Derek Lowe Says Farewell

Today, Derek Lowe announced he’s leaving baseball behind.

I’m officially no longer going to play the game… It’s still enjoyable, but the role I was having wasn’t fulfilling…

If you’re not playing, it’s completely self-explanatory. I’m not going to go to the Hall of Fame, so I don’t feel like I need to have a retirement speech. But I was able to play 17 years on some pretty cool teams and win a World Series. So, everyone’s got to stop playing at some point, and this is my time.


Derek Lowe was a very good pitcher — 42.3 WAR, 2671.1 IP, 176-157 career record with 86 saves, 3.72 career xFIP, and a no-hitter in Fenway Park in 2002 — though he had a knack for leaving his teams wishing for more, while enticing other teams. To say the least, he had an unusual career path.

[G]eneral manager Paul DePodesta targeted Lowe even before Lowe officially filed for free agency last fall, whereupon the Red Sox basically told him they didn’t want him back.
“Put it this way, there was a part of me as I sat there watching [Lowe pitch] Games 4 and 7 of the League Championship Series and Game 4 of the World Series that was worried,’ said DePodesta, who was seeing Lowe’s market value multiply before his eyes. “He was definitely the guy we wanted, even before the postseason started.’

–Tony Jackson, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, March 3, 2005

That was after the 2004 postseason, where Lowe made four appearances, allowing four runs in 19 innings and securing the final win in the Red Sox’s four-game World Series sweep of the Cardinals. Lowe pitched parts of eight seasons in Boston, figuring in one of the most lopsided trades in history — Heathcliff Slocumb for Lowe and Jason Varitek — and finishing third in the 2002 Cy Young voting a year after losing his job as closer.

Statistically, Derek Lowe has been OK for Boston — 4-7, 4.06 ERA, 20 saves in 23 opportunities, and one brief demotion in April. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Lowe has allowed 88 baserunners in 57.2 innings, or that he’s squandered leads or ties 10 different times in 45 appearances. Yikes. When Derek Lowe comes in from the pen, it might be best to hide your eyes. And yet those numbers don’t even tell the whole story…
The Derek Lowe Face is a little different. It’s a frozen expression like The Aikman Face, only it’s more anguished and tortured…
And as soon as Lowe starts making that face, the umpires should halt the game and award it to whomever the Red Sox are playing. I have to admit, I’m haunted by The Derek Lowe Face.

–Bill Simmons, ESPN Page 2, July 25, 2001

Derek Lowe was taken out of high school in Dearborn, Michigan, in the eighth round of the 1991 draft, by the Seattle Mariners. He is easily one of the most successful eighth round draft picks in history. (John Sickels did a good rundown of his minor league career here.) Here’s a list of the top ten eighth rounders taken in the amateur draft, sorted by rWAR:

  Year Tm Pos WAR G HR BA OPS W-L SV ERA WHIP Drafted Out of
Brad Radke 1991 MIN RHP 45.5 378       148-139   4.22 1.26 Jesuit HS (Tampa, FL)
Charlie Hough 1966 LAD INF 39.5 858       216-216 61 3.75 1.30 Hialeah HS (Hialeah, FL)
Eric Davis 1980 CIN SS 35.9 1626 282 .269 .841         Fremont HS (Los Angeles, CA)
Tim Wakefield 1988 PIT 1B 34.6 630       200-180 22 4.41 1.35 Florida Institute of Technology (Melbourne, FL)
Derek Lowe 1991 SEA RHP 34.5 682       176-157 86 4.03 1.33 Ford HS (Dearborn, MI)
Kevin Youkilis 2001 BOS 3B 32.5 1061 150 .281 .861         University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH)
Brandon Webb 2000 ARI RHP 31.4 199       87-62   3.27 1.24 University of Kentucky (Lexington, KY)
Jason Schmidt 1991 ATL RHP 29.6 324       130-96   3.96 1.32 Kelso HS (Kelso, WA)
A.J. Burnett 1995 NYM RHP 26.2 362       141-127   4.01 1.32 Central Arkansas Christian HS (Little Rock, AR)
Steve Trachsel 1991 CHC RHP 25.4 426       143-159   4.39 1.41 California State University Long Beach (Long Beach, CA)

The arc of Lowe’s career was similar to that of his Boston teammate Tim Wakefield. Neither possessed an overwhelming fastball, both had short stints in the bullpen and experienced far more success in the starting rotation, and both pitched well for a very long time without ever being an “ace.” Of course, while Wakefield threw a knuckleball, one of the rarest pitches in big league history (other than the gyroball, perhaps), Lowe just threw a devastating hard sinker.

