Braves 2009 Season in Review: Derek Lowe

Did Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Derek Lowe really have this bad of a year? Is he really this bad of a pitcher? After all he posted an ERA almost a run higher than his career average, and he led the league in hits allowed, and he didn't even get to that vaunted 200 innings pitched plateau that was part of the reason we signed him.

I started out thinking this writeup would just be several paragraphs of me trashing Lowe, but then I looked deeper and thought about his 2009 performance in a different way.

His ERA was a robust 4.67, but his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was substantially lower at 4.06. This is not all that surprising for a ground ball pitcher, but it is a big gap. He also posted a batting average against of .301 -- the highest in his career, and part of why he led the league in hits allowed -- but that could have been helped by a high BABIP of .333. These are both similar numbers to what he put up during his last year in Boston, 2004. That year he had a .299 BAA and a .331 BABIP, which caused his ERA to jump up to an even uglier number (5.42) than last year.

We can only infer that these numbers are not the norm for Derek Lowe. His career numbers, even with these outliers factored in are that of a .262 BAA and a .295 BABIP, to go with a 3.84 ERA and a 3.79 FIP. These are much closer to what he did during the last four years in Los Angeles, and closer to the type of pitcher that we believe we actually got when we signed him to a 4-year contract at $15 mil a pop.

This reminds me of Tim Hudson's second year in Atlanta, where his numbers were just a little out of whack and no one, not even Tim, could point to why. I'd like to believe that Lowe just had a bad year, or several bad games that caused his numbers to be skewed away from what they normally would be.

When you look at his month-by-month stats he had three really good months that were in-line with or better than his career numbers, and three months where the numbers look absolutely horrible. Each of those horrible months the poor totals can be attributed to one or two really bad games,in which he gave up a significant amount of runs, but in the other games those months he continued to pitch well until the final month of the season. Here are some of his month-by-month starts for 2009 with quality starts highlighted:

Month Quality Starts Total Starts ERA
April 3 5 3.10
May 5 6 3.76
June 4 6 6.54
July 4 5 3.38
August 3 6 5.08
Sep/Oct 2 7 6.23


While Quality Starts may not be the best judge of a pitcher's actual ability, we can see from these numbers that even in the bad months Lowe was still pitching good games and getting wins. This is probably why it's hard to figure why Lowe's record was the same as Javier Vazquez' record when Javy had an ERA that was almost two runs less. In Javy's case it was a lot of bad luck, bad run support, and bad bullpen, but that luck can cut both ways. Even putting luck aside, Lowe was his typical self for the vast majority of his starts, it was just those handful of starts that crushed his overall numbers.

So don't get too down on Derek Lowe. We still have a very good pitcher, and if other teams are looking at these numbers, perhaps they too will find value in what Lowe can bring them. This also should help to ensure that no one will be too terribly crushed if the Braves don't trade Lowe this off-season. He still won 15 games, and there's a reason for that -- he was the pitcher we paid for in most of those games.

At the beginning of this piece I would never have thought I would end up defending the 2009 season of Derek Lowe, but there you have it.

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