by Bryce McRae
on January 15, 2009 @ 00:00:00
Entering the offseason, Atlanta's primary need was clear: pitching. The club posted a 5.55 ERA in the second half last year (worst in the National League). They needed to bolster their rotation if they were to keep up with the likes of the New York Mets and world champion Philadelphia Phillies in the National League East.
The addition of starting pitcher Javier Vazquez (Chicago White Sox) filled one rotation spot. However, it is the signing of starting pitcher Derek Lowe (Los Angeles Dodgers) that should bring the most stability to their beleaguered rotation. Lowe, 35, signed a four-year deal worth $60 million.
Perhaps just as important as his signing, the move kept Lowe from going to the Mets, who were believed to be one of his strongest suitors.
Lowe has been one of the most reliable starters for the majority of this decade; he keeps the ball down and can eat up innings. He relies largely on a sinker fastball and slider that he uses to induce plenty of ground balls. His addition should put the onus on the Braves' infield defense to turn those grounders into outs.
Lowe pitched four seasons for the Boston Red Sox from 1998 through 2001; however, he worked primarily as a relief pitcher. The 2002 season marked his first as a full-time starter since being part of the Seattle Mariners' minor-league system in the mid-1990s.
Table 1: Derek Lowe's statistics (2002-08)
The one year that stands out was his final season in Boston. He set career worst marks in almost all of the major categories. The indicators clearly point to a few reasons for this; Lowe stranded only 59 percent of the runners that reached base against him, which is nearly 10 percent lower than his career rate. In addition, his control deserted him as he gave up his worst walk rate as a starter (3.50 walks per nine innings).
Lowe has consistently thrown 200-plus innings with a 3.79 ERA since the beginning of 2002. He is only an average strikeout pitcher (5.91 strikeouts per nine innings), but his control has been consistently solid with the exception of 2004. His strikeouts have trended upward over the last two years, with 6.64 strikeouts per nine in 2007 and 6.27 in 2008. Clearly, he has benefited from the move to the NL.
In 2008, Lowe's ground ball-to-fly ball ratio ranked second among qualifying starters to only the Arizona Diamondbacks' Brandon Webb. In fact, since joining the Dodgers in 2005, Lowe has ranked in the top three in that respect in the majors in each year, which continues a pattern set during his days in Boston.
Atlanta will also be getting a pitcher that can help them where they fell apart last year, mostly because of injuries. Lowe has been a slightly better pitcher in the second half over his career. He carried the Dodgers on his back last year, going 6-1 with a 1.27 ERA in his last 10 starts. He's a welcome addition in big part because of his durability.
The new digs
One immediate benefit of switching divisions might seem to be the backing of a slightly stronger offense. Atlanta finished eighth in the majors in average (.270) and 16th in runs (753). Their offense has finished higher than that of the Dodgers in each of the last five years. Atlanta scored 22 more runs than Los Angeles in the second half last year, even after the Braves traded All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira and the Dodgers traded for outfielder Manny Ramirez. However, in recent seasons Atlanta's offense has been trending downward, while LA has reason to believe their bats are on the rise.
Switching parks should help Lowe in his role as the Braves' new anchor. Although both parks are generally neutral, Dodger Stadium has trended unfavorably toward home runs, particularly to left-handers, in the last three years, something that hasn't been as noticeable at Turner Field. This should help Lowe, who has seen his fly-ball percentage increase in each of the last two seasons.
In nine career appearances (six starts) at Turner Field, Lowe has gone 2-2 with a 3.54 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and a .266 opponents' batting average; his strikeouts per nine innings is also an impressive 7.30.
One potential disadvantage is the instability in the bullpen in Atlanta. Last year the Dodgers had relievers Takashi Saito and Jonathan Broxton, both solid options, while the Braves possessed a multitude of relief pitchers who served as closer - Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez and Manny Acosta among them.
Atlanta ranked dead last in the league in saves last year and was 23rd in save percentage. However, with Saito gone from Los Angeles and the Braves bullpen looking healthy again, this shouldn't hamper Lowe, especially with his tendency to work deep into games. In addition, Gonzalez is expected to be the full-time closer; he save 14 of his 16 opportunities and was a perfect 24-for-24 in 2006 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Fantasy baseball outlook
Lowe is a serviceable option as a low-end No. 3 (no pun intended) or solid No. 4 fantasy starter. Switching parks shouldn't impact him much as both are fairly neutral parks, but there could be a settling-in period with Atlanta. He will be pitching in a new city with new teammates, a new coaching staff and new expectations.
His switch to a more offensively geared division is one reason to be wary. However, Lowe is still a stable option once you have secured your fantasy ace and one or two other arms. He may go at a discount because he has less upside than others in his price range or tier, but he is also much more proven.
About Bryce McRae
Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.
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