Brewers Find Starter, Lohse Finds Work

Monday morning, Dave Cameron posted his bottom half of the 2013 starting pitcher positional power rankings. Just going to go ahead and paste a few select excerpts:

There’s a reason the team keeps getting tied to Kyle Lohse – he would be a pretty big upgrade over the internal candidates for the Brewers rotation.

And:

If they had another quality starter, having two interesting upside guys with big variance at the back of the rotation would be more palatable. As it is, the Brewers look like they’re at least one good pitcher short of being a contender this year.

Funny story!


Monday morning, it looked like the Milwaukee Brewers badly needed another quality starting pitcher. Monday morning, the Milwaukee Brewers signed Kyle Lohse to a three-year contract worth $33 million, with an additional $1 million or so in attainable incentives. When the contract is official, the Brewers will lose the 17th overall pick in the next draft. The Cardinals, in turn, will gain a compensation pick, and the Cardinals are one of the Brewers’ rivals. But when the contract is official, the Brewers will have gained a good pitcher who can throw a lot of innings.

Lohse figures to slot in right behind Yovani Gallardo. He’ll then be followed by three of Marco Estrada, Chris Narveson, Michael Fiers, and Wily Peralta. The Brewers, previously, were hurting for starter depth, so Lohse goes a long way toward addressing that. Peralta is talented, but he might be best right now as insurance. The same goes for prospects Tyler Thornburg and Johnny Hellweg. When you’re trying to contend, it’s important not to freeze out your youth, but it’s also important to have reliable talent, and the Brewers haven’t stopped thinking about possibly making the 2013 playoffs.

A year ago, the Brewers won 83 games, and they’re returning most of the same position players. The rotation won’t have Zack Greinke or Shaun Marcum, but it also won’t have Randy Wolf and his near-6 ERA. PECOTA has projected this year’s Brewers for a near-.500 record. CAIRO, too, agrees on the matter. Those are pre-Lohse projections, meaning with Lohse, the Brewers might project as an average team. As you all understand, projections come with big error bars, and contributing to the Brewers’ upside is that Estrada and Fiers are volatile. A year ago they combined for 278 strikeouts and 65 walks in 266 major-league innings. If they out-pitch their projections in 2013, the Brewers could and should be a legitimate contender.

So for Milwaukee, signing Lohse is a win-now kind of move. Which should be obvious, given that Lohse isn’t young, and given that signing Lohse costs a first-round selection. He’ll also cost $11 million a year for three years, which is less than Scott Boras would’ve liked, but which also isn’t cheap. If you figure that Lohse is being paid to be something like a two-win starting pitcher, then this doesn’t seem out of line. The Brewers are protecting themselves against some of Lohse’s downside, while Lohse is still getting multi-year security.

To think, it was just a short while ago we were wondering if Lohse might hold out to sign until after the draft, so that the matter of compensation would go away. There was an argument for Lohse to do that, but Boras denied the possibility and sure enough, Boras came up with a deal. In the game of Kyle Lohse free-agency chicken, you could say both the Brewers and Lohse won, meaning this won’t be held against Boras and his agency. Meaning players will continue to trust Scott Boras to get good contracts.

You do wonder what this might mean for the case for free-agent-compensation reform. On the one hand, the qualifying-offer system might’ve caused Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn to linger too long as free agents, and it might’ve driven down their prices. On the other hand, Lohse signed for three years and $33 million, and Bourn signed for four years and $48 million. At the end of the day, both guys were paid well, so there might be less reason to change the existing agreement. That’s not something with which I personally agree, but this isn’t that black-and-white.

So anyway, we should talk a little bit about Kyle Lohse, and what he’s become, and what he could be. He’s 34 and he’s struggled in the past, so there’s some degree of skepticism regarding how he’ll pitch away from St. Louis. That’s perfectly fair — everything that’s happened with Lohse has inarguably happened. But it doesn’t make sense to focus more on Lohse’s distant past than his recent past, and recently Lohse has been quite effective. The last two years, he’s posted an 82 ERA-. He’s also posted a 95 FIP- and a 103 xFIP-, and even a triple-digit xFIP- isn’t a bad thing. Remember than 100 is average, and a bunch of innings of an average pitcher are valuable.

