<
>
Insider

Derek Lowe can help Cleveland

10/31/2011

The hot stove season officially kicked off Monday with a trade that sent right-hander Derek Lowe from the Atlanta Braves to the Cleveland Indians for Class A lefty Chris Jones.

For Cleveland, the appeal of Lowe has to be his ability to get
ground balls and stay on the mound. He's made 33 or 34 starts in each of the past four years and at least 32 starts in 10 straight seasons.
He's also consistently among the top ground-ball starters in the game,
with ground-ball percentages in the 56-to-59 percent range with Atlanta, down slightly from the rates he showed in Boston and L.A.

That said, Lowe is nothing more than a back-end guy at this point, and
maybe less after the switch in leagues. Position players hit
.301/.365/.433 (average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) against him this year, and he struck out just 112 of
762 batters against 66 walks. The sinker is getting softer, and its sink isn't as sharp as it was two years ago. Lowe has ramped up his use of the slider in the past two years, and that has become his weapon to miss bats because hitters are laying off the sinker more. He's also added a soft cutter in the 84-85 range to keep hitters off the sinker.

Lowe must continue to change his approach to handle the American League because the sinker alone no longer suffices, and the rise in his walk rate is a red flag. For $5 million, it won't be hard for Cleveland to get its money's worth out of Lowe, but I don't see him as a difference-maker for the Indians, either -- probably just an extra two wins over a replacement-level pitcher like the now-departed Mitch Talbot.

For Atlanta, this trade is purely about is salary relief. Jones is not a prospect -- a middle reliever at best -- and the $15 million owed to Lowe
was a sunk cost. So the Braves get $5 million of it back while also making
room for one of their young starters. Mike Minor should be guaranteed
a rotation spot now, and I assume Julio Teheran is most likely to land
the fifth spot, with Arodys Vizcaino starting in the 'pen to help manage
his innings total. (Tommy Hanson's status is still a bit uncertain because of the shoulder injury that put him on the shelf at the end of the season.) The Braves are no worse off in the rotation and get some
money back to add to their offense.