January 17, 2003
Under The Knife
Looking for the Next Best Thing
Every year about this time, baseball fans everywhere spend far too much time looking for the next this, the latest that, the hottest prospect, and the biggest sleeper. While it keeps us active and leads to interesting thinking, even the best are seldom accurate at much better than a guess rate. Why? Because most of these types of exercises are nothing more than guesses themselves - educated guesses, but nonetheless so fraught with variables that no amount of good writing surrounding it makes it much more than a guess.
I say this so that I can immediately segue into a guess.
Someone, somewhere, is writing that Danny Graves is this year's Derek Lowe. In ESPN's Hot Stove Heater for the Cincinnati Reds, Graves is listed as the team's number one starter. Without getting off into a tangent on why the Reds backed off their plan to move to a four-man rotation, any Reds fan should be a bit concerned that so much is expected of Graves. Lowe, last year, was expected to be a fourth or fifth starter and progressed to become part of the Pedro and Lowe Show by mid-season.
Unlike Lowe, Graves has almost no experience starting. He had three starts for Triple-A Buffalo in 1997 and four starts last year for Cincinnati. Smartly, the Reds strictly limited his innings in his starts. He went three, five, five, and six innings in the four starts he made and in those starts, he pitched well, though not dominatly. Lowe, on the other hand, started throughout his minor league career and debuted with the Mariners as a starter. Even with the Red Sox, he made 10 starts before being converted to a reliever.
While I don't hold the scouting bias against short pitchers, there are about seven inches separating Lowe and Graves, or roughly the length of Graves' early season mullet. Graves doesn't possess the height, but more worrisome is his slight build and uninspiring strikeout rate. Nate Silver's amazing PECOTA system (trust me - you'll be so excited when you see this stuff!) compares Graves to Bill Swift and this comparison gives me a bit of hope. Swift was a very good reliever who became a very good starter and managed to stay healthy despite being asked to extend himself. Heading into his early 30s, Swift took two years to reach the 200-inning and 200-win thresholds. This is the upside that Graves may possess. Most of his success, both this year and in the future, depends on Boone and Gullett limiting his exposure and making the most of his high-leverage innings. With a lack of depth, if Graves is asked to go seven or eight a few too many times, we'll likely see him grace UTK more than once.
Lowe is already there, and the question is, did the extra workload damage him? Down the stretch, Lowe tired, but never came up lame. This off-season, he's worked with Chris Correnti of the Red Sox on a similar workout system to the one that rebuilt Pedro Martinez. As with Swift, I'd imagine that any damage done to Lowe's arm won't come now, but instead will show up in another year or so, but I wouldn't bet against Correnti yet.
It's been reported that Lowe had recent surgery for skin cancer. Luckily for Lowe, the cancer was caught early and does not appear to be among the more serious types. Doctors have indicated that the cancer appears to be caused by the sun (Lowe makes his off-season home in Florida) and we hope that Lowe will bring sunscreen for himself and teammates going forward. However, as crass as it may be to say, the cancer isn't a concern when it comes to his pitching.
The bottom line is that there just aren't enough similarities between Graves and Lowe to truly compare them and draw meaningful conclusions. In fact, there's just enough evidence on both the positive and negative sides to come up stymied. Like many pitchers, both are gambles, injury risks, and bearers of hope. Bid wisely.