This season, no one's really talking about Kyle Lohse. To me, that's pretty interesting, considering how much we were talking about Kyle Lohse during and after 2012. Coming off a season in which he won 16 games and took home a seventh-place finish in Cy Young voting, Lohse was hitting free agency at the most opportune time. Any time a pitcher coming off a 3.12 RA9 season is available as a free agent, you'd expect it to be a bull market.
The thing is, Lohse wasn't exactly a sure thing. His season, good as it was, was a fluke in many ways. He didn't strike out very many guys. He didn't have a track record beyond a No. 4 or No. 5 starter who could eat innings. In 2010, he was Kyle Lohse, the guy with the staggeringly-bad 167 ERA-.
Even worse, was the contract initially projected for Lohse: something living between three and five years, for something close to $13 to $15 million per year, depending on the length of the deal. He was looking to be one of the highest-paid starting pitchers during a relatively weak free agent period.
And with that in mind, the sabermetric community perked up. Most notably, Beyond the Box Score alumnus Glenn DuPaul started the #dontsignlohse Twitter campaign last offseason, raising the issue of Lohse's unimpressive strikeout numbers, and in turn, weak pFIP, kwERA, you name it. The predictors did not, and still do not, anticipate continued excellence from Lohse.
In kind of a weird turn of events, for the most part teams acted rationally. Instead of signing Lohse immediately and breaking the bank, Lohse turned out to be just about the last major free agent to sign, eventually inking a three-year, $33 million deal with the Brewers. Instead of paying a true premium to add a starter with regression in the future, the Brewers made a relatively painless investment ... one that only required about six wins over the next three years to come out as a fair deal in terms of value.
For the time being, that deal doesn't seem to be a mistake.
Lohse's seasonal RA9 of 3.42 is quite good, and it sits between Cliff Lee (3.37 RA9) and Derek Holland (3.37 RA9) above him, and Matt Moore (3.49 RA9) and Jhoulys Chacin (3.53 RA9) below him among qualified starting pitchers. Decent enough company, I suppose. But maybe he's benefitting from park factors, or team defense or something?
Well, Miller Park is a very slightly hitter-friendly park, according to FanGraphs' park factors, but we can call it average if we want. No big benefit there. And Milwaukee's defense has a 0.50 park-adjusted defensive efficiency according to Baseball Prospectus, so there's no huge advantage there. Now, I will say that since Lohse is a pretty extreme fly-ball pitcher, he may be getting a rather extreme benefit from having the rangy Carlos Gomez tracking down balls in center field ... but still, that's not an incredible advantage.
Photo credit: Mike McGinnis
I wish that FanGraphs ran RA9- (or just RA9, for that matter) on their player pages, but we can look at how Lohse's seasonal ERA- sits at 85, 15% better than league average. His FIP, much like Glenn predicted in December, has regressed to something ugly-ish, sitting at 4.15 and perhaps 9% worse than the league average. So who's right here? Is it the analyst(s) who predicted that Lohse would continue to struggle with DIPS, or the teams that valued Lohse as a guy who can outperform his peripherals?
I'm not sure -- but with this being the third year that Lohse has out-performed his FIP substantially, we may want to consider him one of the pitchers who's able to consistently work anti-DIPS magic. If you look at his 2.7 RA9-Wins over at FanGraphs, that puts him as already out-performing the value of a contract that pays him $11 million annually. If you were to go by his 1.1 fWAR, well, that's a little more dicey, but he still could come close to earning his yearly payment by the end of the season.
You could make a very compelling argument that Lohse is worth more than the $11 million AAV that he's currently being paid by the Brewers. If he has another year this good in 2014, then he'll probably have made that entire $33 million investment pay off in on-field value. But again, Lohse is pitching in his age-35 and age-36 seasons in the next two years, and he's got peripherals trending in the wrong direction (other than an increased ability to avoid walks, that is).
Whenever a player is signed to a multi-year contract, there's certainly an issue with trying to get the most out of a player in the early goings of the contract, to maximize value early on. While Lohse still has time to make the Brewers regret this deal (there's a non-zero chance he could post a negative fWAR in 2014 or 2015), right now the Crew looks like they made a sharp pickup. 200 league-average innings are incredibly valuable, and if Kyle Lohse really has found a way to out-perform stats like FIP and be, in practice, a little closer to a Cliff Lee or Matt Moore in terms of RA9, well, they probably even found a bargain. Even if he'll never have another 2012.
. . .