Sunday, October 5, 2008

Free Agent at the End of the Season: Derek Lowe

When I initially looked at this season's free agent class, Derek Lowe struck me as a pitcher who could benefit from a weak crop of pitchers. Nowadays, teams will pay pitchers big money for not only being a great pitcher, but for a being a consistent pitcher as well. And ever since Derek Lowe signed with the Dodgers, consistency has been his middle name. That's a far cry from the Red Sox Derek Lowe, who had a great 2002, but struggled mightily through 2004. Lowe attacks hitters with a fantastic sinker that dives down in the zone, which results in many ground balls. He is a control pitcher, who has done a phenomenal job limiting his walks (71 in 2004, 45 in 2008). Lowe will get big bucks this offseason and there are plenty of reasons why.

The Case for Lowe
-His experience.
Perhaps no pitcher on the open market can stake claim to the vast amount of experience Lowe has. He has pitched in playoff games. He has pitched out of the bullpen. He has started game 7. He has pitched a no hitter. This man knows how pitch despite the situation; and in this market, that speaks volumes.

-He's consistent.
Anyone look at Derek Lowe's stats over the past 4 seasons? Some pretty remarkable stuff. Here are his ERA's with the Dodgers:

2005: 3.61
2006: 3.63
2007: 3.88
2008: 3.24

That's pretty darn good, right? And how about this for consistency: Lowe has not won less than 10 games since 2002. Not many pitchers can claim to have done that. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have the Barry Zito/Scott Boras decree: Lowe takes the ball every fifth day. Since 2002, Lowe has started more than 30 games in each season and has thrown at least 200 innings five times during that span.

We have already mentioned Lowe's playoff experience, but who knew that Derek Lowe's lifetime ERA in the playoffs is 3.31? How many teams would love to have a guy like that next season? (Cough...Mets...please...) Lowe's been dominant at times in his career (2004 ALCS and 2008 NLDS) and he can make himself alot of money if continues to come up big during crunch time.

The Case against Lowe
-His age.
Lowe will be turning 36 next season, which isn't exactly the prime of his career. Who knows? Maybe Lowe will be find the fountain of youth ala Jaime Moyer, but pitchers usually decline around 36-38, if not sooner. Buyer beware.

-The away stats.
Even though Lowe has a 3.24 ERA this season, his home/away splits have to be somewhat concerning for prospective buyers. At Dodger Stadium, Lowe had a 2.30 ERA, but on the road his ERA ballooned to 4.42. Keep in mind that a 4.42 ERA is still decent, but can teams depend on Lowe to deliver the 2.30 ERA at a ballpark other than Dodger Stadium? Any GM would have to be confident that Lowe can deliver the goods before they commit to him.

Hmmm...where to begin here. Lowe has front end competition in CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, but those guys should command much more than Lowe. The only pitcher I find comparable in Oliver Perez, who is about 10 years younger and 100 times more inconsistent than Lowe (if AJ Burnett opts out, I'd lump him in here). If I'm a GM, I'd prefer Lowe over Perez and even Burnett. Yes he doesn't throw all that hard, but the results speak for themself. Lowe is a winner and a dependable #2 starter.

3 years/$36 mil

At this stage in the game, I can think of at least six teams that I think could be interested in Derek Lowe:

White Sox

The list of teams interested in Lowe could (and should) get longer. This guy can win and will be paid for it. Agent Scott Boras will no doubt look at the following contracts:

Derek Lowe (4 years/$36 mil)
Tim Hudson (4 years/$47 mil)
Kyle Lohse (4 years/$41 mil)
Jason Schmidt (3 years/$47 mil)

Obviously at Lowe's age, $12 mil per season is what the market dictates. If not for his age, Lowe could have commanded a long term deal, but he will have to instead focus on 3-4 years at a premium price. I wouldn't feel comfortable paying a pitcher until he is 40, but Lowe could be a major difference maker for a team in either 2009 or 2010.

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