On December 6th 1999, the Kentucky Head Hunters joined the MWBL by participating in the dispersal draft. The 13th pick of the draft was reliever Derek Lowe. At the time, he was not the big story of the draft or franchise. Kentucky took Pedro Martinez first, and promptly traded him to Severn for what turned out to be the draft rights to Tim Hudson, prospects Adrian Beltre, Ben Petrick, and Nick Johnson.

The Head Hunter’s inaugural MWBL season looked to be an inauspicious beginning. Placed in the National League Central, the Kentucky squad was placed in the same division as two time defending World Series champion Tempe Tempers. The Head Hunter roster was thin comparatively.

Primarily stars included Derek Lowe, Brian Giles, and Derek Jeter. First round picks Tim Hudson and Eric Gagne were traded in May for Jason Giambi. Oft-injured Bret Saberhagen and Pete Harnisch also joined the club mid-season for prospects Adam Dunn and Nick Johnson.

The resulting roster had a competent offense, but very shallow pitching staff. Quality innings were scarce resulting in an extreme strategy employed by the Head Hunter management. Based on Bill James’ research of optimal closer strategies, Derek Lowe was asked to shoulder an unusual burden. Lowe was used from the 3rd to 9th inning, only brought into the game with runners on base and the game within 2 runs. Lowe was used anywhere from one to five innings at a time, depending on the availability of Kentucky’s starters and bullpen.

   This strategy allowed Derek Lowe to influence the game in a way no other pitcher in MWBL history. Through 2002, 19 different MWBL pitchers won 20+ games. Through 2002, 17 different MWBL pitchers saved 31+ games. Lowe won 20 and Lowe saved 31 in the same season!

Either of these totals would place Derek Lowe in the elite of MWBL history, but Lowe combined these two accomplishments into one glorious season. Lowe winning the 2000 Rolaids Relief Man award confirmed this fact. Lowe posted 20 wins and 31 saves thereby directly contributing to 51 of Kentucky’s 112 victories. Indirectly, Lowe’s rubber arm allowed for multiple starts by the gimpy Head Hunter staff.

Kentucky went on to win the 2000 NL Central in one of the most exciting divisional battles in MWBL history –


Kentucky Head Hunters 112 50 .691
Tempe Tempers 109 53 .673 3.0
Santa Fe Devils 108 54 .667 4.0

   Without question, Kentucky would not have made the playoffs without Derek Lowe’s Herculean effort. Faced with the challenge of a lifetime, Derek Lowe responded with a career year.

Kentucky is honored to place an exhibit in the MWBL Hall of Fame. Moreover, the Head Hunters are proud to place Derek Lowe’s 2000 campaign in historical context.

While Kentucky was defeated in the first round in 2000, making the playoffs established a tradition of excellence that Derek Lowe and the Head Hunters uphold to this day as demonstrated by playoff appearances in every MWBL season. With Ronnie Belliard’s departure in February 2003, Derek Lowe is the only remaining original Head Hunter.

WEDNESDAY 07/24/2024
AT 11:59 PM - ET!