Why I wouldn't sign Kyle Lohse

Dilip Vishwanat

Kyle Lohse is one of the more sought after free agents on the current market, but whoever signs him will be making a mistake

This off-season's free agent market market is in no way historic.

Not only are the biggest stars, Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton, serious question marks, but the secondary prizes are not names that anyone expects to light the world on fire.

After Greinke, the market for starting pitchers is interesting. Below I listed the top free agent starters not named Greinke:

  • Anibal Sanchez
  • Dan Haren
  • Ryan Dempster
  • Edwin Jackson
  • Shaun Marcum
  • Kyle Lohse
  • Brandon McCarthy
  • Joe Blanton
  • Hiroki Kuroda
  • Jake Peavy

According to most, Sanchez would be the best consolation prize if a team lost out on Greinke.

However, former St. Louis Cardinals starter, Kyle Lohse had the best ERA among the free agents, and many think he also could be a big prize.

MLB Daily Dish ranked Lohse as the #9 free agent this off-season and fifth-best starter, behind Greinke, Sanchez, Kuroda and Haren.

FanGraphs Free Agent Crowdsourcing projected Lohse to ink the seventh-largest deal this season (in terms of years and average annual value).

In 2012, the righty posted a career best FIP (3.51) and ERA (2.86). He also won over 15 games for the first time in his career; which for some teams would make him a hot commodity on the free agent market.

FIP and ERA weren't the only ways in which Lohse excelled.

He posted his highest K% (16.6 percent) since 2006, and he also walked the fewest percentage batters of his career.

Sounds like a really valuable pitcher that you'd want to sign, right?

I don't think so.

Don't be fooled by Lohse's shiny 3.76 K/BB, his strikeout minus walk percentage (K-BB/PA) was just about league average.

In most cases, a league average K-BB% leads to a future ERA that is also around average.

kwERA, a simple ERA estimator that looks like ERA but is simply K-BB%, has been shown to be a very good predictor of future runs.

In the past couple of months, I've developed a predictive pitching metric that is similar to kwERA.

Predictive FIP (pFIP for short) like regular FIP, is based solely on strikeouts walks and home runs.

Also, pFIP uses just one year of data; thus, the pFIP I'll discuss for Lohse is just based on 2012.

As I noted earlier, Lohse put up career numbers in Ks and BBs, and he also did not give up many home runs.

Yet, pFIP projects him to have a 4.09 ERA, next season. Essentially, pFIP is calling for an over 1 run regression towards his peripherals and towards the mean for Lohse, next year.

Here's where he ranks among the free agents list above, in terms of pFIP:

Free Agent

pFiP (projected ERA)

Zack Greinke

3.65

Anibal Sanchez

3.91

Jake Peavy

3.93

Ryan Dempster

3.96

Edwin Jackson

3.98

Joe Blanton

3.98

Kyle Lohse

4.09

Shaun Marcum

4.12

Hiroki Kuroda

4.13

Dan Haren

4.20

Brandon McCarthy

4.23

Lohse ranks in the middle of the road among these starters, settling in between Blanton and Marcum, as the seventh-best out of eleven starters.

In 2012, the average ERA for starters was 4.19; thus, Lohse is expected to be just about average next year if you trust pFIP.

Lohse's 2013 projected ERA for 2013 ranks behind that of Tim Lincecum and Francisco Liriano (a free agent not considered in the top of this class).

To make matters even worse, Lohse will be 34 next year, and is coming off a career year that came during a contract year, at the age of 33.

What type of contract is Lohse expected to receive and is there any way that he'll live up to it?

In September, one report from a source who spoke to a GM about Lohse ended up with a projected 3-year $40 million deal for Lohse.

FanGraphs Crowdsourcing, which most years ends up being pretty accurate, has Lohse pegged at 4 years $52 million.

My best guess is Lohse will receive some where between 3 and 5 years with an average annual value in a range betweeen $12-16 million.

Interestingly, this projected deal would be similar to the 4-year $41 million deal Lohse signed in 2009, with St. Louis.

Under those expectations, in order to break-even on this deal Lohse would need to be a 2.5 (Baseball-Reference) to 3.5 (FanGraphs) win player depending your preferred system at the start of the deal (assuming a 0.5 WAR decline and 5% inflation).

Is Kyle Lohse a 2.5 rWAR or 3.5 fWAR pitcher?

  • Career high fWAR: 3.6 (2012), next highest: 3.3 in 2003
  • Career high rWAR: 3.9, next highest: 2.5 in 2008.

If Lohse can have a repeat of his 2012 performance rates then the free agent contract he'll most likely receive,would finish as a break-even.

The only problem with that is 2012 was a career year.

According to my projections, Lohse is not going to come close to repeating that performance.

To make matters even worse, WAR has a playing time component. WAR is essentially: Rate stat (FIP or RA9) with adjustments) * Playing Time (IP) - Replacement

I failed to mention earlier that 2012 was not only a career year for Lohse in walks, ERA, FIP, etc., but he also threw the most innings of his career.

His 211 innings marked only the third time he had gone over 200 innings, in his career.

In 2009 and 2010, Lohse had back-to-back seasons in which his fWAR was below 1 and his rWAR was negative (-2.4 WAR in 2010).

Those replacement-level (or below) seasons were due in large part by three stints on the disabled list; which significantly cut down his number of starts.

I'd be shocked if Lohse can keep throwing 200+ innings over the next three to five years, he simply does not have the track record.

#DontSignLohse

In conclusion, don't give big money and years to a pitcher on the wrong side of 30, who is coming off of a career year, and thus is due for regression.

Seriously, it won't end pretty, trust me.

All statistics came from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. The injury data came from Baseball Prospectus

You can follow Glenn on twitter @Glenn_DuPaul, for updates on the #DontSignLohse twitter campaign.

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