The Indians’ trade for right-hander Derek Lowe means that the Tribe’s rotation will include three of the top eight pitchers in groundball percentage last season – and a fourth, righty Ubaldo Jimenez, who ranked 31st.
The infield defense behind such a rotation will be critical, and at first glance the Indians’ group does not appear particularly strong.
Club officials, though, hold a different view, saying that they like their infielders better than advanced metrics might indicate.
Third baseman Jack Hannahan is an elite top defender, and the team’s other option at the position, Lonnie Chisenhall, is improving. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera rates poorly in advanced metrics, but not in the Indians’ judgment. Second baseman Jason Kipnis, a converted outfielder, will be at least average next season, the Indians say, and possibly above-average in the future.
First base, in the words of one club official, is “to be determined,” with Matt LaPorta the incumbent. But quality defenders at first – Casey Kotchman, Carlos Pena, Lyle Overbay, Brad Hawpe - should be readily available on the open market.
Lowe ranked third in the majors in groundball percentage last season, righty Fausto Carmona fifth, righty Justin Masterson eighth. Righty Josh Tomlin is the only flyball in the team’s projected 2012 rotaiton.
The thing about Lowe that appealed to the Indians was his durability; he has pitched at least 180 innings in each of the last 10 seasons. While his stuff was down last season – “it sucks getting old,” Lowe, 38, told one Braves teammate – he remained a hard worker, good teammate and positive example for younger pitchers.
In addition, Lowe’s price is right – the Braves are paying $10 million of his $15 million salary next season, with the Indians responsible for the remaining $5 million.
The Tigers paid righty Brad Penny $3 million to be their fifth starter last season. The Rangers guaranteed injured righty Brandon Webb the same amount, even though Webb ultimately did not pitch for them.