The Mets signing of Tim Redding to at least compete for the fifth spot in the rotation pretty much confirms something that fans knew all along: the Mets will not sign both Derek Lowe and Oliver Perez. It is likely that one or the other will sign. Spirited debate amongst fans about the merits of Lowe vs. Perez has picked up over the last two weeks or so. Lowe supporters point to his proven track record and durability (he’s averaged 212 innings over the last four seasons). Those in the Perez camp point to his age, strikeout ability, and the fact that he’s lefty. Here is my take on Lowe vs. Perez. Note that I present the statistic FIP (“fielding independent pitching”) because it is a better predictor of future performance and gauge of value than ERA. FIP focuses on factors under a pitcher’s control (strikeouts, walks, home runs allowed), removing the highly variable factors of ERA (defense, bullpen, luck).
Derek Lowe, age 35
2008 FIP: 3.26
Career FIP: 3.76
Lowe arguably had a career year in 2008. He posted career bests (as a starter) in walks-per-nine innings, strikeout-to-walk ratio and FIP so his seemingly mediocre 14-11 W-L record is misleading. It will be tough for him to replicate this contract year performance, but the CHONE and Marcel projections predict about 180 innings and a 3.70 FIP for 2009. Also, Lowe has no injury history. He’s one of two major leaguers (the other being Brad Ausmus) with ten-plus years of major league service without making a trip to the DL.
Lowe is the second best pitcher in the majors at inducing groundballs behind Brandon Webb. This is usually a positive, as ground ball pitchers generally give up less homeruns. However, the Mets infield is not exactly spectacular (especially the Luis Castillo/Carlos Delgado right side) so maybe his groundball ability wouldn’t be as big an asset as it seems. If Castillo and Jose Reyes can rebound to their 2007 showing, a groundball pitcher could be useful at Citi Field.
Oliver Perez, age 27
2008 FIP: 4.68
Career FIP: 4.67
Tens of thousands of words have been written on Mets blogs about the enigma that is Oliver Perez. His stuff is electric, and on some days he actually does pitch like Sandy Koufax. On other days, he looks like Bill Pulsipher. Strikeouts are his biggest talent, and it appears his less than stellar HR/9 will improve if Citi Field really is the “Grand Canyon” of baseball. Many call Perez a big-game pitcher who steps it up vs. division rivals the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves. To his credit, he has a sub-4.00 ERA vs. all three of these teams since joining the Mets and a sub-2.00 ERA vs. the Yankees. Additionally, he pitched pretty well in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, with a little help from Endy Chavez. It’s those poor games against the lowly Nationals, Pirates, and Giants that concern me.
CHONE and Marcel project about 170 innings and a 4.70 FIP for Perez. Not bad, but not what you want from a guy asking for $12 million a year. He is entering his prime years, so the expectation is that he will reduce his staggering walk rate (career 4.76 BB/9) as he matures. If he can improve his control (as lefty strikeout pitchers Mark Langston and Randy Johnson were able to do) Perez may become an elite pitcher at some point. The question is, when?
I believe Lowe gives the Mets the best chance to win now and in future seasons. Groundball pitchers age more gracefully than power pitchers (see: Pedro Martinez), and I think concerns about him suddenly breaking down due to injury are nothing more than wild speculation. Comparisons to older injured pitchers John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson are unfair, as Smoltz has battled arm problems his whole career, and Glavine and Johnson didn’t get hurt until they hit their 40’s. If Lowe can be had for three years, $42 million with a fourth year option there is no reason not to sign him.
One question I pose to those in the Perez camp: if he was not a Met, and instead a free agent from another team like the Reds or Orioles, would you still want to sign him over Lowe? If he had no history with the Mets, he’d basically be Randy Wolf, a pitcher who has not garnered much buzz this offseason. Wolf is 32 years old, but had a better 2008 FIP and has a superior 2009 FIP projection to Perez. Yes, he has injury concerns and might be a bigger risk than Perez. However, the point is that for the purposes of objective player evaluation, we cannot let memories of Perez’s big games against the Phillies cloud the fact that he led the league in walks and was not even one of the top 30 pitchers in the National League last season (in a contract year!). Don’t get me wrong – I am a fan of Ollie. I’d love to see him sign with the Mets if Lowe goes elsewhere. But in this offseason of bargain contracts (Yankees signings excluded), it would be unwise to overpay for him while letting Lowe slip away to a division rival.