Seriously, can this guy get any worse? When the Tigers signed Mark Lowe to a two-year, $13 million deal last offseason, they envisioned him locking down the eighth inning in front of closer Francisco Rodriguez. As you now know, Lowe has not done that. The Tigers bullpen has quietly been a bright spot this season, but Lowe has loudly been terrible. After having a stellar 2015 campaign for the Mariners and the Blue Jays, his work in Detroit has been a sunk cost.
Last year, Lowe was one of the elite setup men in baseball, posting a 1.96 ERA to go with a 2.57 FIP in 55 innings between Seattle and Toronto. With a fastball that sat around 96 miles per hour and a wipeout slider, he struck out nearly 10 batters per nine innings while walking only two per nine. He had legitimate swing-and-miss stuff, and parlayed his marvelous season into a nice contract and a cushy job as the Tigers’ setup man.
Sadly, this season has been nearly the complete opposite of 2015 for Lowe. His 10.33 ERA is the worst mark in both leagues among pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched. In 27 innings, he has posted a 10.33 ERA with only 7.33 strikeouts per nine and 3.67 walks per nine innings. If there’s a silver lining in all of this, it’s that his FIP is 7.69, so hey, maybe he has been a little unlucky...?
As you can see, Lowe is no longer striking out batters at a high rate and is walking them much more frequently. Combine that with the fact that he has already given up a career high 10 home runs, and you have a pitcher where the word useless really doesn’t do justice to how bad he has been.
This season has been a far fall for a guy who was one of the premier eighth inning men in baseball last year. With such good stuff featured in 2015, his arsenal has taken a massive hit in 2016 with no concrete answers as to why. His fastball velocity is down to around 93 miles per hour, and his slider isn’t moving like it did last year.
Last season, Lowe had a sharp slider that could drop out of the hitting zone due to its wicked vertical movement. The tight spin made the pitch look juicy to the hitters, but would then fall off the table once it approaches the plate. For the season, opposing batters only hit .177 against it with a .088 isolated power (ISO). In 2016, his slider has been a completely different pitch. It now has less vertical movement, staying close to the same plane through the hitting zone. While it has more side-to-side movement, this doesn’t really help make it a wipeout pitch. Hitters are tagging it like it’s the size of a beach ball, producing a batting average against of .325 and an ISO of .350.
The sad thing is that his slider has arguably been his best pitch this year. Opponents are hitting .357 with a .386 ISO against his fastball, and .500 with a .250 ISO against his seldom-used changeup. Six of the 10 homers he has allowed have come against the fastball, and four against the slider.
Mercifully, the Tigers caught onto his issues fairly early, and Lowe is rarely used in high leverage situations anymore. While it’s easy to make the argument that he shouldn’t be on the roster at all, 17 of the 27 innings he’s thrown this year have been considered low leverage situations. However, he’s still not having success in those scenarios, so he’s really only here to make a bad situation worse.
With no one really knowing why he has completely crashed and burned this season, there’s no reason for him to be wasting a roster spot at this point. Whether it’s a serious mechanical issue or concealing an injury, he has caused much more harm to the team than good. The Tigers have gone through the majority of this season with an eight-man bullpen, which doesn’t make a lot of sense considering they have played with a short bench featuring two of the same players in Andrew Romine and Mike Aviles.
The time has come to make a decision on Mark Lowe. If they decide to designate him for assignment, it’s almost certain that no other organization would want to pick up his contract. While he could refuse the assignment to the minors, his numbers and declining velocity don’t make him a very attractive option for teams scraping for bargain-bin relief help, so it should be a risk the Tigers are willing to take. While the options to replace him aren’t stellar, nearly anyone they add will be more valuable than the guy with the worst ERA in baseball.