That sinker was what stood out to White Sox scout Mike Sgobba, who saw him in the Arizona Fall League in 1995. Lowe had spent most of the year with the Double-A Port City Roosters in the Southern League, posting a 6.08 ERA, but Sgobba liked him:

Two seam FB (89-91) has good sink when down in zone/ 3/4 arm slot with full action/Slurve type breaking pitch (78-80) shows decent two plane break when down in zone/throws slightly across body which adds to deception/ good at holding runners and fielding position/ good make up…

Young arm with near average stuff that with some slight mechanical help could be third or fourth starter in a few years/ eager to learn / needs a positive year in AA/ good attitude/ needs added strength

Sgobba was about right on the timeframe, too. Lowe spent 1996 the high minors, saw limited playing time as a starter in 1997, and in 1998 Boston made him a full-time swingman. That worked very well, as the rubber-armed Lowe pitched 415.1 innings from 1998-2001, transitioning from swingman to closer. The highlight of his Boston career was undoubtedly in 2004, though, after he had joined Pedro Martinez at the top of the Boston rotation.

David Laurila recalled the game and then interviewed Lowe about it:

[Laurila:] On October 20, 2004, Derek Lowe had what might be the greatest pitching performance in Boston Red Sox history. It’s certainly the most underappreciated. Facing the New York Yankees in a classic Game 7, Lowe allowed one run and one hit in six innings. And he did it on just two days of rest.

Lowe: I had just pitched against them 48 hours earlier, so I had a fresh thought of what I wanted to do… At that point, you’re as nervous as all giddy up. You’re trying to act all calm, cool and collected, but you’re just looking for outs. With Jeter — for me, getting a fly-ball out isn’t ideal, but it was an out. The last thing I wanted, especially in that stadium, was a lead-off base hit, so I was happy with it.

My shoes didn’t make it. My game shoes didn’t make it to Game 7. I’m not blaming the people in New York, but they had a tendency to lose stuff at the wrong time. I got to the game and I had zero shoes. Zero.

They went to Sports Authority and all they had were Reeboks with no toe on them. I wear Nike. If you look at the tape, you’ll see that my shoes were completely black, because I wasn’t supposed to wear anything besides Nike. I pitched Game 7 wearing off-the-shelf Sports Authority shoes. And I won.

Despite his postseason heroics, the Red Sox had no interest in bringing him back, so the Dodgers signed him to a four-year, $36 million deal: “New ace has 52 wins in past 3 seasons,” proclaimed the ESPN story. He produced 13.6 WAR for them, anchoring the top of their rotation along with Brad Penny. In 2006 and 2008, Lowe had four-win seasons and the Dodgers made the playoffs, a big deal for a proud, wealthy team that went from 1997 to 2003 without making the playoffs once.

At the time, it wasn’t clear why the Sox didn’t want him, but his 2011 DUI caused some to get a sneaking suspicion:

The moral of this story is that when teams make otherwise-inexplicable player moves, like the Red Sox letting Lowe walk after he was a hero of the 2004 postseason, there’s usually a reason.
One personal memory from Lowe’s career was a game in Baltimore on Aug. 2, 2003, in which some fielding blunders got him upset and Grady Little lifted him in the sixth inning. After the game, Lowe had to be hunted down in the shower room for his postgame interview, and as he exited the showers, he had to hold onto the walls to remain upright.
Maybe, of course, it was simply a case of vertigo.

–Bill Ballou, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, May 1, 2011

If anything, Lowe was better in Los Angeles than he had been in Boston, and many considered the 35-year old to be the second-best free agent pitcher in the 2008-09 offseason, behind only C.C. Sabathia. The Atlanta Braves swooped in to offer him a four-year contract worth $60 million.

His first start in a Braves uniform was Opening Day in 2009, and he pitched a gem: eight innings, two hits, four strikeouts, no walks, no runs. It was the best game he would ever have for the Braves. His following start ended early due to a long rain delay, and his third start of the season, he gave up four earned in five innings, striking out five and walking five. Over the remainder of his time in Atlanta, he would display a lot more of the latter than the former.

