Kyle Lohse knows how to pitch. That much should be obvious to anyone that has watched him toe the rubber the past few years. How has a hurler who was nothing more than a league average arm for 10 years, a full decade, suddenly become a borderline elite hurler?
A note before I start.
You remember the first time you saw either of Christopher Nolan’s classics Momento or Inception? Totally confused right? Stick with me for a second. It was only through a detailed reworking of the film in your mind, or watching the flick again, that you were able to get past having your mind blown so that you were able to return to the true greatness of the movies. With Lohse I’ve had my mind blown the past few years, and I’ve reviewed the data many, many times. Unlike Nolan’s work, which I can now comprehend/understand/appreciate, I’m still at a loss to explain exactly what is going on with Lohse. Here goes.
From 2001-10: .473 Win%, 4.79 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 5.63 K/9, 2.03 K/BB
Honestly, I was too kind at the start of this piece when I said that Lohse was a league average pitcher early in his career. The fact is, he wasn’t as a review of the above numbers shows. Let’s compare his work the first decade to the last two years.
2011-12: .732 Win%, 3.11 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 5.72 K/9, 3.18 K/BB
His winning percentage skyrocketed. His ERA improved dramatically. His K/9 rate remained unchanged. His K/BB rate spiked. Obviously we can tell that a lack of walks played a key role in his success, but other than that, what else? Before moving on a note about his walk rate. A career 2.58 per nine mark shows that Lohse has always been a solid strike thrower (isn’t everyone who grows up in the Twins organization?). Still, his ability to knock more than a half batter off his BB/9 rate the last two years, after being in the big leagues for a decade, is impressive. It just doesn’t happen very often, so kudos to him for that.
Lohse may do a good job at limiting the free passes, but he just doesn’t strike anyone out. He’s never been a league average arm in the K department, and given that his total of 143 Ks in 2012 was the first time he racked up more than 130 Ks in a season, you know that he will never be a help in this category in the fantasy game – and that certainly dings his value.
A few notes comparing 2012 to his career pace (remember when I said at the start that I’m still not quite sure what can explain his excellence the past two years).
2012: 40.5 percent ground ball rate, a 5-year low.
Career: 41.7 percent
2012: 35.6 fly ball rate
Career: 37.2 percent
2012: 1.14 GB/FB
Basically the same as always.
2012: 23.9 line drive rate, a career worst.
Career: 21.1 percent
Think about that. Lohse had his best season as a big leaguer despite a career norm in the GB/FB category and a career worst line drive rate. That makes no sense you say (hopefully you said that). How is that possible?
2012: .262 BABIP, a career best.
Somehow Lohse gave up more hard hit balls than every before, the same GB/FB as always, and yet he still managed to post a career best BABIP mark. Obviously no sense can be made of that.
2012: 77.2 percent left on base mark, a career best.
Career: 70.5 percent
Lohse was able to limit runners from scoring at a rate that he had never before seen. Moreover, his LOB percentage was above 67 percent only once the previous three seasons. Point blank, his 2012 was an outlier that isn’t likely to be repeated.
2012: 8.2 HR/F rate
Career: 9.5 percent
His ’12 mark was actually a 3-year high and well within the expected range for a pitcher with his career mark.
Given all of that, can you see why I’m confused? Lohse did one thing appreciably better in 2012 than normal, and that was his career best effort in limiting free passes. Other than that, not much in his pitching line screams out sub three ERA. In fact, there are a couple of measures that clearly point to him being quite fortunate in ’12 (just look at his xFIP of 3.96 and his SIERA of 4.06 – marks that are both more than a full run above his actual ERA of 2.86). The bottom line is that Lohse doesn’t have the skills to maintain a sub three ERA, nor is there a logical way to explain how he did it last season other than to say everything came together, which sometimes just happens (just like when you are out and you see that beautiful woman guffawing over that dork. For those of you unaware of that term it is a hearty, boisterous laugh).
I’m not trying to take away from Lohse what he has done, and given that he has performed very well over the past two season it would be unwise to merely push him aside as some lucky bum. At the same time I can only give a guy so much credit for “knowing how to pitch.” Ultimately the way we break down players allows us to get a clear picture about 90 percent of the time. Perhaps Lohse is in that 10 percent of players that defy traditional explanation, but given that my advice to you is this – avoid overspending on Lohse in 2013 and let someone else worry about it. I would avoid him altogether unless he falls in drafts. Given that someone will almost certainly be seduced by the power of the darkside and that 16-3 record and 2.86 ERA, chances are that will infrequently occur. Allow someone else to take a chance on a hurler who still seems more likely to be league average than to repeat his greatness of 2012 if you ask me.
By Ray Flowers