Derek knew that his time in the big leagues was fading fast. Thirty-eight is young for most people. It's young for a farmer, an investment banker, or a stay-at-home mom or dad. Thirty-eight is not young for a pitcher in the major leagues. Playing baseball, as boring as it may seem to the fan at times, takes a lot out of you on your body. As a hitter, you have to be in top shape in order to see the fastballs that seem to keep getting faster. You have to have the power to swing the bat around as fast as you used to in order to make solid contact.
For a pitcher, maybe no worse damage in sport is the damage done to a pitchers arm, making the same hard motion over and over again for years. A motion that the human body was not designed to make. For whatever it was the created humans, "Make it so that they can throw little balls fast and accurate" was not high on the priority list and why would it be? The time in which baseball has been a part of human civilization is smaller than the size of a hair on the timeline of human existence.
Still, this is something that humans continue to do and millions of Americans throw pitches every year. They get weeded out from Little League to High School and if they're lucky they get to the Minors or College. And if you're really, really lucky, one day you'll step on the mound for a major league baseball team and stand in front of thousands of fans and millions more on TV and show what your arm and body can do.
Few humans in the modern era have been able to do this. It's a fraction of a fraction of pitchers that manage to make their way from pitching in front of their dad on an unkempt field with enough bleachers for maybe 50 people, to doing so on the biggest of all stages. It's a miracle when you can make it that far and it's a miracle of a miracle if you can do it for sixteen years, which Derek Lowe has managed to do.
From being an eighth round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 1991, to being traded in one of the most lopsided deals of all-time to the Boston Red Sox, to throwing a no-hitter and finishing third in the Cy Young in 2002, to winning a World Series in 2004, Lowe has accomplished so many dreams throughout his career. Unlikely as it all was, Lowe has managed to be anywhere from "just good enough" to great for sixteen major league seasons.
However, Lowe knows that his body is not what it used to be and he has to rely on his experience much more than he can rely on his arm or his body for when he needs to retire hitters and leave every start knowing that he did the best that he could do. So far in 2012, his best has been better than good. It's been a revelation for the Cleveland Indians and their fans.
Lowe, who turns 39 in about a week, is 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA. Has he found the fountain of youth, like this generations Jamie Moyer (Hey, this generation still has a Jamie Moyer!) Or has Lowe, who hasn't posted an ERA under 4.00 since 2008 or an ERA under 3.00 since 2002, just getting lucky?
The funny thing is that his .297 BABIP against is almost exactly the same as his career number. Don't expect too much regression there, at least not enough to be entirely damning. Another positive note is the 66.5% groundballs that he's induced, his highest rate since 2006 with the Dodgers.
There is some concern though.
Derek Lowe has only given up two home runs this season and you wouldn't believe by whom and where. On April 18th, Lowe gave up a home run to Ichiro Suzuki and another to Chone Figgins and they both came in the infamously spacious Safeco Field. It's the only home run for Ichiro all season, and Chone has two.
Lowe has faced 248 batters and somehow those are the only two to go yard on him, and they did it in a park so big that a commercial jet could take off from home plate. Eventually, more balls will leave the yard and Lowe, who gives up more than one hit per inning but has only 15 strikeouts and 18 walks in 58.2 innings, will see his ERA skyrocket.
Last season with the Braves, Lowe had a 5.05 ERA, 3.70 FIP, and 3.65 xFIP.
This season with the Indians, Lowe has a 2.15 ERA, 3.86 FIP, and 4.34 xFIP.
When reality starts to set in for the man who has seen it all and been around since the late-90s, it could set in hard. If you own Lowe and think someone might want to bite, even the tiniest of bites, now is the time to set Derek Lowe free. It would be cool to see another pitcher like Moyer somehow remain effective well into his 40s, but Lowe is already showing serious decline as he approaches his 39th birthday.
It's the cycle of life for an athlete.
Somewhere out there, on a field that's missing second base and has a set of bushes to mark where a "home run" is, a collection of young kids are playing baseball. Most of them don't know how to properly swing a bat. You'll be lucky if the pitcher can regularly throw a ball within the vicinity of the strikezone. A pizza box marks the mound. And one of these kids just might one day spend sixteen years in the major leagues, hearing that he's still got it, but feeling like his body just wasn't what it used to be when he was a kid.