Derek Lowe: Sell High Candidate

The first month of the season has gone by. How is your team looking? Are you satisfied? Probably not, right? Does the urge to drive to Miami and beat up the slumping Hanley Ramirez grow stronger by the day? Are you sending threatening letters to Carlos Pena? Do you believe Jered Weaver’s hot start has been aided by the Luck Dragons?

If your answers to the above questions is “yes”, well, you may need more help than I am able to provide. However, if you feel capable of moving on, then may I suggest it time for you to start looking into the trade market. Today I’m going to focus on a pitcher with familiar names who, while off to great start, isn’t likely to keep up his current level of performance, creating an excellent sell high candidate.

Derek Lowe is a strange dude this season – that’s aside from the fact that he enjoys drinking and driving. For his career, we know what we’re getting from Lowe. He’s going to throw roughly 200 innings with an ERA somewhere around 4.00 with a middling strikeout rate. A better real life starter than fantasy, surely. Something has changed so far in 2011, however. Instead of a K/9 of 5.93 (his career average), Lowe has seen his spike to 8.61. A strikeout rate that high with the durability he provides can be a valuable asset. The question is, how confident are you he can keep that up? Your answer should be somewhere in the neighborhood of “not very.”

Diving in further shows us a couple of strange, and likely unsustainable, figures. His SwStr% is at all time high of 10%, while his Swing% is at an all time low of 39.8. Also, Lowe’s O-Swing% has remained in line with his career rate while his O-Contact% (26.7) is way, way down from the past two seasons (51.5%). That leads me to believe that Lowe is getting pretty lucky. I had FanGraphs’ own Carson Cistulli calculate the total, and this season batters have swung at 12.9% of his pitches outside of the strike zone. League average is ~9.5%, and Lowe himself was only at 9.3% and 7.2% the past two seasons.

Our pitch classifications have Lowe throwing a cutter 9.9% of the time in 2011, up from 4.5 in 2010 and 1.5% in 2009. It could be that Lowe has more confidence in this pitch, or the classification could misreading his fastball. I’m not going to credit that with any of Lowe’s increased whiffy-ness yet, but it bares keeping an eye on. In any case, this man with the 37K in 38.2 IP is not the Derek Lowe we’ve grown to know over the years. As P.T. Barnum famously said, there’s a sucker born every minute. Maybe there’s one in your league who will take Lowe will his value is high.

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Erik writes for DraysBay and has also written for Bloomberg Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ehahmann.

17 Responses to “Derek Lowe: Sell High Candidate”

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  1. Ryan says:

    Sell high, sure… but Lowe’s new pitch selection and approach means he will easily beat his career average K/9 this season (just not at 8.61).

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    • Erik Hahmann says:

      You can’t be certain of anything after less than 40IP

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      • mattinm says:

        If we’re willing to give credit to Matt Garza for a new approach that is heralding great results, we should be able to give Lowe a little bit of love, too.

        I think there is definitely some room for regression built into Lowe, but I’d consider this a buy high opportunity, assuming you can find an owner expecting a major regression.

        Just as the Garza article noticed, GB% and K/PA start to stabilize around 150 TBF. Considering Lowe has faced 164 batters, has a demonstrably better SwStr%, a known pitch usage change, and no other real “luck” than HR/FB, I’d say there is every chance this new K/9 is real. Perhaps not in the 9 K/9 range, but certainly 8 is possible.

        He’s not necessarily someone I would target directly, but I’d certainly look to snag him if I had some other trade business with his owner in my league.

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  2. byron says:

    You’re almost certainly right. But how would his statistics differ if he had figured something out? Wouldn’t an increase SwingStr% be a sign? Or perhaps people chasing worse pitches out of the zone? I just don’t know how to tell the difference between variance from the norm as a sign of unsustainability vs. a sign of changed ability, other than to always assume the former.

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    • Erik Hahmann says:

      That’s where it gets tricky. But I’d rather side with the 12 or so years of data we have on Lowe than the 40 or so innings he has this season. If he does end up striking out a ton of guys, then good for him. But it’s a gamble I’m willing to take.

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  3. joey says:

    how can u sell high when there practically are no buyers in leagues? dlowe at most warrants a trade for jose tabata or jeff francoeur or walden or hannahran (PITT)

    lowe will get u 14 wins 200inn and 150k this year. his sept 2010 ( 5-0 record was $$#$ )

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  4. Andrew says:

    His “relocated slider” is really a cutter. Jim Powell, Braves’ announcer, has been referring to it all year. Isn’t this a recognizable change similar to Cliff Lee’s new pitch or Jose Bautista’s new stance?

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  5. joey says:

    srsly, lowe last 12 starts dating from sept 1st has been lights out. cutter slider sinker, change…

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  6. Dan says:

    He’s a sell high, but I think Joey’s right–no one believes in the higher K rate so no one’s buying. I think you have to hold, and hope he continues the run for another month. Even if he more or less reverts to career norms over the next month, the season K-rate will look good, and you might be able to sell the changed approach. From watching him pitch and looking a little at the stats, he does seem to be throwing the slider/cutter quite a bit more.

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  7. EK says:

    More research needs to be done for these articles. A little research reveals that Lowe’s elbow problems have gone, and he now feels that he can throw his “slider/cutter” again effectively, which shows up in the stats. He said this last Sept., when he first starting striking everyone out. His two highest k rate months in his career: last Sept, this March/April.

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  8. JohnnyComeLately says:

    His Drag Racing to DUI ratio is off the charts. No way he can keep that up. I’d unload him now too.

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  9. teddy ballgame says:

    If I owned Derek Lowe and tried to trumpet him as a sell-high candidate – hell, a “sell” candidate – I’d get laughed out of the room. Even unsophisticated roto players will look at the surface stats, and other than the strikeouts, there’s nothing special there: two wins, 3.72 ERA, 1.37 WHIP. I would be flabbergasted if anyone thought Lowe, today, was worth more than his sticker price read in March.

    If you’re in a league where you can sell high on Derek Lowe, you don’t need advice. Your win is in the bag already.

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    • Jason B says:

      You would think so, but…we had an NL auction draft the second day of the season (right after Lowe’s first start when he pitched very well). He went for like $8. Without that start he may have gone for…$2? People are dazzled by small samples sometimes…

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  10. CptSpandex says:

    Sell high? I believe this article is at least 2 1/2 weeks too late. Lowe has value as a solid (sometimes spectacular, sometimes dreadful) SP that has been relatively durable. People don’t buy high for 12-15 wins, 3.8-4.5 ERA, 115-140 K. The leagues I play in, people aren’t that stupid.

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  11. Yoni says:

    Not necessarily. He has completely rid of his four seam fastball, and has even thrown his two seamer less than he did last year. He now throws the two seam about 40 percent of the time (with .4 percent for the four seam) and throws his cutter slider and changeup more. All it takes for him to be having a true breakout year was some off season work on those pitches. Maybe Derek Lowe really is better than ever….

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  12. cHAd says:

    Since this article he goes out and nearly no-hits the Phillies in Citizens. That doesn’t really change anything, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless. Despite these short term successes, I agree with many that he’s not a sell high canditate. No one in my 10-team league would buy because of his career numbers. And the fact that there are decent SPs still available to pick up. I own him and I’m pitching him until his numbers regress enough warrant a simple drop…if they regrees. But I’m banking on the not as small sample size of last fall (after his elbow injection). He was lights out down the stretch in 2010 and even better during the playoffs. And he’s doing it again. Why not enjoy the ride.

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  13. So would anybody like to rescind the line about “drinking and driving?” The case has been dismissed because they didn’t have anything resembling a case.

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