The weird thing about Kyle Lohse going into this season is that the perceptions about him seem to cancel each other out—he had a career year as a 29-year-old, so you expect him to regress, but he wasn't as good as his hot first half and sterling record made him look, so he might not regress all that much after all.
What I like about Lohse so far is his willingness to go after hitters when he's behind in the count. For a control guy he has a pretty good fastball, sitting at 90 for the last few years per BIS and Fangraphs, and when he fell behind Berkman with his shutout and the game on the line yesterday he wasn't aftaid to use it—he threw a get-over pitch down the middle on 3-0, and a fastball on the inner half 3-1 that Berkman lined into Colby Rasmus's glove.
That wasn't the only time, either—in the eighth he fell behind Pudge trying to hit the outside corner with three consecutive balls and, rather than stick to his original gameplan, proceeded to throw two fastballs up and get another fly ball. Every time Lohse got behind a hitter, which wasn't often, he'd scrap his gameplan and literally pitch to contact. Fly ball tendencies aside, he's a La Dunc-ian dream: the pitcher who knows he's in a pitcher's park. And that's how he's managed to walk exactly one batter in 16 innings.
Last year he walked an extra half a batter per nine innings when pitching on the road; it'll be interesting to see if that split holds up as 2009 progresses, if for no other reason than to make sure I wasn't just making things up.
While we're on efficiency, the P-D took a look at Wainwright's lack thereof yesterday, and it's certainly threatening to become an early-season meme if he keeps walking a batter an inning. After two starts his strike percentage is down from his usual 62%—held steady over the last few years—but only by four percent. Fangraphs doesn't see a different pitch distribution, either.
I was at the game with some friends Saturday, though it's difficult to do a lot of sustained pitching analysis from the very top of the stadium. But here's my anecdotal, early-season observation: I don't know if I just missed it last year, but this year he's started pitching backwards, like the Japanese pitchers in the WBC, on a pretty regular basis. It's mostly first and second pitch sliders, but Saturday he dropped two consecutive curveballs to start an at-bat against Kazuo Matsui. I don't know if it's related to his command issues—I don't even know if he did it last year, although I don't remember it as much—but it seems strange for a guy who's had prolonged problems with his slider in the past to rely on it as a get-ahead pitch.
Opening week means another seasonal tradition is about to begin: overreacting about minor league prospects, perpetual victims of the small sample size. Of course the essential site for this stuff is Future Redbirds, which will update you on every player's movement every night in a way that would have sounded extremely far-off five years ago. But I thought I'd mention a nice comeback story that's developing in the deep bush.
Last year Gary Daley had a line that is impossible to visualize. It might have been the worst anybody's ever pitched in professional baseball. Take a look:
17 games, 11 starts—10 innings. A walk for every out recorded. An ERA of 24.39. I can't imagine sitting through one of these outings. I can't imagine pitching like that, night after night, in the lowest rung of the minors, at the end of the world—with kids just out of high school, kids who've just landed in America from the Central American summer leagues, staring at you and thinking, what kind of joke is this? All summer. The crowds there for fireworks night, wishing you'd just get it over it.
All this time Gary Daley, 22, had been slowly building up to this moment. In 2006 he'd had a mildly encouraging season in the short-season New York-Penn League. A few too many walks, but no home runs, a strikeout an inning, more or less, and the usual hyperbolic remarks about his stuff. A 20 year-old can build a short prospect list career on just that.
The next year, a set-back, but one that seems to exist in this world—53 strikeouts, 62 walks. A first trip to the GCL, in which his problems got even worse. And then 2008—the nightmare. The kids out of high school, the summer leaguers, the joke.
But all this time there's promise. If there's no promise, a guy who walks three batters an inning doesn't stick around to make 17 appearances. In 160 innings Gary Daley has allowed three home runs—there's the promise. He's got the pitches he used to have.
In February and March there were internet-forum whispers about Daley, typically of the breakout-candidate variety, but internet forums can whisper about anything. At least one internet forum has pegged me as a breakout candidate, according to the universal law of internet forumry. No amount of Vuch reporting can cover up those 2008 numbers.
But on April 10, Gary Daley got into a game with the Quad Cities River Bandits. He went an inning and a third. He struck out a batter. He didn't walk anybody. 161 innings, three home runs. He's still 23.