Atlanta Braves: Minor Problem with Pitcher Derek Lowe

James HulkaAnalyst IAugust 2, 2011

Derek Lowe exiting the game after giving up 5 runs to the Padres.
Derek Lowe exiting the game after giving up 5 runs to the Padres.Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Most Braves fans know that Derek Lowe, who is currently earning $15 million this year (and next) is the Braves' highest paid player.

Some might be surprised to realize that this season Derek Lowe has yet to pitch into the eighth inning in any game.

Let me reiterate that: The highest-paid pitcher on the starting staff hasn't gotten into the eighth inning since September 2010.

That's $1.67 million per win. And about $80,000 per inning.

Some other facts that don't match for a "top of the rotation" starter on a playoff contender (including tonight's debacle against the Nationals)

1) Total number of starts: 24. Current ERA: 4.86

2) Number of starts of seven innings or more: 2.

3) Number of starts going more than six innings: 4.

4) Number of starts where he surrendered four-plus earned runs OR didn't make it through six innings: 14  (12 of his 18 starts since May 1)

5) Innings pitched: 133.1

So we are now at the point in time where a pitcher who's averaging giving up more than three runs per start and his average start is at a measly 5.1 innings is getting paid $15 million for a 6-10 record and a mediocre 12-12 record in the games that he starts.

With Derek Lowe starting, the Braves are a .500 team. When anyone else starts, the Braves are 51-36 (.590).

If I'm GM Frank Wren, I've already put Derek Lowe on waivers.

While I'm about 99 percent sure Lowe would pass through waivers right now, if by chance someone claimed him—I'd just let him go.

He's dead weight. When you're twice as likely to get a start that will tax your bullpen than a quality start from your highest paid player, and he's shown no signs at all of getting out of his extended funk, you have to cut him loose...or try to.

This is Minor problem—a Mike Minor problem.

Some will say Julio Teheran would be the better person to promote if (hopefully) the Braves can find a way to get Derek Lowe out of the rotation. I disagree, and here's why.

While Teheran and Delgado might have the higher ceilings for the Braves, they've only gotten a small taste of the majors with three total starts combined. They weren't bad, but none of those three saw them get into the sixth inning, and they showed they can't put away major league hitters—YET.

Minor's troubles in September last year were (as many noted, and he's hinted at) a result of him getting tired at the end of the season. He's thrown a total of 133 innings this year, and if inserted into the Braves rotation, say, this weekend, would likely get eight or nine starts in and add about 50 to 55 innings to his total. Yes, his numbers are mostly in AAA at Gwinnett, but Lowe and Minor have the same number of innings pitched, and Minor has done it in two fewer starts.

And, while it's pretty obvious, the Braves sure could use a left-handed starter in their rotation.

The most important reason Minor should be in the rotation sooner rather than later. He's shown he knows how to get major league hitters out and put them away.

Minor has learned how to pitch in the majors. Don't take my word for it—that was Brian McCann's analysis six weeks ago.

He can get a strikeout. He's got movement on his fastball and good control. He has multiple secondary pitches to get hitters out and he's confident with them.

The Cubs weren't a great team last year, but striking out 12 in six innings as a rookie is no easy task.

The Blue Jays offense has had its ups and downs this year, but has scored more runs than the Braves. His start that day was excellent.

The difference is Minor is more ready right now.

Teheran and Delgado (and Arodys Vizcaino) will probably get a chance to make an impact in September when the Braves need some fresher arms for their bullpen.

Looking at those same numbers as I posted earlier for Derek Lowe, here's how Minor compares in those same categories:

1) Total number of starts: 6. Current ERA: 4.59

2) Number of starts of seven innings or more: 1.

3) Number of starts going more than six innings: 1.

4) Number of starts where he surrendered four or more earned runs OR didn't make it through six innings: 3 (one start was 1 ER in 5.2 IP)

5) Innings pitched: 33.1

The Braves' record with Minor pitching is 4-2 even though his record is 1-2.

If the Braves make it to the postseason, it will be easy to decide which of the five current starters would not be facing the Giants, Brewers, D-backs or whoever might be the Braves' divisional round opponent. Fredi would go with Jurrjens, Hanson and Hudson in some order, and likely Brandon Beachy if he needed a fourth starter.

But if Derek Lowe continues pitching as badly as he has been and is not able to keep the Braves close in games (Hanson and Jurrjens have, despite some regressions) the Braves might not make the postseason.

And you can't even say Lowe's hitting prowess is enough to keep him in the rotation because Minor's hitting .273.

With Michael Bourn on board, and hopefully some reinforcements coming back from the DL later in August for the bullpen (Moylan, Linebrink), for the lineup (Chipper, McCann) plus some energetic AAA call-ups (Vizcaino, Teheran, Pastornicky, Delgado), the Braves should have those things covered.

However, can the Braves survive nine more Derek Lowe starts?