Lohse doesn’t succeed based on his raw stuff, and he misses a below-average number of bats. He certainly doesn’t do a great job of keeping the ball on the ground. But, since 2011, 190 different starting pitchers have thrown at least 100 innings. Only Tommy Milone has thrown a higher rate of first-pitch strikes, with Lohse coming in over 68%. He’s thrown about the same rate of first-pitch strikes as Cliff Lee, and so a lot of the time, Lohse has been working ahead in the count. According to StatCorner, Lohse has thrown about 40% of his pitches ahead in the count, against an average of about 36%. He’s thrown about 14% of his pitches behind in the count, against an average of about 18%. It’s not much, but it’s a small edge, and it’s how a guy with otherwise unremarkable stuff can give himself a boost.

Lohse throws strikes. If it’s most important to throw strikes, miss bats, and avoid home runs, Lohse has done a good job of the first one, and he’s done a good job of the last one. One can question how sustainable that last one is for Lohse, since we’re all familiar with the issues with home-run rate, but even with some dinger regression, Lohse can eat innings if he stays in the strike zone. Remember that he’s not being paid to repeat a sub-3 ERA.

Something else that could help Lohse will be the defensive work of Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado. Lucroy and Maldonado appear to be terrific pitch-framers, combined, and while that wouldn’t provide an exclusive advantage to Lohse, it should help Lohse to have fuzzier edges to the strike zone. He should have a bigger zone in which to work, meaning Lohse won’t have to pitch so much over the plate. That’s good news for a guy who does allow plenty of contact.

The Brewers aren’t getting a bargain here, not when you include the matter of the draft pick. Were it not for the pick, Lohse would’ve cost more — even Jeremy Guthrie will pull home $25 million over three years. Through 2015, Lohse is going to cost the Brewers eight figures. But look at the team context. Gallardo will cost the Brewers north of $11 million in 2014, and there exists a $13 million 2015 club option. Estrada, though, is under team control through 2015. Fiers doesn’t even have a year of service. Peralta and Thornburg are under team control forever. Narveson is under team control through 2015. If things go well, the Brewers will have some cheaper starters for years. You can think of that as freeing up some money for an investment like Lohse. Last season the team had an opening day payroll of just about $100 million.

For the Brewers right now, Kyle Lohse makes sense. He helps the current team, boosting its odds of making the playoffs. He doesn’t project to be a disaster, and there will be starter youth around him. For Lohse, he finally gets his money, and for Boras, he doesn’t lose, even if he didn’t exactly win. Lohse has been throwing in simulated games so he should be just about ready to step right in to the Brewers’ rotation. It was wild that Lohse remained a free agent so long given the season he just had. Lohse isn’t a free agent anymore, and there’s nothing wild about the team that just signed him. In the end, it all makes sense. In the end, everyone can smile.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

40 Responses to “Brewers Find Starter, Lohse Finds Work”

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  1. twomorecuts says:

    I was hoping the title of the article would be, “Brewers, Lohse, Collectively Ruin Perfectly Good Article Posted This Morning.”

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  2. Dan says:

    Are Lucroy and Maldonado really much of an upgrade (or one at all) over Yadier?

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    • swfcdan says:

      Noones an upgrade over Yadi.

      Anyway I hope Lohse gets rocked this year. Never like it when these low strikeout softtossers post minimal ERA’s despite their skills suggesting otherwise.

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    • FirstBleed says:

      It depends on what you mean by ‘upgrade’. Lucroy is in fact a better ‘pitch framer’ than Yadi. But overall Yadi is the winner with his defense and throw out rates.

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    • Ender says:

      As pitch framers they are, as defensive Catchers they are not. Jose got the pitch framing gene in the family, Yadier got all the other good ones~.

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  3. RMD says:

    The Brewers were done in by a early season collapse of the bullpen. That won’t happen again this year. Since the 2nd WC in the NL will only need to win 87-88 games most likely, I think this goes a long way towards earning that playoff spot.

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    • Clifford says:

      Given that their bullpen is pretty much the same as last season, and quite possibly worse, what makes you so sure that it wont happen again? Axford’s 2011 is looking more and more like an outlier than the norm.

