Lowe gets grounded in Cleveland

The Hot Stove season kicked off last week as free agency officially began when the clock struck midnight on Thursday. Let’s take a look at a few notable transactions from the past few days.

Derek Lowe Traded to Indians

The Indians made the first trade of the 2011-12 offseason, acquiring the sinkerballer Lowe from the Atlanta Braves for minor-leaguer Chris Jones. The Braves also agreed to pay two-thirds of Lowe’s $15 million salary for 2012.

Indians Starters Groundball Rates
AL Ranks, 2011 Season

With the addition of Lowe, the Indians continue to build a groundball-heavy staff. Three of the Indians starters from 2011 ranked among the top 20 in the AL among starting pitchers in groundball rate. Lowe, who induced grounders 60 percent of the time, topped them all with the Braves last season.

Lowe struggled last year, losing a career-high 17 games and posting a 5.05 ERA, fifth-highest among major-league qualifying pitchers. However, there is reason for Cleveland fans to be optimistic that Lowe may be able to bounce back in 2012.

Lowe last year likely suffered from some bad luck. His .327 batting average on balls in play was well above his career mark of .295, and he stranded fewer than 60 percent of baserunners for just the second time in his career. If those numbers regress to his career norms, Lowe could easily see an improvement in his ERA next season.

Juan Rivera Signs with Dodgers

The Dodgers made the first splash in free agency with their signing of Rivera to a one-year, $4.5 million dollar contract.

Lowest OPS Since 2010
First Basemen & Corner Outfielders

It’s somewhat surprising that Rivera received that much money. His OPS of .710 since the start of 2010 is the fourth-lowest among first basemen and corner outfielders over the last two seasons (min. 900 PA).

John McDonald Signs with Diamondbacks

McDonald, who was traded to Arizona in August last year and started 15 games at shortstop with them, signed a two-year, $3 million deal with the Diamondbacks. McDonald brings little to the plate, with a .577 OPS last year that ranked 302nd out of 316 players with at least 240 PA.

McDonald, however, is a skilled defensive player who had nine Defensive Runs Saved at shortstop last year in just 264 innings. Only six shortstops saved more runs with their glove last year, and five of them played over 1,000 innings each.

Jim Thome Signs with Phillies

Thome will be returning to Philadelphia next year after signing a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the Phillies. Thome hit 96 of his 604 career homers in three seasons with the Phillies, and the first two of those seasons were among the most productive of his career. Only one person hit more homers than Thome's 89 dingers in 2003 and 2004: Barry Bonds (90).

Ryan Howard and Jim Thome
Last 2 Seasons

With Ryan Howard recovering from an achilles' injury he suffered on the final play of the Phillies season, the team could need an adequate fill-in at first base for part of 2012.

While Thome hasn't played first base since 2007, his bat compares favorably to Howard's. Over the last two seasons, Thome's .939 OPS is seventh-best among players with at least 500 PA, while Howard's .847 ranks 35th.