Free Agent Bargain: Derek Lowe

For our final free agent bargain, we take a look at another starting pitcher who simply doesn’t get the recognition he deserves – Derek Lowe. I’ve written about him several times this year, but it bears repeating: Lowe had the 7th best FIP of any starting pitcher in baseball this year. Better than Brandon Webb. Better than Johan Santana. Better than breakthrough stars Ervin Santana and Ryan Dempster or established aces like Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt.

Lowe was tremendous for the Dodgers this year, continuing his run as a durable, front line starter. Because he’s one of the most extreme groundball starters in the majors and he’s learned how to command his sinker, his success is built off limiting walks and home runs. He did both of those better than almost everyone else in baseball, which makes up for the fact that he posts just average strikeout rates. Getting batters to swing and miss is great and all, but it’s not the only way to succeed – Lowe has gotten so good at the other aspects of baseball that he doesn’t need to blow hitters away. Weak groundballs turn into outs with enough frequency too.

Because of his age, Lowe isn’t going to be in the market for the five to seven year deal that CC Sabathia will be looking for. The length of the contract we should expect Lowe to get is three or four years, which makes him more attractive than others on the market just for that reason. How much should Lowe get?

If we assume that Lowe’s true talent level will see him give up 4.25 runs per nine innings next year, and we project him to throw 200 innings, that makes him about 38 runs above a replacement level starting pitcher. Given that, we can call him a +3.5 to +4 win pitcher. Given an expected going rate of about $5 million per win this winter, we’d expect Lowe to get something like $17.5 to $20 million per year if he was valued correctly.

I highly doubt that Lowe will get that much money, though – the perception of his abilities across the game don’t match his actual abilities, and I’d put the expected range of his salary at about $15 million per year. If I’m right, Lowe’s going to be worth about $2.5 to $5 million in asset value to whoever signs him for 2009.

Teams like Atlanta, who are considering giving up the farm for the right to pay Jake Peavy the same amount that we’re projecting Lowe will sign for, should look at him as a viable alternative – similar caliber of pitcher, similar money, and you get to keep all your prospects.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

16 Responses to “Free Agent Bargain: Derek Lowe”

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  1. CajoleJuice says:

    I’ve been saying to everyone I know that the Mets should pick him up, so I obviously agree with this post wholeheartedly.

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  2. dan says:

    What if we put him in a neutral park in the American League? $17.5-20 is a little bit high, then. Eyeballing it, $15 seems about right.

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  3. Lantermanc says:

    Lowe reminds me of JD Drew. Both affiliated with Dodgers and the Red Sox, both are big names that get paid a lot, but for one reason or another, both are still bargains in the FA market.

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  4. josh says:

    Yea JD Drew was a huuuuuuuge bargain at 15 million per year for 5 years. *rollseyes*

    For Lowe’s sake I hope he stays in the National League, if he comes to the AL he’ll get shelled.

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  5. Alex says:

    Is Lowe still underappreciated? My (admittedly VERY anecdotal) observations seem to be that teams are desperate for pitching, and that after Sabathia, Lowe is the most notable free agent pitcher (with the possible exception of Sheets, but his injury history seems to be really deflating his value), and all the losers in the Sabathia sweepstakes are going to bid up the price on Lowe. Those are my impressions from a few months ago, though, and I suppose things might have changed, especially now that Peavy is being dangled out there.

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  6. Drew says:

    Why would he get “shelled”? And how are you defining shelled?

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  7. Scappy says:

    JD Drew is 2+ wins above average over the last four years (which include a season where his kid almost died). That was just at the plate, I’m pretty sure he is at least average in right field as well as running the base paths. Conservatively he is 2 wins better than the average player, say at least 3 better than a replacement level. You can conservatively put Drew down as being worth the money.

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  8. Craig says:

    Dodger Stadium has actually been pretty neutral over the past few years. He’d probably experience a bit of a jump in ERA in the AL, but if you look at what he did this year, being a groundball pitcher and having the defense behind him that he did, it probably wouldn’t be as big as you expect. I mean he had a couple games with Blake at 3rd and Nomar at SS. That’s 0 range on the left side. Can’t remember if Kent was healthy for those games, but god help a groundball pitcher with those 3 on the same infield. I know Dodger Stadium is known for being a pitchers park, but it’s been pretty neutral recently.

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  9. Drew says:

    Yeah and it’s not like he put up a 3.26 ERA but had a 4.50 FIP, and you could expect his numbers to get especially ugly in the AL. Sure he’d be hit harder, but as rational people, we’re able to compare him to the rest of the league. If he ends up in the AL, and puts up an ERA+ of 130, he’ll still be very valuable, well worth the $15 mil/yr he’s going to get.

    The guy who made that comment was just trying to be “shocking”.

