Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Will the Real Noah Lowry Please Stand Up?

There has been some debate over who the real Noah Lowry is, the great pitcher we saw from 2004-2005 or the below average pitcher we saw in 2006. The two sides basically fall into these two camps:

  • Lowry was finally figured out by professional baseball hitters and beaten like a drum, OR
  • Lowry struggled all year with that oblique strain, which affected his pitching motion, and thus his overall effectiveness.
I thought I would examine his monthly stats by year to get some clues as to what happened.

ERA By Month



Looking at the monthly ERAs, one sees that he actually pitched pretty well in 2006 until the month of September blew his ERA into the stratosphere. He basically had two months that really screwed up his 2006 season, particularly his last month, when he was bothered by elbow problems enough to miss one start and, really, should have just skipped the rest of the month, he clearly was bothered the whole month by his elbow problems.

BB/9 By Month



Observing his walk rate, his control was as good as ever, even better than 2005, he was consistently good all season except for July when he was over 4. But a pitcher wants to keep his walk rate at or under 3.0 and he did in two months and was right around the mark in two other months.

K/9 By Month



Here is where Noah had huge problems. Suddenly he went from a very good 7-7.5 K/9 in 2004-5 to a sub-5 in 2006. In not one month did he break the key 6.0 mark that most pitchers need to do in order to be a successful pitcher, in 2006. Previously, in 7 of 9 months, he easily broke it and in one - April 2005 - he was marginally below at 5.9 K/9.

Clearly, his ability to throw his bread and butter change-up was obliterated by the oblique strain. His walk rate, which shows how much control he has over his pitches, was as good or better than before, but his K rate, which is strongly dependent on his being able to throw his changeup effectively, was not so good all season long, though by season's end, he was about back to normal in August, leading to his annual "August-Feast", but then faded in September.

K/BB By Month




Obviously, if your k-rate collapses and your walk rate doesn't greatly improve, your K/BB will sufffer greatly. Above 2.0 is where you normally want this ratio and in 7 of the 9 months of 2004-5, he was at or easily above that rate, particularly in August. However, in 2006, he was only at or above it once in five months, his aforementioned annual August domination. The Lowry of 2004 and 2005, with a K/BB of 2.57 and 2.26, respectively, shows how good he is when he is healthy and able to throw his changeup with great effect.

H/9 By Month



Lastly, there is his BABIP (Batting Average for Balls In Play). Studies have shown that most pitchers bounce around a mean of 0.300 for BABIP and they will randomly be above or below that mark, but will regress to the mean during their career (there are some pitchers who defy that rule; apparently some pitchers are able to control where balls are hit in play such that their hit rate is much below .300; apparently Rueter was one, and it appears that Zito and Cain are another two, with Lincecum potentially a third in our rotation). As one can see, BABIP does bounce around for Lowry, ending up at .30 for the season (sorry, Google Spreadsheets only allows me to show 2 digits when you create content in their application; if I import it in from Excel, I can show 3 digit accuracy). However, as one can see, in his two horrible months, his BABIP was abnormally high, showing that he pitched in bad luck, regarding giving up hits, in July and September, his two worse months.

Giants Thoughts

So which is the real Lowry? Clearly, his numbers show that he was not the same Noah Lowry he was in 2004-5. But does that mean that the league caught up with him, and this is the new Noah? If that were true, his stat rates should be just as bad all season long but they weren't, he improved as the season went on. His main problem was extreme bad luck in July and September when his BABIP went sky high.

So that leaves two scenarios that represent what happened:
  1. The league figured him out but then he adjusted back. In this case, he has already adjusted back - witness his usual august August - then had everything go against him in September but still had good control over his pitches (see how low his BB/9 was in Sept still).
  2. His injury hampered him in a number of ways. This also makes sense too, the bad initial months, his slow return to health and performance, the lost of conditioning (possibly) leading to his bad September, as indicated by his missing a start due to elbow problems, then getting beat like a drum. He was also probably beat up by multiple starts around or above the 120 pitch count, which is a danger zone for pitcher typically (we will see with Lincecum, I suppose). Alou had him in that danger zone in 8 of 13 starts before he had to skip a start for that elbow problem. His ERA when he skipped his start due to elbow problems: 3.87 ERA. He probably should have skipped the rest of his starts and the Giants should have started Hennessey or Correia instead.
Either way, he recovered and was back, if not normal, at least effective and productive, though suffering from bad luck.

The fact is, Lowry was very good in 2005-6: if he had been good just that one season, then, yeah, I think the story line that the league figured him out could be and probably would be true. But it is not like a fastball, where the pitcher loses speed and the league figures him out, Lowry's signature pitch is his changeup, and if he has that working, he does well and when it doesn't, then he struggles because his velocity is not that good, in the low 90's.

All these disparate points, while not totally linked together, does make a good case that, either way, Noah Lowry is pitching effectively again and that he is more the Lowry of 2004-5 than the Lowry of 2006. That would mean that he should get an ERA in the low 4 range, and perhaps could push it down below 4 if he returns to his former past form. That should be true if it was a physical problem causing his weak performance last year.

1 comment:

  1. Admirable work, Martin. Why do you think Lowry had such a bad July and Sep last year? Were all of his games bad in those months? Or did one or two games completely skew the stats?

    ReplyDelete

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