A thing that happens every offseason is that available players are valued. Front offices for teams decide how much a given player deserves. Fans of teams will do something similar, as well. Fans will evaluate players, but, often, they will tend more toward the extremes. They will identify players they badly want on their teams, and they will identify players they want no part of. These are usually exaggerated responses, as the desired players aren’t that great, and as the undesired players aren’t that lousy.
Based purely on my limited, anecdotal observations, it seems like a lot of baseball fans want no part of free-agent starter Kyle Lohse. Lohse is still out there, ready to be signed, but a market doesn’t seem to have developed, and no team seems to be the frontrunner. No fan that I’ve seen is too broken up about this. Based on contract crowdsourcing, Dave Cameron identified Lohse as a poor free-agent value. Many fans feel similarly, to the point at which they aren’t particularly interested in Lohse at all. The gut response to Kyle Lohse’s name is “ugh, stay away.” Thus, I have decided here to come to Kyle Lohse’s defense, with an issuance of pro-Lohse propaganda. This player you don’t desire — he’s capable of many things.
Lohse missed a lot of 2010 with an arm injury. Over the last two years, he’s started 63 games — just counting the regular season — and he’s come two outs from 400 innings. That’s one too-early hook. Over that span, he’s posted a lower FIP than big-money C.J. Wilson, big-money Tim Lincecum, big-money Jake Peavy, and suddenly-big-money Edwin Jackson. He’s also posted a lower ERA than CC Sabathia, James Shields, Hiroki Kuroda, Felix Hernandez, and Madison Bumgarner. The most important thing for a pitcher to do is to prevent the scoring of runs. Kyle Lohse has done that better than most for just about 400 innings. The most reliable predictor of what’s to come is what’s just happened. What’s just happened is that Kyle Lohse has been good!
So maybe it’s not about Lohse’s results — maybe you just don’t like Lohse, because you find him unexciting and unremarkable. He doesn’t throw a blazing fastball. His secondary pitches aren’t among the best secondary pitches. But, come on, if you don’t like Kyle Lohse’s stuff, you haven’t seen Kyle Lohse’s stuff.
Not a swing-and-miss pitcher, you say? Tell that to all the hitters he’s caused to swing and miss. Lohse is capable of missing bats. And relative to the greater population of similarly-aged males, Lohse’s repertoire is incredible. We’re talking 99th percentile. Look at that carefully selected changeup in the last .gif. Amazing! Kyle Lohse threw that!
The most important thing for a pitcher is to be a good pitcher. But there’s more to the job, too, and you could say Lohse is well-rounded. A pitcher should be able to field his position — pitcher, after all, is a position, in the infield. A good defensive pitcher can help his team, just as a poor defensive pitcher can hurt it. Do you have an opinion of Kyle Lohse’s defense? You should.
Such reflexes, such care to make an accurate throw to a base from somewhere other than the mound. Very briefly, the .gif hiccups. The camera, presumably, was amazed. Kyle Lohse knows how to field his position.
Say what you will about sacrifice bunts, but they’re still a part of the game, and as long as that’s the case, you prefer a guy who can bunt to a guy who cannot. If you’re given that a bunt has already been signaled for, you want the bunt to be a good, effective one. Last year, Lohse ranked seventh in baseball in sacrifice bunts. He was fourth among pitchers, and he knows exactly what to do, and how to do it.
Lohse isn’t dogging it to first base in the .gif embedded above — he’s taking a victory jog. Another sac bunt, laid down successfully.
Ordinarily, you don’t look for anything from pitchers at the plate. Sacrifice bunts, mostly. It’s assumed that pitchers will make outs, and when they do not, it’s something extraordinary. Kyle Lohse isn’t only capable of not making outs — he’s capable of extra-base hits. As a pitcher!
A double to left, off Fernando Abad. Abad has never allowed an extra-base hit to Matt Holliday. He’s never allowed an extra-base hit to Carlos Beltran. He’s never allowed an extra-base hit to Andrew McCutchen or Barry Bonds. Lohse got to Abad for a two-bagger. National League general managers, I see your eyebrows. I see what your eyebrows are doing.
This remains an age of on-base percentage, ushered in by “Moneyball” and the Oakland Athletics, and historically Lohse has swung at about the same rate of strikes as Kevin Youkilis, Chase Utley, and Daric Barton. Lohse won’t swing at just anything; he’ll chase only certain strikes. And when it comes to pitches out of the zone, Lohse has swung at a lower rate of them than established MLB superstars Pablo Sandoval and Vladimir Guerrero. Kyle Lohse has an idea of the strike zone — from the mound, and from the box.
Lohse is a right-handed batter, and like most right-handed batters, he’s more effective at the plate against left-handed pitchers. But Lohse hasn’t just been better by a hair. Against lefties, Lohse’s batting average has been better by 30%. His slugging percentage has been better by 34%. Kyle Lohse, historically, has been a lefty masher, relative to himself against righties.
Last year, Mike Trout was on first base for 45 singles. Just over 62% of the time, he advanced all the way to third base. Trout is one of the game’s premier baserunners, so that should tell you something. Last year, Kyle Lohse advanced from first to third on singles 100% of the time. That’s a better rate than Trout’s, by 38 percentage points. Kyle Lohse knows what the basepaths are for, and he knows what his legs are for, too. Just reaching base isn’t the end of it, for Kyle Lohse.
Kyle Lohse is a player capable of everything you want a player to be capable of. He’s demonstrated his ability in every part of the game, and whoever ultimately signs him will have on its roster a rare sort of talent. There are not many people who can offer what Kyle Lohse can offer. There are not many professionals who can offer what Kyle Lohse can offer. There’s only one Kyle Lohse, at least that meets the minimum major-league-baseballing requirements. It’s conceivable that a team next year could start Jonathan Sanchez. You don’t want your team to start Jonathan Sanchez. You’d greatly prefer Kyle Lohse.