This week, we take a look at the starting rotation and we begin with two pitchers who contrasted as much as anyone this season: Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson. Hudson was consistently good while Lowe was consistently bad, so bad that he could give Freddy Krueger nightmares (this is Halloween, after all). They both smacked home runs, but that's where the similarities end. Hudson was Atlanta's most reliable starter in 2011, leading the team in wins and innings pitched while finishing second among starters in ERA (Jurrjens).
Lowe, on the other hand, was the first Braves pitcher since 1988 (Glavine) to lose 17 games in a season. The 17 losses were tied for the most in all of MLB and set a new personal record for futility. He had the worst ERA among the starting rotation and, for the most part, did not pitch like he was worth $60 million. His nine wins are his fewest since becoming a full-time starter in 2002.
|2011 - Tim Hudson||16-10||33||33||1||1||0||0||215.0||189||86||77||14||56||158||3.22||1.14|
Lowe may have been the opening day starter, but it was Hudson who proved to be the better pitcher. Hudson's 158 strikeouts are the most he's recorded with the Braves and it's the fourth-highest total of his career. His 2.82 K/BB ratio is the highest he's ever recorded. His GB% (56.7) was the lowest since 2002, yet it was good enough for fourth in all of MLB; the same goes for his GB/FB ratio (2.29). He tossed Atlanta's first of two complete game shutouts during the season, an 8-0 1-hitter over Milwaukee on May 4. He earned his 1,600th career strikeout in his June 20 start vs. Toronto and won the 10,000th game in Braves franchise history July 15.
On the downside, Hudson plunked 15 batters in 2011, topping all of MLB and his 10 wild pitches were second on the team; no one behind him had more than five.
|2011 - Derek Lowe||9-17||34||34||0||0||0||0||187.0||212||110||105||14||70||137||5.05||1.51|
As for Derek Lowe, to say he struggled this year would be an understatement. To put it simply, he flat out stunk. He showed glimpses of what he was supposed to be, but they were few in number; his May 6 start against the Phillies, for example: he took a no-hitter through six innings before getting dinged for a couple of hits. Including that start, for the month of May, the Braves were 5-1 in his starts despite his 4.86 ERA. Lowe's best month was April when he posted a 3.21 ERA; after that, everything went south starting with his DUI arrest April 28 and culminating with a miserable September that saw Lowe lose all five starts with an 8.75 ERA; a stark difference from September 2010 when he was the NL Pitcher of the Month. Lowe walked 70 batters for the first time since 2004 with Boston. According to Fangraphs, Lowe's WPA of -3.11 was worse than Scott Proctor.
Quality starts may be a useless stat to some, but in this case, they're effective in showing just how much better Hudson was than Lowe. I've also included other numbers for comparison.
|Tim Hudson||Derek Lowe|
|Quality Starts (6+ IP, ≤ 3 ER)||23 of 33||14 of 34|
|ERA in quality starts||1.81||3.09|
|6+ inning starts||28||19|
|7+ inning starts||16||3|
|≤ 5 IP starts||4||11|
|Starts with 4+ ER allowed||7||15|
|Opponent's batting avg.||.236||.285|
If there is a glimmer of anything positive in Lowe's 2011 season, he was second in MLB in GB% (59.0) and GB/FB ratio (2.62). In addition, his FIP of 3.70 was his lowest as a Braves pitcher. He also had four starts in which he didn't allow a run (each at least 5 IP).
He also had a .173 batting avg. as a hitter, besting Hudson's .116, but they hit the only two home runs hit by Braves pitchers in 2011.
June 20: Hudson's homer
August 31: Lowe's homer
Hudson proved he deserves to be Atlanta's Opening Day starter in 2012. He's a free agent following the end of next season with an option for 2013. Lowe has no such option and certainly didn't help his cause this year to be retained beyond 2012, if he's kept next year at all. If he is, it could (and should) be out of the bullpen. The Braves have much better, younger options for the rotation.