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  10. Gerry says:

    Lowe has already succeeded in the AL with the Red Sox, who may try and lure him back. At his age and price, he is expensive at $15M in an already strong rotation, but he expressed his desire to return to Boston, where he would be welcomed by the Sox very tight infield of Gold Glove Lowell, rookie Lowrie with zero E’s in half the season, ROY Pedroia, Gold Glove Youk.
    A rotation of Beckett, Daisuke, Lester, Lowe, Wakefield with Buchholz, Bowden, maybe Masterson as possible starters would be formidable. On the other hand, this rotation is formidable and reasonably priced even without Lowe or CC. Hmmm!

    J.D.Drew, despite his downtime, has been worth every penny. His D is Gold Glove caliber. He positions himself well, gets a good jump and, with his speed, makes RF look easy.

    He settled in to the AL & Fenway in 2008, literally keeping Boston in contention during June and into July when Papi went down and Manny’s Hammies led to the trade. He is one of the most clutch hitters in the league, and wins big games consistently. He will be shooting for +/- .300/25/100 in 2009, which is where he was heading in 2008 when his back seized up. Bay, Ellsbury, Drew is one of the stronger defensive outfields.

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  11. Stax says:

    I don’t understand the heavily one-season focus of this article. Yes Lowe put up a very nice season, but it was his age 35 season and they were the best ERA, ERA+, WHIP, etc in 5 years. Why would you expect a 36/37/38 and possibly (depending on deal length) 39 year old pitcher to perform like he did in his BEST year and not decline from what you expect (which would be closer to his lower career numbers than his 2008 numbers to begin with)?

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  12. kpresidente says:

    Forget the park factor, he had a 4.42 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP on the road, and his 3-year home/away splits are pretty wide, too. That makes him a question mark. I think $15 mil is about right, but could even turn out to be a bad deal if that split is indicative. He’s the most overrated “underrated player” out there.

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  13. Sky says:

    The article may have focused on Lowe’s 2008 season, but here are his xFIPs over the past four years with the Dodgers:

    2008: 3.43
    2007: 3.50
    2006: 3.80
    2005: 3.53

    Not exactly a one-year wonder. Going by FIP instead of xFIP, he’s averaged about 3.70 over the last four years. I think Dave’s assumption of a 4.25 FIP going forward is conservative enough.

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  14. StatMan says:

    Bargain?? they’re talking about 4 years and 66M. That’s almost 17M annually. He’s not an ace. He’s not even young. and by the way, you can not look at his numbers as a whole. Similarly to how you can’t expect a player to leave Coors Field and produce the same, you can’t expect a pitcher from a picther’s ballpark to do the same elsewhere, and a year older.

    And Derek lowe 4 yrs 66M?? I hope that’s just residual BS in case the Yanks couldn’t sign Sabathia. I really hope they know they do not need both. Or the fact that when Hughes looks like a stud this year and the year is over and we’re stuck with Lowe for another 3 years. And if Sabathia chokes this looks even worse. I guess on the bright side, wen Sabathia leaves after 3 years we’ll still have Derek Lowe! and by then with all the deferred money he should be making about $19M.

    2006 – 2008
    42 – 33, 3.58ERA, 628IP, 609H, 48HR – .97H/IP .66K/IP, .25BB/IP, – 1.05WHIP, .254BAA

    25-15, 2.95ERA, 320IP, 283H, 25HR, – .88H/IP, .70K/IP, .22BB/IP – 0.95WHIP, .235 BAA

    17-18, 4.24ERA, 308IP, 326H, 23HR – 1.06H/IP, .63K/IP, .29BB/IP, – 1.35WHIP, .273BAA

    3-5, 52IP, 68H, 20BB, 20K, 9HR, 6.02 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 3.19 BAA

    His park adjusted ERA is 4.25. His career park adjusted ERA is 4.56
    Na, he didn’t benefit greatly from pitching in Dodger Stadium. Na, not at all. These stats show two different pitchers home and away.

    Let’s also not forget that last year he had 70 AB facing a pitcher, and they hit .113 against him.
    The #3 and #4 hitter averaged .266, 3.5hr, 15rbi.
    Pitchers averaged .113, 0HR, 2RBI

    When you supplant the production from a pitcher with that of a DH, and you factor in how pitching in Dodger Stadium helped (park adjusted ERA) elevate his overall performance you can expect his numbers to go up around 1 earned run, and you have one over-priced Boras client that the Yankees are going to make another mistake on.

    Lets the Mets have him. A sinker baller in Shea wouldn’t be too bad of an idea, especially f he stays in the NL. If comes to the AL East he’s going to look like Barry Zito.

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  15. crewfan says:

    what about the Brewers signinging, now that the Yanks got CC. Put Lowe and Sheets together?

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