I don't want to say I've caught Kyle Lohse fever, because Kyle Lohse fever is actually a terrible neurological disorder characterized by a high incidence of motocross-related risk-taking. But it would be reasonable to assume I'm suffering from something less serious, maybe Restless Lohse Syndrome. Through 13 innings he's struck out nine and walked zero, with a home run the only mark on the negative side of the slate.
Of course, he had decent 13-inning stretches in 2010, too—April 26 and May 1 saw him allow four runs in 13 innings, with 10 strikeouts and two walks; he had another 13 inning stretch at the end of the season in which he allowed four runs, although the seven strikeouts and six walks are less becoming. But it's startling that that's it—those are the only two start stretches he put together that year with a combined ERA below 4.00. So much of his season was one disaster bleeding into the next that even after losing most of the summer to forearm problems he came back indistinguishable from the way he left, with six runs in 3.1 innings on May 22 and seven runs in 3.0 innings on August 28.
There's a lot left to worry about with Lohse, but his competence is reassuring, even with nothing but Spring Training to go on; it's not just the blowouts I worry about so much as the 90-pitch, five innning, totally aimless outings we were treated to after his return. That's what he hasn't done in Spring Training; when the hits come back and the BAbip goes up it's what he'll still have to do in-season.
Meanwhile, Ryan Theriot knows how to work a room—in a nice Matthew Leach feature he plays up his determination to get on base and blames, to some extent, his low OBPs in 2009 and 2010 on the short-sightedness of the Chicago Cubs. OBP, front-office bashing, Cubs bashing... if I'd read this right after reading Moneyball as a 14-year-old, Theriot would have earned a fist-pump when he said "My goal every year up to that point was just to walk more than I struck out. See a lot of pitches, get on base... It was definitely by design, to be more aggressive. But with this lineup, I don't have to do that."
You never have to do that! You had five home runs in 2000 minor league at-bats! If the lineup around Ryan Theriot dictates that he needs to swing for the fences every time he's up, he's having the Cleveland Spiders nightmare again.
Looking at 2008, the last season before the Cubs ruined everything, and 2009, the season where he was marginally effective while simultaneously being ruined, it's possible to spot a change in approach if you're looking for it. 2008 Theriot walks in 11% of his plate appearances and strikes out in 8.8%, while 2009 Theriot walks in 7.5% and strikes out in 13.7%. He hits more fly balls and gets home runs on 3% of them, instead of one half of one percent.
But he sees an extremely similar number of pitches per plate appearance—3.75 to 3.68—though it's true that he looks at fewer of them than ever and swings at more of them. He swings at more first pitches than ever, going from well below the average to well above it, but he hits .358 with three home runs while doing it.
It's true that his performance since 2009 hasn't been in keeping with his minor league career. In his two years in the high minors he struck out 72 times and walked 72 times. He hit one home run, combined. But it's not like he was walking a lot in the minor leagues; David Eckstein, his best-case scenario, hit .313/.440/.416 in AA and .257/.378/.342 in AAA, walking 158 times against 94 strikeouts.
I believe Theriot's approach changed between 2008 and 2009, and I believe that his goal, now, is to walk more than he strikes out and get on base. But I'm not sure he has another 2008 in him; it's just an extremely difficult thing to do twice, even if he has a reason for why he didn't do it again with the Cubs.
There's room for optimism. His K:BB ratio before the new aggression was 128:140; with the Cubs from 2009 to 2010 it was 139:70, while with the Dodgers it was a much more palatable 28:22. So it makes sense that we'll see a new Theriot in 2011, and I think it's plausible that his recent hackiness was a company mandate. But it's only a coincidence, I'd bet, that his best possible application of that old philosophy came the year before he was asked to change it. I think the best possible assessment of this news is hoping he flips his OBP and SLG from 2009 around, and hits .284/.369/.343. Which I'd certainly take.