Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Giants Pitching Preview 2006: Cha-Cha-Cha-Changeups
Noah Lowry 13-13 3.78 1.32 WHIP 172 K's 204.2 IP
Last year when I wrote about Lowry, not only did I intentionally confuse biblical characters, I was also skeptical of Lowry's chances of repeating the half-season success he enjoyed in 2004. After going 6-0 in the second half of the '04 season, fans and commentators fell all over themselves heaping praise on our newfound Tom Glavine clone. Being the pessimistic jackass that I am, I figured that once batters figured out that pretty much all Lowry's going to throw are changeups, they could sit on their back foot and crush the pitch when it came over the plate, and hence Lowry would struggle.
Sure enough, my skepticism was initially proven to be valid, as Lowry did a faceplant out of the gate in 2005, struggling with his control and also having problems with hitters sitting on that changeup, as I had feared. Lowry limped to the All-Star Break at 5-9 with a 5.07 ERA, totally disappointing totals for a guy with such high expectations heaped on him.
But as the age-old saying goes, baseball is a game of adjustments. National League hitters adjusted to Lowry's repertoire, but fortunately for Giants fans, Lowry adjusted right back. He improved his breaking ball and started throwing it more, and made some adjustments to his pitching motion to hide the ball better and to mess with the hitter's timing.
Thanks to these changes, Lowry was a different pitcher in the second half. He cut his walks, homers, and hits allowed (a 1.10 WHIP as opposed to a ghastly 1.52 in the first half), and finished with a post-Break record of 8-4 with a 2.43 ERA. In August, he was positively Koufaxian, going 5-0 and allowing just three runs the entire month (about 40 innings) and running away with the NL Pitcher of the Month.
So whereas last year at this point I was questoning Lowry's future success, now I'm positively giddy over his prospects for the next few seasons. Looking back, a lot of my pessimism about Lowry's supposedly poor stuff was misplaced. Like a bad media pundit, I conveniently ignored any evidence that might contradict my argument just so I could sorta look like I knew what I was talking about.
For one, Lowry's strikeout rates were always solid, and any analyst will tell you that good K/9 rates tend to project a long and effective career. Even though 90 mph is basically a rumor to Lowry's fastball, he can strike guys out because his changeup makes his four-seamer look, as I like to say, "sneaky fast". That is, his changeup is so awesome that his 88 mph fastball starts to look like 98, and hitters have a hard time catching up to it when he can pinpoint it. Keith Foulke and Trevor Hoffman are the poster boys for this pitching phenomenon. Sid Fernandez (ah, El Sid) was also a good example, piling up K's despite rarely topping 90 mph because batters couldn't pick up the ball out of his tricky delivery.
Also, Lowry wasn't quite as bad as he looked in the first half. While he was generally crappy, his pre-All Star Break numbers were skewed a bit by two abominable starts in Coors Field, and who can blame him for that? So I've done a complete 180 on my opinion of Lowry. Scorching hot second halves from 24-year olds tend to mean good things. This isn't a 31-year-old Brett Tomko having a fluky-good half of 2004, then whizzing himself in 2005. Lowry is just 25 and has a chance to establish himself as an All-Star-caliber starter.
There are still aspects of his game he has to work on. He walks a few too many and is prone to the innings where he can't control the changeup to save his life. He's also helped a lot by his home ballpark, and could stand to improve on the road. One thing to consider as well is that he's a flyball pitcher, and with those haggard old men limping around in the corner outfield spots, some of those fly outs could turn to doubles and triples.
But those concerns are relatively minor. I'm very excited about Lowry, and I see a terrific season in the works. Hopefully I'm not doing this reverse jinx thing, where now that I'm praising him he suddenly craps out, whereas last year he had a solid season after I hated on him. Lowry is looking like the best young pitcher the Giants have trotted out of their system since Russ Ortiz (yeah, I know, Matt Cain and all, but lets wait a year shall we?), and I don't see why he can't break out a Shawn Estes-1997 type of season without the walks. Of course, let's hope that Lowry doesn't go all head case on us like Estes and, like Estes did, break his ankle sliding horribly into second base before hopping off the bag to make an out in a crucial playoff game. I think Lowry has a better head on his shoulders, obviously but, then again, he does share a surname with the burned-out bureaucrat from Brazil who ended up losing his mind in a self-made malaise. You never know.
I'll try not to get carried away with a projection for Lowry, but screw it, it's a good day. We'll say 16 wins and an ERA in the 3.20 area, with around 200 Ks.
More Stankeye Stuff
-The guys at Fire Joe Morgan tear apart a column by Rich Draper about Steve Finley that recalls an image of two monkeys grooming each other. Rich Draper columns provide low-hanging fruit for the snark blogs, but that doesn't make this any less hilarious. Required reading.
-Just when you thought the Barry Bonds situation couldn't get any more bizarre... I'm not even going to comment.