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      • RMD says:

        The Brewers’ bullpen ranked 28th in Clutch score last year after fitting in the middle in 2011. They also had the most Meltdowns (excluding The Rockies whose relievers pitched an ungodly amount of innings.) Having a low Clutch score like that is a better indicator that they’ll improve in 2013.

        Just like the Orioles’ relievers will fall back down to earth, the Brewers’ relievers will perform better.

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      • Flharfh says:

        Completely wrong, the only returning members of last year’s bullpen are Axford and Henderson.

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  4. swfcdan says:

    The NL central, most competitive division in baseball (now theyre free of the crappy ‘Stros)?

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    • Clifford says:

      I would disagree with this statement. The AL East with the Yanks, Jays, Orioles, Rays, and Red Sox is much better….and I would argue the NL East with the Nats, Phillies, and Braves is better than the Cards, Reds, and Brewers. Could even make an argument for the AL West.

      More importantly, im not sure Kyle Lohse really puts an entire division over the hump as the “best in baseball”…if they werent before, then they still arent.

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      • ? says:

        When you put “best in baseball” in quotes, whom were you quoting? The guy above you, who posited that the NL Central might be the “most competitive” division?

        Because the two are NOT the same.

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      • Antonio bananas says:

        Competitive=\=best. The braves, Nats, blue jays, and Yankees could all probably win the NL central. After the reds, the cards, crew, pirates, and even the cubs aren’t all that different in ability. Competitive.

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  5. Zac says:

    Milwaukee needs to stop picking up former Cardinals pitchers. Recent results are mixed at best. Jeff Suppan, Braden Looper, and Chris Narveson.

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    • A Truck's Worth of Porridge says:

      As a visitor to a site where the vast majority of the readers prefer to use statistics to help better understand baseball, I believe I can speak for everyone when I say, “You’re gonna fit right in, son.”

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  6. Bob says:

    Any time you can lock up a 34 year old pitcher no one else wanted to sign with a $33 million deal, you have to do it.

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    • byron says:

      Yes, Lohse received 29 $0 offers and one $33 million one. That is exactly what happened. There’s no way that they topped his next highest offer by a small amount, and got it high enough that he finally accepted one of the many offers he received this offseason.

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    • jim says:

      i think it’s the 3 years that did it more than anything

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      • Ryan says:

        Yep. I imagine he had a few 2/20 deals on the table. The Brewers probably kicked in another year and another million.

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    • munchtime says:

      Obviously not. The Cardinals offered 1/13.

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  7. Suppan, Looper, Pineiro says:

    Former Cardinal pitcher in his mid 30′s who relies solely on control to be effective? That has to work!

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  8. Maverick Squad says:

    Weird how they talk about how they talk about how the qualifying offer thing hurt Lohse et al. Surely there were others who benefitted from the new change- guys like Victorino who didn’t get the qualifying offer.
    This new system seems to benefit the guys who just aren’t worth enough for the qualifying offer- eg. Victorino but really screw guys who just good enough to get it like Bourna and Lohse. Guys like Greinke and Hamilton are worth so much the compensation doesn’t matter as much to prospective buyers.

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    • One Point says:

      Victorino didn’t get a qualifying offer because he… well… didn’t qualify for one since he didn’t play the entire season with the Dodgers. It wasn’t because he stunk or anything. The Dodgers, or any team for that matter, would love to have him back for 1/13!

      But your point still stands that the range of guys that are just good enough to receive but still reject qualifying offers do get hurt by the current system.

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  9. yaboynate says:

    OMFG BREWERS, WHY DON’T YOU FREAKIN MAKE YOUR TRADES SOME OTHER TIME THAN BETWEEN MY FANTASY DRAFT AND THE START OF THE SEASON?!?!?!?! /flipstable

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  10. Mike Fiers says:

    If Lohse replaces me, then it’s probably a downgrade.

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  11. TroutKingFisher says:

    Let’s keep in mind that Miller Park had the highest HR Park Factor last year (http://espn.go.com/mlb/stats/parkfactor/_/year/2012/sort/HRFactor). I am curious to see how a 34 year old fly ball pitcher transitions into this stadium. I think it is safe to say that regression is highly probable.

