On the ESPN.com MLB message boards, user bs630 took offense to my grim outlook on Adam Loewen's immediate future:
This guy will get absolutely shelled in the near future. Considering his awful peripherals, he's been incredibly fortunate this season.
by mark w
He walked a few guys," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "But he got a lot of ground ball outs and some key strikeouts. That kid is only going to get better. His ball is so lively."
Loewen is walking a lot of batters, but he is giving up less than a hit per IP, has an opposing SLG of .310, and has a 2/1 G/F rate. Gibbons is right and mark w only proves that there are still a lot of Canadians who don't understand baseball.
Being given the opportunity to pitch out of situations like last night and continuing to work with Mazzone, Loewen will only improve. Perlozzo and Mazzone are handling Loewen like they did Bedard. It will work with Loewen too. Good job.
Since I didn't include a qualifier in my comment, I think it's fair to assume that bs360 inferred that I meant Loewen would pitch poorly, regardless of whether his peripherals improve. Of course, if he maintains his current K/BB rate of 19/13, no one could persuasively argue that his ERA wouldn't significantly increase, despite his low HR/9 and his high GB rate.
Well, I wasn't completely going in the direction of the former, since Loewen's track record is far too short to have a good feel for his true value. Nevertheless, he's an interesting case, so let's take a closer look to draw some tentative conclusions.
In 2006, Loewen pitched 112.1 innings, while this season he's already pitched 19.1. From those numbers, it seems that Loewen induces a lot of groundballs, which explains his very low HR/9 totals, though, coupled with his reduced K/9 rate, it means that he's become very reliant on his defense. Last season, the Orioles didn't help him out much, as they ranked 26th out of 30 teams in defense efficiency, which was in line with previous seasons. This season, they currently rank 23rd. Of course, that's a bad sign for Loewen, whose eDER is quite high because of an abnormally low LD%. Moreover, his RA totals show he's prone to allowing unearned runs, which is normal for a groundball pitcher.
In his player profile of Tim Hudson, Marc Normandin voices concern about the strategy employed by groundball pitchers who rely a lot on their defense:
Essentially, even though Hudson was probably not as good a pitcher as he had been just two years before, he was putting up better numbers due to his groundball rates. This is a strategy that works very well if you have a solid or great defense behind you, but once you stop striking batters out, start handing out free passes to first base again, and lose the incredible infield defense that used to back you (read: get traded to Atlanta later on in life), it catches up to you.
What also jumps out at me is Loewen's high LOB%, especially relative to his K/9 rate. Players with high K/9 rates are more likely to leave more men on base, since strikeouts, as we all know, are often vital to keeping men on base. For example, while groundballs and flyballs still induce outs, they often advance runners, too. Anything in the .75% range is a very high LOB% total, and it's a good indicator of a low ERA, which Loewen possesses at the moment. But, due to his low K/9 rate, it appears that it's an aberration rather than a harbinger of what's to come. For instance, Zach Duke, another young lefthander, experienced this regression last season, after his LOB% dropped from 84.2% to 69.9%. His ERA increased dramatically as a result. For a more extensive explanation of this, you should read Anthony A. Perri's article at Insider Baseball.
So what, right? These numbers won't mean anything if Loewen improves his true value as a pitcher under the tutelage of Leo Mazzone. But, even from a scout's perspective, the jury is still out on Loewen's potential. For example, Keith Law said the following in his most recent ESPN.com chat:
Matt (Springfield, MO): Is Loewen going to get his "stuff" together? Is he any good?
SportsNation Keith Law: His stuff is only OK, and his control has never been good. I think that the "real" Adam Loewen was left on the operating table when he tore his labrum in '04.
Loewen has 7.7 BB/9 (85.5%) compared to the league average of about 3.5 BB/9 (38.8%). Through 19.1 IP, the 95% confidence interval for walks in 19.1 IP for a league average player would be between 3 and 12. At his rate, Loewen is well beyond that range, which suggests that he won't suddenly start walking batters at a league average clip, despite the small sample size.
Nevertheless, in fairness to bs630, I might have been somewhat hasty in my assertion. However, a rebound by Loewen is by no means imminent, and, judging by his small sample in the majors, it's safe to say that his ERA will rise, though likely not as much as his peripherals would suggest. Still, barring a complete turnaround, a marked regression should occur as the season progresses. Prior to the season, Marcels, which simply predicts future totals by using weighted averages regressed to the major league mean, forecasted Loewen's ERA at 4.41. I'm slightly more skeptical, based on this season's rates, so I'd add about a quarter of a run (and maybe more) to that total. So, Loewen could very well prove to be valuable, but not at his current rate.