Kyle Lohse – Quietly Getting it Done


On July 2, 2012, a large crowd at Busch Stadium applauded enthusiastically and gave Kyle Lohse a much deserved standing ovation as manager, Mike Matheny, took him out of the game in the eighth inning.   His line on the evening: 7 1/3 IP, 9 hits (one home run), 2 runs (both earned), 2 walks, 5 strikeouts.   Of the 105 pitches, 70 were for strikes.

So, why the ovation ?

Perhaps because he deserved it, and fans are finally starting to understand how well he has pitched for the Cardinals.   Do you know the last pitcher to go as deep in a game ?  Kyle Lohse in his previous start (7 1/3 IP, 4 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 4 strikeouts).   In the 11 games since Jake Westbrook threw a brilliant complete game in Detroit, only 4 times has a starter pitched seven innings: Adam Wainwright in Kansas City on June 23, and the last three starts by ….. wait for it ……  Kyle Lohse.

But Lohse is in a contract year, you say ?   That is true.   Let’s think about that for a moment.   As we do, perhaps a bit of creative mathematics might help us reach a conclusion that might just set our hair on fire.  Some of you might not believe what you are about to read.

Hypothesis: When healthy, Kyle Lohse has been one of the Cardinals best starters.

Proof:

First we have to determine the boundaries of his healthy period.  Clearly, we know the start date – May 23, 2009.   To be more specific, it was in the bottom of the eighth inning when Ron Mahay threw inside on a bunt attempt and hit Lohse in his right forearm.  Lohse stayed in the game to run the bases, but did not return to pitch the final inning.  He would skip his next start, and only go two innings against the Reds on June 3.  Lohse would then go on the disabled list and miss more than a month.

Upon his return, the big right-hander would struggle through the remainder of 2009.   He averaged less than 5 innings per start, and his ERA over the period ballooned to 5.47.

Things didn’t improve in 2010.  His record for the first two months of the season is nearly the same as after returning from the disabled list in 2009.  An early exit from a game in late May prompted another visit to the medical specialists, and this time it was learned that Lohse indeed had an injury and it would require surgery to correct.  At the time, there was some skepticism of whether this injury was real, as it had never been seen on a pitcher.

Lohse went through with the surgery and would miss all of June and July as well as half of August.  Since this was the first case in baseball, there was no timetable for his return.   Judging from his performance in August and September, perhaps he should have sat out the remainder of the season.  That is good information for the next pitcher that Ron Mahay decides to hit on the forearm.

Since his 2011 season started off much like 2008, I think we know where the end point of non-health needs to be placed.

This gives us a healthy timespan of the entire 2008 season, the first two months of 2009, 2011 and so far this season.   Got it ?   Good, because this is about to become a lot more complicated.

Let’s take a look at how some of the other Cardinals starters did over that period.

Player Wins Losses IP ERA
Chris Carpenter 13 10 275 2/3 3.07
Adam Wainwright 21 13 286 2/3 3.77
Jaime Garcia 21 14 326 1/3 3.50
Kyle Lohse 41 19 552 3.47

Wait, just a sec, you say ?   You can’t just arbitrarily go in and pick out a tiny interval which shows one player in the best possible light, even if that sample size is more than two seasons.  Sure I can.  Everybody screaming that Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez should be released or traded is doing the exact same thing.  Perhaps to a lesser extent, this applies to those suggesting that Lance Lynn needs to go back to the bullpen.

At the same time, there are a couple of real problems with the data.   The healthy Lohse period excludes some of the best work from both Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.  And not a little bit either, as both were among the leaders in Cy Young Award voting (and Carpenter should have won in ’09 and Wainwright in ’10).  Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that over the period in which Lohse was healthy, he was the best pitcher on the staff, and by quite a significant margin.

So let’s play with these number a little bit, and skew them so that every pitcher looks as good as possible.

Adam Wainwright missed all of 2011, so let’s add in his Cy Young worthy performance from 2010 in place of his missing 2011.  If you are a statistician, skip to the next section as this is really poor math, but it is helping me get to my conclusion.

Chris Carpenter is a bit more difficult.  Since he has missed all of 2012, we need to find something to buff up his numbers.  Since we added Adam Wainwright’s CYA worthy season as filler, why not do the same with Carpenter ?   OK, lets add in the remainder of Carpenter’s remarkable 2009 season instead of just the first two months.

Player Wins Losses IP ERA
Chris Carpenter 28 14 445 1/3 2.87
Adam Wainwright 41 24 517 3.17
Jaime Garcia 21 14 326 1/3 3.50
Kyle Lohse 41 19 552 3.47

Really bad statistical analysis aside, even when you cherry pick the best of the data, Kyle Lohse’s numbers stack up far better than you might have thought.

What if we just look at everything, no filters, no extrapolations. Just the raw data, and let things fall where they will.  Since 2008, here is how the top Cardinals starters have done.

Player Wins Losses IP ERA
Chris Carpenter 44 23 680 1/3 2.99
Adam Wainwright 56 30 692 2.96
Jaime Garcia 30 20 440 1/3 3.45
Kyle Lohse 47 34 707 1/3 4.05

Even when you throw in almost a full season of pitching poorly due to injury, Kyle Lohse is the innings leader and trails just Adam Wainwright in wins.   The ERA could be a bit lower, and was kicked up by half a run thanks to his injury, but +13 in wins should not be ignored.  Also bear in mind that the data includes three CYA worthy efforts from a pair of elite pitchers in the National League.

Why am I bringing up all of this now, other than being one of the few Kyle Lohse fans in 2009 and 2010 ?

The Cardinals have an interesting decision to make this off-season.  Lohse will turn 34 in October and probably has one or two good years left in that right arm.  As they did with Jake Westbrook last year, don’t be surprised if the Cardinals resign Lohse to a reasonable 2 year contract, something close to what he is earning now ($10M/yr).  From the looks of this data, he has earned it.

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