(The other candidate for best start in a Braves uniform was September 13, 2010, when he went eight innings, gave up six hits, and struck out 12 men while walking none. Like his Opening Day start in 2009, that game had a Game Score of 82. Those were his only two starts with a Game Score above 73. For what it’s worth, in 101 starts with the Braves, Lowe only had 50 Quality Starts.)

It was not a successful signing, and the Braves finally dumped Lowe on the Indians in October of 2011, sending Lowe along with $10 million of his $15 million salary, receiving a fringe prospect in return. But even as a $5 million player, the 38-year old Lowe seemed pretty gassed, allowing 79 runs in 119 innings and walking more men than he struck out. The Indians designated him for assignment last August, and it seemed like all was over.

But it wasn’t, quite. The Yankees came calling to ask Lowe to help shore up their bullpen; they received him for peanuts, as the Indians and Braves were still holding the tab on his contract. Lowe hadn’t pitched out of the bullpen since 2007, but he happily obliged, and appeared to rediscover something.

His first game was an eerie mirror of his first game with the Braves: coming out of the bullpen in the sixth, he closed the game by pitching four scoreless innings, allowing two hits and no runs, and recording four strikeouts and just one walk. That was his first save since 2001. In all, with the Yankees, Lowe made 17 appearances and pitched 23.2 innings with a 3.04 ERA (3.77 FIP).

Texas signed him to a minor league contract in March, and he made the majors, but simply didn’t have it; he gave up three homers in 13 innings and got DFA’ed again in May, then turned 40 in June.

Lowe’s right. He won’t go to the Hall. But his 42.3 WAR place him squarely in the Hall of Very Good, and Laurila suggests that his Game 7 performance in 2004 “is arguably the greatest in Red Sox history.” Not bad for an eighth-round failed closer.




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Alex is a writer for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.


34 Responses to “Derek Lowe Says Farewell”

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  1. Steve says:

    “How Lowe can you go” can never again be a team name :(

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  2. Chris Fontecchio says:

    My favorite Lowe moment:

    http://wapc.mlb.com/play/?content_id=19986287&query=derek%2Blowe%2B2003

    That pitch still blows my mind. The context of it (bases loaded, 9th inn, 3-2, one run lead, game 5 of ALDS) magnified it quite a bit.

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  3. hamjenkinsIII says:

    Lerek Dowe

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  4. J6takish says:

    How has Jim Thome not yet gotten s farewell article, it’s been 2 weeks?

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  5. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Farewell, Lowe!

    Wakefield, Youkilis AND Lowe were all 8th rounders? Amusing.

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  6. Dylan says:

    That list is awesome. You have Jason Schmidt (was on the Pirates, went to the Dodgers on a big money deal where he was disappointing), Lowe (was on the Red Sox, went from closer to starter there, went to the Dodgers on a big money deal where he was disappointing), and Wakefield, (was on the Pirate, went to the Red Sox, went from closer to starter there after being replaced by Lowe as closer).

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    • Jordan S says:

      That’s not what happened with Lowe though. As the article stated:

      “If anything, Lowe was better in Los Angeles than he had been in Boston, and many considered the 35-year old to be the second-best free agent pitcher in the 2008-09 offseason, behind only C.C. Sabathia. The Atlanta Braves swooped in to offer him a four-year contract worth $60 million.”

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  7. Casey_T says:

    Of course us Mariner fans have to get tortured from the start of the article by reminding us of the trade. Choo, Varitek, Lowe, Adam Jones, Asdrubal Cabrerra, the list of prospects traded versus recieved is so lopsided.

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    • TerryMc says:

      Jay Buhner, Randy Johnson, Cliff Lee, Freddie Garcia, Mike Cameron. I guess only Cliff Lee was acquired with prospects, but you can look at any team that makes moves and find plenty that will still.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Lowe and Varitek: the horror, the horror.

      I was a fan on the wrong side of that one, too. Cruz for Spoljaric was worse still. I don’t want to be too down on the pitchers acquired since neither was EVER a major leaguer in any sense. The penny wise, pound foolish approach which put the Mariners in the position to even grasp at such pitiful straws still haunts the franchise.

      I’m glad for Lowe, though. He got to go and have some great good times. For a one-pitch pitcher, he lasted a very long time, as he says, and took the hill whenever called. Time to get on with getting on and buy that vineyard now, Derek.

