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lohse cannon

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by far the most interesting name on jim molony's list of possible non-tender free agents is minnesota's kyle lohse. he went 9-13 with a 1.43 whip and a pretty good era (4.18) by american league standards (about 5 percent better than league average); has made 30+ starts each of the last four years, with an era at or below the league avg in three of those four seasons. his career era of 4.55 translates into about 4.15 in the nat'l league.

with those numbers he wouldn't upgrade the rotation, as folks hoped burnett or vazquez might have done. but he could turn into a solid and affordable place-holder, somebody who wouldn't hurt the rotation but would free up marquis to be traded for an outfielder.

caveats: lohse's k rate has gone down four years in a row, dipping to 4.3 per 9 innings last year; batters have hit .300 against him in each of the last two seasons; and his home run rate (1.1 per 9) isn't so hot either. plus he's said to be easily flustered on the mound, thrown out of whack by bad fielding plays or questionable umpiring calls a la jason marquis. also like marquis, lohse appears to have spent many years stubbornly going for strikeouts and making things more complicated than necessary on the mound. read this from esteemed twins blogger aaron gleeman:

When a struggling pitcher and his pitching coach talk about making changes on the mound, it is usually nothing more than talk. In Kyle Lohse's case, there have definitely been fundamental changes in his approach. Pitching coach Rick Anderson appears to have convinced Lohse to simplify things on the mound, asking him to rely more on his fastball/sinker and slider than he has in the past. . . . . It is increasingly clear that Lohse is transitioning from attempting to be a power pitcher to attempting to be a ground-ball pitcher, ala Carlos Silva. That is, throw strikes, keep things simple by working mostly with your fastball, and let the defense work for you.
you could swap in marquis' name for lohse's without losing a word of truth, no? apparently the adjustments stuck; lohse's 2d-half era was half a run lower than his 1st-half era.

some more things to consider: lohse amassed more pitching win shares than either marquis or matt morris, and his fielding-independent era of 4.59 was better than marquis' (4.93), comparable to jeff suppan's (4.52), and not all that much worse than mark mulder's (4.28). in the american league, lohse's FIP put him in the same class as barry zito (4.39), jarrod washburn (4.39), bronson arroyo (4.48), and teammate brad radke (4.48).

the thing that really intrigues me about this guy is his list of similar pitchers at baseball-reference. number one is chris carpenter; number 6 is jeff suppan. makes you think he might be the type of pitcher who'd thrive under dave duncan's tutelage. supps seems particularly apt for comparison; similar rates of strikeouts and hits allowed, ditto park-adjusted era+s. check out his record through age 27; very comparable to lohse. carpenter also has a similar thru-27 line, but he's a different type of pitcher -- much higher k rates, so the comparison seems less applicable.

if you're an optimist, you might argue that coming to the dh-free national league could shave a quarter- to half-run off lohse's era; the combination of duncan, the cards' defense, and the bullpen might shave off a like amount. in which case he becomes another mulder / suppan / marquis. some data:

era FIP era whip k/9 win sh
(pitch only)
VORP
lohse 4.18 4.59 1.43 4.3 10.5 30.7
suppan 3.57 4.52 1.39 5.3 12.5 28.0
mulder 3.64 4.28 1.38 4.9 13.9 37.6
marquis 4.13 4.93 1.33 4.3 9.2 18.9

lohse made $2.4 million last season and is in his 2d year of arb eligibility. given the market for pitchers, you never know what this guy might go for. if the cards could get him for 2 years / $8m with a third-year option -- about the terms suppan signed for in the 2003-04 off-season -- i would like the deal a lot. but in a market that gives matt morris 3 guaranteed years and $25m, kyle lohse might well get 3 yrs / $18m or so. if that's the case i'd have to say pass.