DraysBay and has also written for Bloomberg Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ehahmann.

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Sell high, sure… but Lowe’s new pitch selection and approach means he will easily beat his career average K/9 this season (just not at 8.61).