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    • Bob says:

      Regression is highly probably any time a 34 year old player has the best season of their career.

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    • A Truck's Worth of Porridge says:

      Agreed. A 3.8-4.1 ERA wouldn’t be too shocking and would still make him a very valuable starter.

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    • murphym45 says:

      According to Fangraphs, Miller Park is neutral overall, with a few extra homers (but outside of the top-10). His GB% over the past four years if 42 percent, which is a bit below average but still pretty close to the middle of the pack.
      Think ~200 innings of high-3s ERA is most likely, although FIP has been under 3.7 for the past two years so I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he had another year or two around 3.3-3.5.

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  12. Hurtlockertwo says:

    That greedy little prick Boras is whining that this signing isn’t fair.
    Geez, no offer to give the money back when his clients tank, and there have
    been many of those. Lohse got lucky to be signed by any team.

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    • byron says:

      Yeah, so lucky he got $33 million dollars. But yeah, Boras is a jerk for not having his players give back money owed to them. I’m sure you refund your pay for the days you struggle at work, just like everyone who isn’t an athlete. I don’t even understand how refunding a contract is analogous to being upset that draft pick compensation suppressed a player’s value. Teams don’t exactly give players surprise 25% raises for surpassing expectations.

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  13. Baltar says:

    I have to disagree with Jeff and agree with most of the commenters. This is a bad signing for the Brewers.
    Lohse has generally been a 2-3 WAR pitcher, with some dips below. At 34, he’s unlikely to accumulate more than 6 WAR in the next 3 years, probably less. That already makes $33M too much.
    Most of his innings will be taken from pitchers who are projected for 1 WAR at c 120 innings. Thus, these pitchers would probably have contributed 1-2 WAR in each of the 3 following years, with a conservative total of 4 WAR.
    Thus, the Brewers are really paying $33M (minus some portion of the small salaries of the replaced pitchers) for about 2 WAR.
    True, there are many more factors, mostly negative for the signing, i.e. the Brewers aren’t a likely contender right now.

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    • Baltar says:

      Oh, plus the loss of the draft pick.

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    • A Truck's Worth of Porridge says:

      How are the Brewers not a contender? As stated before, the Brewers’ pen were 28th in Clutch Score and had the 2nd most meltdowns besides the Rockies. Even if the ‘pen was as bad, they shouldn’t blow as many games. Furthermore, they won’t give 20+ starts to Randy Wolf this year and his 5+ ERA. We won’t have Greinke for a half season, but we will have Fiers, Estrada, and Lohse now for the season in the rotation. If Wily Peralta makes the rotation, he would be a risk-reward move. Their offense is top-notch although they will probably have some minor regression in that regard.
      Furthermore, the Cardinals’ Jamie Garcia wasn’t throwing as well and has a significant history of arm troubles. Lance Lynn doesn’t look like anything better than a good #3. Westbrook isn’t very good period. Miller, Rosenthal, Kelly makes good depth and some good potential. Their offense last year relied on healthy season from Freese, healthy season from Beltran, career year for Yadier Molina, and a good season from Joe Kelly.

      The Brewers are far from non-contenders.

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      • Antonio bananas says:

        You are comparing them to the cards, which is likely the second place team. Who’s to say that second I the NL central gets you a playoff spot? The cubs got better, no stros to beat up on, Atlanta or Washington will surely be a better 2nd place team, the dodgers and giants both look better too.

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  14. Givejonadollar says:

    I think if the Brewers want to contend in that ballpark, they are going to need guys that throw hard. Lohse is probably going to have a rough ride at home, so hopefully his road splits hold up. I think Lohse’s stuff is much better suited for the Mariners, Mets, or the Padres considering their ballparks.

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  15. Paul Wilson says:

    When teams sign a free agent who declined the qualifying offer, aka Lohse or Bourne, is the team required to pay the league the slot money for the first round draft pick? Or does the team lose the ability to spend the slot money? In this example – do the Brewers have to pay the first round draft pick slot despite not having a first round draft pick, or is their commitment to this slot $0?

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