Since he signed a four year, sixty million dollar contract before the 2009 season, Derek Lowe has become an object of disappointment from Braves fans.

While being the highest paid player on the team, Lowe has produced an unspectacular 4.39 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in his almost three years with the Braves. Using FIP Lowe is a little better (3.89 last year and 3.59 so far in 2011) but Braves fans were expecting Lowe to be better given his large contract.

Whether you prefer rWAR or fWAR, Lowe has underperformed his contract and been worth much less than the Braves anticipated. He was shopped after his first season with the Braves and likely is headed toward another off-season filled with rumors and speculation.

But despite his mediocre overall numbers, Lowe played a huge role down the stretch last season when he was a true ace come September. Heading into last year’s playoffs, Lowe allowed just 3 runs in his final 30.2 innings (spanning five starts) and went 5-0 in the month.

He followed his impressive September up with two great postseason performances. Despite going 0-2 in the NLDS, Lowe allowed just three earned runs in 11.2 innings and gave the Braves a chance to win both games.

Following his dominance at the end of last year, many hoped Lowe had finally turned the corner and would start pitching up to his contract. Instead, he is currently 9-12 (I know, won/loss record is a horrible indictor of performance) with a 4.52 ERA. However, he has a 3.59 xFIP and has been a bit unlucky.

But fear not Braves fans, as the team heads into the stretch run and (hopefully) playoffs with Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens ailing, Lowe may be poised to make another strong finish. In his past three starts, Lowe has allowed just 3 earned runs over 18 innings and struck out 19 batters.

Lowe has typically peaked at the end of his career. His best month (ERA-wise) is September (at 3.23) and he has always been a good pitcher in the postseason (3.21 ERA).

While the Braves should cruise to a Wild Card berth this year, they could use a strong finish from Lowe to get deep into the playoffs especially if Hanson and Jurrjens are unavailable.