Remember the item I posted yesterday? You know, the one looking at how Pedro had broken down blah blah blah. I ended by saying, “More year-end wrap-ups and report cards â€šÃ„Ã® as well as a look back at the free-agent pitching class of 2004 â€šÃ„Ã® in the days to come.”
And then today, Peter Gammons has an ESPN column on…Pedro and the free agent class of 2004! Yeah, I’m so sure you just came up with that on your own, Gammo. It’s not like you revolutionized baseball writ…oh. Anyway.
For those of you without ESPN Insider, Gammons’s piece makes a Pedro observation I hadn’t even realized: that since July of 2005, the right arm of god has gone 12-13. Ouch.
Then, Gammons takes a look at the rest of the pitchers who came on the open market in ’04. After Pedro’s 4-year/$52 million deal, there was Carl Pavano’s 4-year/$39.999999 million deal, Lowe’s 4-year/$36 million contract, and Russ Ortiz’s 4-year/$33 million windfall. Neither Pavano (4-5) nor Ortiz (5-19) has managed to even win 10 games in ’05 and ’06 combined, and only Lowe has thrown more than 400 innings (at 440). In fact, out of all of the free-agent pitchers available after the ’04 season — a class which includes Matt Clement (3 years/$25.5 million), Eric Milton (3 years/$25.5 mil), Jaret Wright (3 yrs/$21 mil), and David Wells (2 yrs/$8.2 mil with plenty of bonus clauses) — Lowe’s the only guy who’s thrown more than 400 innings. Pedro and Derek and the only two guys with ERAs under 4 (3.37 and 3.62, respectively), and out of a class of 12, only six guys — Pedro, Derek, Wells (18-12), Wright (16-12), Jon Lieber (3 yrs/21 mil, 26-24), and Chris Benson (3 yrs/$22.5 mil, 21-20) — have winning records.
So what does that tell us? Well, that old straw about pitching being notoriously hard to predict is, in fact, true. And I don’t think there’s a Red Sox fan alive — or a member of the team’s front office — that doesn’t wish the team had re-signed Lowe instead of picking up the equally mopey but not nearly as durable Matt Clement. But what’s made Lowe so valuable isn’t that he’s been that good; a lot of his peripheral numbers, including batting average on balls in play, have been fairly similar in LA compared to what they were in Boston, suggesting that, had he been pitching in the AL East the past two years, he likely would have ended up with a record and an ERA somewhere between what he was doing in ’03 and ’04 — sucking — and what he did in ’05 and ’06. (In Boston, Lowe’s lack of success and his poor BABIP numbers corresponded pretty starkly, which could be due to crappy defense or could be do to the fact that batters pound the ball when they see hanging sliders. But I digress.)
Does that mean the Sox made a mistake when they didn’t even offer Lowe a courtesy contract? Yes and no. The Sox were worried about that Lowe’s off-field activities would become a distraction…and they were right. If Derek had been in Boston when he left his wife for a sportscaster, we’d still be reading about it. And Pavano and Clement were widely considered the two best pitchers of the class (or at least the two pitchers with the most upside)…and not just by New York and Boston.
But looking back, Lowe (and arguably David Wells) has been the best pitching deal of that year. Lowe likely had more pure physical ability than anyone else on the market (and yes, I’m including Pedro), and he’d already shown a remarkable ability to stay healthy. Hindsight being 20-20 and all, both of those things were clearly undervalued.
As it is, Derek Lowe will go down in Red Sox history as a) one-half of one of the great heists of all time (Lowe and Varitek to Seattle for Healthcliff Slocumb)*, b) a remarkable bargain for the years he played in Fenway, c) the inspiration for Bill Simmons’s best-ever coined phrase (the Derek Lowe Face), and d) the only man alive to clinch the deciding game in all three rounds of the playoffs. That’s a great resume.
Right now, it would be awfully nice if Lowe was adding to that resume. I was firmly in the camp of people who thought it was a mistake to offer Lowe a contract. I still understand the reasons why I thought that. I also see much more clearly how important a pitcher’s physical history and his ability to succeed in a specific environment should be taken into consideration.
* It’s amazing how many lopsided trades Boston has had a part in: Ruth; Parish and McHale for Joe Barry Carroll and Rockey Brow (not that simple, but still); Bagwell to the Astros…and then there’re the trades that included future Sox stars, like then-Oriole Curt Schilling, et al, to the ‘stros for Glenn Davis and then-Dodger Pedro to the Expos for Delino DeShields (I shit you not.)