This is the first in a series of pieces previewing the Indians starting rotation options heading into 2012
Derek Lowe was not a well-liked man in Atlanta, which is part of the reason the Braves were willing to pay $10M just to see him leave. This, despite the fact that Derek Lowe was quite Derek Lowe-like in 2011. A quick perusal of his peripheral numbers shows that he was his usual steady self in mixing an excellent GB-rate (59%) with a decent strikeout rate (16%), the mix he has used throughout his largely successful career. Lowe showed a bit of an upward tick in his BB-rate, moving up a notch from 7.4% to 8.4%, but some of his troubles last season were the result of bad luck. His BABIP was atypically high (.327 vs. .295 career average) and the Braves' bullpen didn't do him too many favors (65.9 LOB%). But Atlanta can be forgiven for not enjoying Lowe's role (0-5, 8.75 ERA) in their historic September collapse.
The bigger issue with Lowe is that over the past two seasons, while still being very much Derek Lowe, he has become something of a sink or swim pitcher. After holding a steady quality start % right around or above 60 for five straight years, that number has dipped each of the past two seasons to 45% and 41%. Part of this was the bullpen's fault a year ago, but it also reflects Lowe's declining consistency. Paralleling this is Lowe's declining usage. While he has been a steady 32+ game starter for every season over the past decade, his innings per start reached a low of 5.5 last season. Lowe's addition looks on paper to be an improvement to the Tribe's staff, but one that will also necessitate increased bullpen usage. Jordan Bastian was talking the other day about finding relievers to fill in the garbage time, and that might be nowhere more apparent than on days Lowe takes the mound.
Slowey is covered, after the jump.
Slowey, unlike Lowe, has no guarantee of a rotation spot heading into camp. Indeed, given his option status, the Indians might have some incentive of making sure Slowey spends at least a few months in Columbus in 2012. Slowey's most recent performance is also, arguably, even more disastrous than Lowe's. The Minnesota front office did not seem saddened by his departure to Colorado. Like Lowe, Slowey was in 2011 much the same pitcher he has shown himself to be throughout his career. Also like Lowe, Slowey did not benefit from an elevated BABIP (.330) and terrible bullpen support (58.3 LOB%). Even factoring these in, though, Slowey was not a good pitcher in 2011.
Slowey has elite-level control, in the sense that he very rarely walks batters. Last year his rate dipped to a near absent 1.9%, meaning that even with his dip in strikeouts last season, his BB/K ratio jumped to nearly 7. But with Slowey it is important to distinguish his pitching control from pitch location. Slowey throws strikes, but too often he fails to deceive hitters with his pitch location and quality. The result is that hitters often make very solid contact against Slowey, with a career OPS against near .800 and an average over the past three seasons over .800. Given how rarely he gives up walks, this suggests hitters often tee off on Slowey's stuff...which they do (his career SLG% against in near .500, with an ISO near .200). When Slowey is at his best (i.e. 2008), he is able to mix enough deception into his repertoire to induce a decent amount of swinging strikes in with his called strikes, while minimizing his BIP damage.
Slowey's stuff, a high 80s fastball (65% usage) paired with a slider/curve/changeup suite of secondary pitches, lacks a high ceiling. But where Slowey can improve his game, and probably what the Indians have liked in Slowey's potential, is the possibility of increasing his pitching success by transforming his control into above average pitchability. By that I mean better changing up pitch sequences and location to increase his deception, keep hitters off-balance, and decrease hitters success on balls in play. The Paul Byrd style pitchers of the world that find success with marginal stuff are rare, but Slowey's track record of control is pretty rare as well.