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Launching the ship

Wow! There’s a lot of pressure w/ the conversion to the new format. It’s been a long time coming. It’ll take some getting used to, to be sure, but after my first few glances of it, I like it a lot. I don’t think it’ll take too long for us all to get accustomed to it and I think most of us will like it much better once that happens.

I wanted to begin w/ a welcome to our new #2 starter. It’s hard to believe that Kyle Lohse is actually anybody’s #2, let alone ours, but it’s true. It would be true even w/o the injuries to Pineiro and Clement those injuries make Lohse a welcome addition to the roster. Though he’s not a great starter by any means, I’m pretty astounded that we’re 15 days away from opening day (I really do like some of these new features!) and Lohse still didn’t have a home.

As we all know by now, LB has advocated for Kyle Lohse for some time, including here , here , here and, most notably, here and now, if all goes well, he’ll be starting against the defending NL Champs on April 2. In fact, Duncan and Mozeliak seem to be of the opinion that Lohse will be ready to go on opening day. But how did it come to this? This guy was supposed to be the second best starting pitcher available in an admittedly weak free agent market. How is it that he was still available in mid-March?

First of all, we need to appreciate what a coup it is to get Kyle Lohse on a 1 year, $4.25 M contract. This isn’t the second coming of Jocketty’s decision to sign Chris Carpenter in 2003 but this is a pretty damned good signing. PECOTA estimates Lohse’s value this year at about $4.5 M, but PECOTA’s projections are based on him being a Phillie and pitching in Citizen’s Bank Park for half his starts. The Hardball Times’ Fair Market Value Calculator has him at about $7.5 M. That’s what the sabermetric projection systems say he’s worth but, as we all know, considering the weak free agent market, it’s a complete shock that some yahoo – Ed Wade, I’m looking at you – didn’t give him a 4 year $40 M contract.

Lohse has thrown more than 178 innings in 5 of the last 6 seasons and has a career ERA+ of 95, making him decidedly league average. However, those numbers are based on him pitching his entire career in heavily hitter-friendly ballparks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Lohse is a hidden gem but he has been very steady during the course of his career. In one of LB’s posts about Lohse above, he compared Lohse favorably to Suppan when the Cards signed him. In fact, Lohse’s #1 comp is Suppan – a guy who was never great but was pretty steady, giving the Cards 5 or 6 innings and around 180 – 190 IP per year. He took some pressure off the pen and, in turn, the other 4 starters and managed to keep the team in the game more often than not.

We know that at least half, and often close to 2/3 of a player’s free agent value is determined by his results the previous season. If we compare Lohse’s numbers last season, with the Reds and Phils, to other NL pitchers we find the following:

Stat # better than
FIP 4.52 C. Zambrano, Zito, Glavine, Livan Hernandez
WS 9 Zito, Marquis, Suppan, Morris
WPA 0.01 Livan, Morris, Suppan, Moyer

Was Lohse outstanding in ’07? Of course not but he was better than a lot of pitchers who receive more plaudits and more dollars than him. His FIP was almost exactly the same as the more heralded Bronson Arroyo and, as you can see above, was actually lower than the great Carlos Zambrano. His 9 win shares were equal to the total of Ben Sheets and Greg Maddux

So he entered the free agent market with Carlos Silva, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Livan Hernandez, and bunch of guys, like Clement, coming off injury of one form or another. Here’s how Lohse’s contract compares with several of his free agency competitors using last season’s win shares.

Age ’08 $ ’07 WS $ per WS
Lohse 29 4.25 9 472,222
Byrd 37 8 11 727,273
Livan 33 5 10 500,000
Lieber 37 3.5 3 1,166,667
Maddux 41 10 9 1,111,111
K. Rogers 43 8 3 2,666,667
Glavine 42 8 11 727,273
Silva 28 7 11 636,364
Tomko 34 3 0 f-ing infinity!
K. Wells 31 3 3 1,000,000
Wolf 31 4.75 5 950,000

The Lohse signing is easily the best, in terms of value, of the offseason. Not only do you get more WS per $ than any of the others, but you’re also not locked into Silva’s 4 year contract or the 3-5 years most thought Lohse would get. As I said, it’s a great coup for Mozeliak but it doesn’t tell us how it happened.

