After the Indians traded for Derek Lowe, Aaron Gleeman from Hardball Talk tweeted the following:
Which is sort of amazing if you think about it. Here are the details on the probable five Indians starters going into the 2012 season:
For reference, the median groundball rate in 2011 was around 46%, so that’s four out of five starters with a better-than-average tendency to put the ball on the ground.
So after we account for the fact that Josh Tomlin is probably just a once-in-a-lifetime freak of nature, we’re left with four guys we could probably confuse for one another if we didn’t look too closely.
But it’s the offseason, and I don’t have anything else to do, so I’m going to look too closely.
For instance, judging by groundball-rate alone, Fausto Carmona and Justin Masterson are basically indistinguishable: both hovering around 55%. But once you recognize that Fausto’s strikeout rate is one of the lowest among AL starters* and his walk rate is slightly higher than Masterson’s, you start to realize they’re not so similar after all. And sure enough, Masterson’s K/BB ratio—my favorite single metric for evaluating pitchers—is significantly better than Fausto’s. Yahtzee.
*Other than Josh Tomlin, of course. Who, as has previously been discussed, is a shape-shifter who eludes any analytical approach yet devised by mere mortals.
Judging by K/BB, Derek Lowe tends to look quite a bit like Fausto. A serious groundballer who struggles with his control. There are, however, some differences to take note of. For one thing, Derek Lowe averaged only 0.67 home runs per nine innings pitched in 2011, while Fausto—despite his groundball tendencies—somehow managed to have the ninth highest rate in the AL at 1.05. Also, never before has Derek Lowe walked as many batters as he did last year, whereas Fausto hasn’t had a walk-rate as low as he did in 2011 since 2007. In other words, Derek Lowe will probably walk fewer batters than Fausto going forward. Finally, it’s just not all that likely that a guy who has given up hits on balls in play at a .295 clip for his career is going to repeat the .327 line he had in 2011, which is what Derek Lowe did last year.
So what does any of this mean about Derek Lowe and our 2012 rotation going forward? Well, for one thing, we’re going to be leaning more heavily than ever on the infield defense next season. Which, if you’ve been paying attention, is kind of a scary proposition. I don’t think anyone is quite ready to give a gold glove to either of the rookies; both Kipnis and Chisenhall have not been well-regarded defenders throughout their minor league careers. Furthermore, while Asdrubal has a serious penchant for the amazing, most defensive metrics suggest his range and dependability aren’t quite what they should be. And please, don’t get me started on first base. In other words, if this staff is going to be successful, the defense will have to take a big step forward next year.
But there’s plenty of reason to think that’s possible. Both Chisenhall and Kipnis are adjusting to new positions (Kipnis was an outfielder in college while Chiz played SS until going pro), so they have a real opportunity to continue to refine their defensive skills. And while I’m not overly optimistic about adding an impact first baseman, there’s no reason that we can’t add a piece who’s above average defensively. I heard Adrian Gonzalez just won a gold glove…
Either way, it would seem that the die has been cast by the Indians’ front office. If you’re going to fill a rotation with guys who are among the best in the game at getting the batter to put the ball on the ground, you better make sure the guys behind them can field a little bit.
I can hear Jack Hannahan’s agent salivating now.