You know, I wasn’t going to include Kyle Lohse in this series. I figured that it was pretty self-explanatory that the Dodgers have enough older, 30+ pitchers as it is and that adding a guy who is far from a difference maker isn’t exactly what they’d need – especially when Buster Olney is quoting executives who are “speculating that he’ll get a deal close to the five-year, $77.5 million contract that C.J. Wilson got last winter”.
And then MLB Trade Rumors‘ Tim Dierkes predicted that Lohse would sign with the Dodgers… and Jon Morosi of Fox Sports said the same… and I realized that this is exactly the type of player that Ned Colletti would like, and I couldn’t avoid discussing it.
If you like Lohse, you like wins. Simple as that. His 16-3 record for the Cardinals in 2012 seems wonderful, but that 2.86 ERA is hardly backed up by a 3.51 FIP or a 4.06 SIERA. Here’s how many times, in a career dating back to 2001, that Lohse ever had a BABIP as low as the .262 he had in 2012: none.
Now here’s how many days Lohse has missed to right arm injuries over the last three years: 122, thanks to two different stints on the disabled list. Here’s how many times over his 12-year career he’s had an ERA over 4.50: seven. And, just for fun, his age: 34, as of last week, and his velocity has declined from the low-90s in his youth to topping out at around 89 MPH.
Need more? Here’s FanGraphs:
This is also the second season in a row that Lohse has significantly outperformed his SIERA. Like Hellickson, there are red flags galore. How does one only allow a .261 BABIP, yet post a 24% line drive rate? That’s crazy! His pop-up rate is also right about the league average, so that doesn’t help explain things. He is inducing a higher than league average outside contact percentage, which like Hellickson has most likely helped reduce his BABIP. Also like Hellickson, Lohse’s strikeout rate gives him little room for error, but at least he pairs his weak strikeout rate with impeccable control. Again, I need to hear some sort of statistically-backed explanation before believing Lohse suddenly has a consistent ability to significantly outperform his peripherals.
And Baseball Prospectus:
A Scott Boras client, Lohse will be looking for huge money following a season in which he had 2.86 ERA, 3.55 FIP, and 1.9 WARP. Combine those numbers with his gaudy 16-3 record and it’s the recipe for a big payday, especially with Boras doing the deal. However, it says here that whoever winds up buying on Lohse had better beware. He is a 34-year-old with a track record of being a mid-rotation starter at best; 2012 is as good as he will ever get. Lohse’s WARP was above the 90thpercentile of his PECOTA projection this year, and the system does not like his future. It projects Lohse’s next four seasons at 0.1, -0.2, -0.4 and -0.9. I’m repeating here: Buyer beware.
And it gets better: Lohse is likely to receive a qualifying offer from the Cardinals, which he’ll of course turn down in search of a long-term deal. So not only do you get the opportunity to sign a decent-but-not-great picher represented by Scott Boras with a history of arm trouble and inconsistent performances to a huge contract that will cover his age 34-37 seasons, you get to forfeit your first-round pick to do it. Where do I sign up?
I don’t want to come off as being unreasonably hard on Lohse, because the last two years really have been the two best of his career, and he’s coming off what is actually a pretty good season – only three times in 33 starts did he allow more than three earned runs, which is wonderful. For the right team, for the right price, there’s a decent pitcher to be had here. But you have to remember that while free agents look to get paid for what they’ve done, the team needs to worry about what they’ll do. Who really thinks that Lohse, who’s never been an ace or anything even close to it, is going to be worth that kind of money at this point in his career? There is no perhaps no player on the market who seems so obviously about to sign a contract that people will hysterically laugh at the moment it’s inked.
The funny thing is, I actually advocated the Dodgers looking into Lohse at one point. But that was four-and-a-half years ago, and the circumstances were much, much different. Headed into 2008, Lohse remained unsigned into March after several poor seasons, and the fifth starters the Dodgers were considering were Esteban Loaiza, Jason Schmidt, Jason Johnson, & Chan Ho Park:
This is where Kyle Lohse comes in. Coming into the offseason he seemed sure to join the Jason Marquis/Gil Meche/Carlos Silva Memorial Mediocre Veteran Pitchers Who Get $40 Million Deals Club. Scott Boras was actually throwing around ludicrous numbers like 5 years, $50 million. Fortunately for all of us, some sort of fiscal sanity prevailed, and the latest rumors have him ready to sign for just one year and possibly $4 million. Even if it’s not for just $4; even if it’s $5 or $6 million. For one year, how is this not something we ought to be jumping on?
Lohse is by no means an All-Star. He’s got a career ERA+ of 95, or just slightly below average, although that is deflated slightly by a simply brutal 2006. Last year, pitching in two parks that are very hitter-friendly, he gave the Reds 131.2 innings of 4.58 work, and the Phillies 61 innings at 4.72, numbers which come out to exactly league-average (100 ERA+). He’s also durable, having made at least 31 starts in each of his six full seasons in the bigs. A guy who can give you a good amount of league-average innings may not sound that valuable, but when you’re short on pitching and relying on some of the dreck discussed above, you’ll be happy to have it.
A week later, Lohse signed with the Cardinals for one year and $4.25m, contributing 200 innings of 3.89 FIP work in his age-29 season. That’s exactly how you want to use a pitcher like Lohse, because the Cardinals then signed him to a 4/$40m contract, and for the first two years the durability disappeared, allowing him to contribute only 209 innings of 5.54 ERA work, before rebounding for the final two years. For a year or two, sure. For several years at $50-$80m as he hits his mid-30s and giving up a first-round pick to do it? Pass, pass, pass, and pass. So much pass.