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      • Based on his draft position and status as a prospect, it would have been basically impossible to predict that Derek Lowe would have a 16-year career in the majors. Varitek was a first-rounder, but he took quite a while to develop as a hitter; neither Lowe nor Varitek was anything close to a sure thing, and both reached something around the 90th percentile of their possible projection based on where they were in 1997.

        So the problem for the Mariners isn’t that they traded some random organizational arm for a closer, but that they mis-valued how best to improve their team. Their closer, Norm Charlton, was awful that year, so they felt the need to trade for a “true closer.” They just happened to get a really mediocre one. (Of course, there’s the apocryphal story that the Boston GM asked for “Lowe or Varitek,” and the Seattle GM misheard him and sent both, but that just sounds too good to be true.)

        By contrast, I think that Chris Davis for Koji Uehara was a lot more reasonable: Davis had had nearly 1000 plate appearances in Texas, so the team thought they knew who he was, and Uehara’s a better pitcher than Slocumb ever was.

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        • MrMan says:

          Yeah, as a Ranger fan I don’t hold the Davis trade against JD. At the time it made perfect sense. That 2011 team needed help in the pen and Uehara was basically a lights-out guy.

          Now…he sucked so badly in Texas when he arrived that he wasn’t even on the post-season roster while Mark Lowe was….eventually giving up the game 6 winning HR to David F’n Freese.

          Wait….I’m starting to rant…but yeah, you’re right….not the same as the CDavis trade. But damn he’d look good in a Ranger uniform right now.

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  8. He instantly became my favorite Dodger (at the time) when outside of Target with two fanboys, including me, asked for an autograph after just buying some toothbrushes and toothpaste he turned around and signed our hats. He may not be the best man ever but that day was memorable and he was probably very busy.

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    • Balthazar says:

      Lowe ‘got it’ about what it means to be in the major leagues. He wasn’t a big draft and had to earn his way into PT, and understood that staying around was about performance. He always played when called, always took time for people, his hat size never got too large. That’s not true for too many.

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  9. hamjenkinsIII says:

    ^THAT

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  10. Caveman Jones says:

    Good article Alex. Reading this really brought his time as a Red Sox back for me. However, when you say he joined Pedro at the top of the rotation in 2004… I think you forget how awful he was that year. His ERA was in the mid 5s, despite OK peripherals, but he was banished to the bullpen at the end of the season and only ended up starting in the playoffs because of all the ridiculous extra inning games they were playing. His stock was as low as it had ever been when he pitched those games, kind of making it more amazing. I’ll always love Derek Lowe, but when he left he Red Sox it was time, not because of his drinking habits, but because he appeared to be trending downward in his career in a very serious way.

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    • I’m sorry if this was unclear. I said that 2004 occurred “after” he joined Pedro Martinez at the top of the rotation — he did that in 2002, his first year as a starter, when he finished third in the AL Cy Young voting, one spot behind second-place Pedro Martinez. He was terrible in 2004, but had already established himself as a frontline starter for the club.

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  11. Justin says:

    Dude made $110MM in his career, some serious cheddar

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  12. rustydude says:

    Nice write up. Gives me a rounder view of who Derek Lowe is/was than I had before.

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  13. mad1908 says:

    Lowe never had a DUI. He was arrested and released very quickly one night here in Atlanta. Police basically admitted they were full of shit, which is rare.

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  14. t says:

    Towards the end there, when Lowe went to the Indians, he had a great start to his season. Had a 2.15 ERA through 9 and that remarkable CG SHO with no strikeouts. Then through the next 12 starts his ERA was nearly 9 and opponents had an OPS over .900 against him.

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  15. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Refreshing for a guy to admit he is not a HOF’er.

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  16. TKDC says:

    Might be worth mentioning that he was amazing down the stretch in 2010 for the Braves and although he lost both of his playoff games, he actually pitched very well. Sept. 2010 – 30.2 innings, 29 K, 3 BB, 4 ER. Game 1 NLDS – 5.1 innings, 6 K, 4 BB, 1 ER; Game 4 NLDS (on 3 days rest) – 6.1 IP, 8 K, 1 BB, 2 ER.

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  17. Derek Lowe says:

    I have a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Duke. I enjoyed my time as a MLB pitcher. I simply do not have the ability to deceive hitters anymore. It is time for me and the game to move on; I will focus on the pharmaceutical industry and blogging now.

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  18. Alby says:

    Hate to break it to you, Derek, but you’re a different Derek Lowe. You could look it up.

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