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Young Pitcher Symposium: Noah Lowry

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Young Pitcher Symposium: Noah Lowry
Noah Lowry was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the first round of the 2001 draft, out of Pepperdine, 30th overall. Most teams saw him as a second or third-round talent, not seeing him as a first-round guy because he doesn't have a blazing fastball, but the Giants liked his polish (and his affordable price tag). Assigned to Salem-Keizer in the Northwest League after signing, he went 1-1, 3.60 in 25 innings, with a 28/8 K/BB ratio. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2002 book, noting that he would probably do well in Class A, but that Double-A might prove a tougher challenge "as it is for most finesse guys."
Lowry opened 2002 at Class A San Jose in the California League. Stat-wise, he had an excellent year: 2.15 ERA, 62/20 K/BB in 59 innings, only 38 hits allowed. But note the 59 innings. . .he missed more than half the season laid up with a sore shoulder. Surgery was avoided, but "shoulder soreness" is never a good sign. Nevertheless, I increased his grade to B- in the 2003 book. His ratios were very good.
Moved up to Double-A for `03, Lowry went 9-6 but with an ugly 4.72 ERA. He allowed 127 hits in 118 innings. His K/BB was 97/47. These aren't particularly good numbers, but the scouting reports remained strong, and he did well in a 4-start trial in Triple-A (2.37 ERA). He also threw six shutout innings at the major league level. The best news was that he stayed healthy all year. Although his Double-A numbers were not very impressive overall, I raised his grade to a straight B in the 2004 book, based on the scouting reports and an intuitive feeling that he would break through soon.
Lowry split '04 between Triple-A and the majors, actually pitching better at the major league level than he did in the minors. He went 13-13, 3.78 in 33 starts in 2005, with a 172/76 K/BB ratio. A lot of people consider him a candidate for major improvement in 2006, though personally I think the big step forward will wait until '07.
Bullet points about Noah Lowry:

*Scouting Report: Lowry works with a fastball clocked anywhere between 86 and 92 MPH. He will alter the grip to vary movement on the pitch, and it often looks faster to the eye than the radar gun due to the contrast with his other pitches. His delivery is deceptive, which also helps. His slider is decent, and he has an excellent changeup. He has a classic lefthander build at 6-2, 210 pounds. Scouts praise his work ethic and pitching sense.

*Stats: Although Lowry doesn't have a superb fastball, his component ratios last year were more like those of a power pitcher, with a fairly high strikeout rate but more walks than you see from a perfect finesse guy. Note that K/IP and velocity are not perfectly correlated. If a guy racks up strikeouts, even without a 95 MPH fastball, that's good! I'd take a pitcher who strikes people out with a mediocre heater over a guy with a hot fastball who never fans anyone. Lowry's control numbers were better in the minors, and I think that we will see a steady reduction in walks as he gains experience and confidence.

*Health: This is the only thing I really worry about. It's been two years since his shoulder trouble, but that sort of thing can recur easily.

Comparable Pitchers to Noah Lowry through age 24
Sterling Hitchcock
Jim O'Toole
Chris Nabholz
Ron Bryant
Jamie Moyer
Scott McGregor
Scott Karl

Hitchcock was solid at times but had problems with durability and fell apart physically at age 29.
O'Toole was an above-average starting pitcher from age 24 through age 27, but got hurt at that point. His career was over at age 30.
Nabholz was an above-average starting pitcher from age 24 through age 26, but got hurt at that point. Career over at 28.
Bryant was an above-average starting pitcher at age 24 and 25, but got hurt. His career was over at 27.
Moyer had some early success but went through a rough patch in his late 20s. He re-emerged at age 30 and has been a successful pitcher ever since, winning 13 games last year at age 42.
McGregor was an above-average starting pitcher from age 24 through age 29. He remained in the regular Baltimore rotation until age 33, though he was only mediocre the last few seasons.
Karl was an above-average starting pitcher at age 24 and 25, mediocre at 26 and 27, then fell apart.

As you can see, five of the seven comparable pitchers were finished as effective pitchers before the age of 30. McGregor held on for awhile longer, and Moyer has lasted forever (although even he struggled in his late 20s). None of this means that Lowry is doomed, but it does show that he will have to fight the odds. My best guess: Lowry's 2006 will look a lot like his 2005. He will have an outstanding season in 2007, then back off a bit in 2008, then gradually fade out as McGregor did.