Lohse's Lost Season

"Kyle Lohse’s had a lost season." Big Al uttered those words during the ballgame last night. Based on last year’s results, the Cards were expecting a lot more from Lohse this year. It’s not unreasonable to think that, if he’s healthy this postseason, he could be a productive 4th starter in the playoffs, when one is needed, thereby allowing Smoltz to pitch from the pen. Let’s face it, this guy threw 200 innings last year w/ a 3.78 ERA. The guy won 15 games for a fairly pedestrian Cardinals team and received a lucrative long-term contract as a result.

This is the prevailing attitude among the Cards’ broadcasters and, undoubtedly, among the St. Louis media. I’m sure it’s the attitude of many in the Cards’ brass as well. Once this guy’s healthy, he’ll go back to being the 15-win, under-4 ERA-generating, 200-inning starter the Cards were counting on heading into the season. He’s not yet past his prime; he won’t turn 31 for another couple of weeks. He still has some good years ahead of him; this year’s undoubtedly a fluke.

If you look at the table below, you’ll see his true talent level. The reality is that he’s a much better pitcher than he’s been this season.

ERA K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 GB/FB FIP tRA
2001 5.68 6.38 2.89 2.21 1.59 5.16
2002 4.23 6.18 3.49 1.77 1.30 0.89 4.77 5.87
2003 4.61 5.82 2.01 2.89 1.25 0.95 4.29 5.21
2004 5.34 5.15 3.53 1.46 1.30 1.22 5.06 5.58
2005 4.18 4.33 2.22 1.95 1.11 1.31 4.55 5.67
2006 5.83 6.89 3.13 2.20 1.07 1.15 4.34 4.94
2007 4.62 5.70 2.66 2.14 1.03 0.89 4.53 5.36
2008 3.78 5.36 2.21 2.43 0.81 1.43 3.89 4.80
2009 4.83 5.72 2.95 1.94 1.16 1.16 4.57 5.25
Total 4.68 5.63 2.75 2.05 1.16 1.11 4.54 5.35

Tell me again, Al, which season is the outlier? The only season that stands out here as being unique is 2008 – the season that garnered him the big $40 M contract. It’s true that the number of innings pitched is different both in this year and in his rookie year – 2001. In that season, he threw just 90.1 innings and he’s thrown only 100.2 innings this year but the quality of the innings he’s thrown this year is about the same as he’s thrown every season of his career. I understand that the conventional wisdom in St. Louis is that Dave Duncan turned Lohse into a ground ball throwing machine and turned a #4 or #5 starter into a #2 or #3 starter but you’ll notice that his ground ball to fly ball ratio has reverted to his pre-2008 levels this year. That’s, of course, the primary reason his home run rate has risen – to his career average, I might add.

Has Lohse been a victim of bad luck this year? Nope. His BABIP is just .297 – 11 points below his career average. His HR/FB is 10.7%, only slightly above his career ratio – 10.1%. In fact, last year his HR/FB was 8.6% -- a full 1.5% below his career average, indicating that he was probably pretty fortunate last season.

The point here isn’t that Kyle Lohse sucks. He’s not Todd Wellemeyer. He’s not Adam Wainwright, either. He is what he is – a #4 or #5 starter who has some value when he can throw 180-200 innings and is a liability at an $8-10 M salary when he’s pitching half that many. This is not, as Al claims, a "lost season" for Lohse. He’s not simply been a victim of injuries. All the injuries have done is reduce the number of innings he’s thrown. They haven’t made him pitch worse. He’s pitching worse b/c he simply isn’t as good as he led many to believe last season.

Can he be a viable 4th starter in the playoffs should we need one? Perhaps, but he shouldn’t be expected to shut down the competition. He’s not "a much better pitcher than he’s shown this year." He’s worse than what he showed last year. What we’ve witnessed this year is a half-year sample of Lohse’s true talent level.

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