The following is a list of pitchers projected to be in teams’ opening day starting rotations: Garrett Olson, Edwin Jackson, Gavin Floyd, Lenny DiNardo, Rick VandenHurk, the entire Washington Nationals’ rotation, Shawn Chacon and/or Chris Sampson, Matt Belisle, Esteban Loaiza, Randy Wolf AND Justin Germano, and perhaps Kip freaking Wells. So, somehow, about half the teams in MLB chose 1 or more of these guys over a guy who’s thrown 1074 league-average innings over the last 6 seasons. All the projection systems have him in the same neighborhood this year as well – w/ about 180 IP, a 4.55 FIP, fewer than 3 BB/9 and more than 5.5 K/9. He should be better than Braden Looper and we’re giving him $5.5 M. Some of these teams also intend to attempt to contend and will need every well-pitched inning they can get in order to do it.

The Rockies chose Kip Wells over Kyle Lohse. The Royals, who last year paid Gil Meche 5 years and $55 M decided to give Brett Tomko $3 M rather than giving Kyle Lohse $5 M. The Twins (do they know something?) gave more money to homer-friendly Livan Hernandez. The Padres chose 2 injury reclamation projects (Wolf and Prior) rather than taking 180-190 innings from Lohse.

Finally, there are the Astros, whose new GM – Ed Wade -- is ever-confounding. This guy traded what was left of his farm system for the aging Miguel Tejada. He traded Chad Qualls, Chris Burke, and a decent young pitcher for Jose Valverde and signed Kaz Matsui to a 3 year, $15 M contract to play 2B. It’s clear he intends to try and get as much out of the last couple of years of Berkman’s and Oswalt’s contract as he can. He’s going to try to win something before Carlos Lee’s body completely gives out and yet he gives Shawn freaking Chacon $2 M and has no interest in giving Lohse $4-5 M. This absolutely defies logic.

Let’s set aside the possibility of collusion among the owners. There wasn’t much out there available and Carlos Silva got his long-term contract. While I won’t say it’s impossible, to me it’s unlikely that Lohse was the ONLY victim of collusion this offseason. There must be another explanation.

How could a relatively valuable slip through the cracks so far that half the big-league teams will send someone to the mound every 5th day who couldn’t crack our injury-plagued rotation? I can’t help but wonder if the market hasn’t corrected to the point that league-average free agent acquisitions are actually UNDERvalued!

There’s been quite a switch among most (Astros excepted) major-league front offices toward a greater appreciation for the value of younger and cheaper major-league players. For the most part, this is a good thing as the high-dollar free agent contracts for mediocre players were what rendered many teams unable to compete for several years. Most teams now see that the young players whose contracts are still under the team’s control tend to be as good or better as their aging counterparts who were earning long-term and high-dollar contracts. Going w/ the younger and cheaper players also frees up lots of extra dollars that can be used on the superstars – those truly worthy of the long-term, high-dollar contracts.

Still, he we are in mid-March able to sign Kyle Lohse to a 1 year, $4.25 M contract. Has the market gone so far in favor of the young players that GM’s are unable to see the value in someone like Lohse? Might the Rockies, Dodgers or Padres wish they had signed him as they’re competing for a playoff spot this summer? How about the Reds or Astros? He’s probably worth 2-3 wins over Belisle or Chacon, to say nothing of the effect that his 6 innings will have on their respective bullpens. Will one of the weaker teams regret not signing Lohse, thus allowing them to trade him for something relatively valuable in July? Last year he was traded for Matt Maloney, a big left-handed pitcher who’s averaged more than a strikeout an inning in his 2+ years in the minors. It just may be that Mozeliak’s best move yet is the trade he’ll make in July, by dangling Lohse to one of these GM’s who passed on giving him $5 M a month ago.

The essence of "Moneyball" was to exploit inefficiencies in the market. For several years that meant finding players w/ a high OBP or going w/ younger, more cost-effective players that allow the team to save resources for other players. Perhaps Mozeliak just acted impulsively to shore up an injury-riddled rotation but he also may have stumbled upon the most recent iteration of a market inefficiency – that of the undervalued, league-average major league ballplayer. Whatever the reason, there’s little doubt that this is a very good signing.

Fiddle w/ the new platform for a while. As I said, I really like it and am really proud to be able to christen it w/ this bottle of champagne. Hopefully, it generates enough interest to go down like Dom Perignon and not Brut.