Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Do not sign Kyle Lohse

It's not secret that the Brewers will be in the market for a starting pitcher this offseason. There are plenty of candidates, and plenty of good ones at that. But there's plenty of time to write about who they should pursue, and right now I'd rather write about who they shouldn't. One name comes to mind immediately, in part because he's the kind of pitcher the Brewers have targeted before. A pitcher who's coming off a career year, eats innings, is fairly low-risk, and is due for a big payday. Due to the title of this article, you already know who that is. But let's look at some blind résumés  for a second.

There's a lot of noise there, but none of those pitchers have career numbers worthy of a hefty free agent deal.  At best they're #4 starters. In order, those pitchers are Kyle Lohse, Randy Wolf, Braden Looper,......and Jeff Suppan. I specifically picked mediocre pitchers the Brewers signed to drive home the point. Kyle Lohse has not been a very good pitcher in his career, and the Brewers have a tendency to overpay for mediocre starters coming off of career years (Suppan didn't have a career year per se, but was coming off of a tremendous playoff performance). And Lohse is indeed coming off a career year, achieving career bests in innings and ERA as well as putting up tremendous BB/9 numbers. 

                                                                                             Not pictured: consistency

Obviously it's not entirely fair to judge a pitcher solely on his career numbers. It's certainly possible that Lohse "turned a corner", or "reinvented himself", or "learned how to pitch", or whatever platitude you choose. But while I'm willing to say Lohse is a better pitcher than his days in Minnesota, there's a more rational explanation to his career turnaround in St. Louis. That explanation being that he pitches in St. Louis. 

Lohse has spent the last five seasons pitching in St. Louis, three of those seasons easily being the best of his career, and one of those seasons struggling with injury. Lohse is a flyball pitcher, and Busch Stadium is very accommodating to pitchers of his ilk. Busch is a moderate pitcher's park according to park factors, but is even more kind as far as suppressing home runs. It's no surprise then that Lohse has put up career low HR/9 numbers while his flyball and line drive rates have stayed fairly static. It's also no surprise that he has had noticeable home/road splits in four of his five seasons in St. Louis. 

                                                                       Not pictured: enough facial hair
It's a nice narrative to say that Lohse has been revitalized by the magic of former Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. But such reasoning falls apart under closer scrutiny, and it also doesn't explain why former Cardinals pitchers have turned into pumpkins upon leaving St. Louis. The more logical explanation is that Duncan simply encouraged his projects to throw strikes and let the ballpark and defense do the rest. It's much easier to pound the strike zone when you know flyballs are for the most part staying in the stadium, and that strategy works in parks like Busch. 

This isn't to say that Lohse is a bad pitcher, or that he doesn't do good things, or even that he won't have success elsewhere. But he does have a specific skill set that works when he's pitching at least half his games in a friendly stadium. It doesn't take a genius to note that he will not be pitching in a favorable stadium if he signs in Milwaukee. He'd be going from one of the better home run parks (from a pitcher's perspective) to the worst. There's a reason why Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum had problems pitching in Miller Park; it's a shitty park for flyball pitchers. And it's even worse for someone like Lohse who throws a lot of strikes but doesn't strike hitters out. There will be plenty of pitchers who will be available, and of the guys GM Doug Melvin is likely to pursue, Lohse might be the worst possible fit, especially if he's looking for a potential #2 starter.

So Doug, do not sign Kyle Lohse.

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