In his first 10 seasons in the Major Leagues, Kyle Lohse was nothing more than a below-average starting pitcher, and for a 29th round selection in the 1996 draft, that wasn't at all surprising. His lowest ERA and FIP during that time were 3.78 and 3.89 respectively, and came in 2008, which just happened to be Lohse's first year with the St. Louis Cardinals and pitching guru Dave Duncan. But we'll get to him later. Before 2008 Lohse posted an ERA over 4.00 on four occasions, and an ERA over 5.00 three times while playing for three different teams.
Lohse came to St. Louis as an unexciting, almost washed up 29-year-old pitcher on a one-year, $4.5 million deal. This was after the Scott Boras client turned down a three-year, $21 million contract from the Philadelphia Phillies, choosing to take his "talents" to the Gateway City in an attempt to resurrect his disastrous career. That decision made all the difference in the world. After his successful debut season with the Cardinals, he re-signed for four years, $41 million.
The next two years were typical Lohse, to the frustration of fans who didn't understand why their organization had spent so much money on someone with only one good year under his belt. It was ludicrous, they said. But that's when Dave Duncan started to make his impact on the right-hander, an impact that turned Lohse into one of the game's most consistent starters.
Everybody in baseball knows Duncan is a wizard when it comes to pitchers, and his magic worked wonders on Lohse. As soon as Lohse arrived in St. Louis, Duncan got to work on fixing him. Earlier this year, Jonah Keri of Grantland.com wrote about Cardinals' pitchers dominating under Duncan, and included an interesting quote from Lohse:
"That was one of the first things Dave Duncan told me when I came over," Lohse said. "'You're gonna learn to command your two-seamer.' That was something that I had been steered away from when I was in Minnesota. I started throwing almost exclusively four-seamers there. It's one of those things where you kind of shake your head at now, like, 'What was I doing?' But I was just listening to the instruction I was getting. Then I got to St. Louis, and I realized, 'How many guys can hit a sinker down and away?' Not a whole lot. If you can locate a sinker down and away, the results you're getting are usually pretty good."
In 2011, Lohse's career began to take off. He established a career-best 3.39 ERA and 3.67 FIP, and his stuff would only get better from there. He started to utilize his sinker (also known as a two-seamer) and that, along with his slider, became lethal pitches, invaluable for a guy who barely hits 90 mph on the radar gun. He also started commanding the zone and working in the lower half, as shown by this GIF.
Lohse pitched so well during his last two years with the Cardinals that the Milwaukee Brewers were willing to give up a first-round draft pick in order to sign him to a three-year contract. And it's paid off for Milwaukee. Lohse has been everything he was in St. Louis. Since his career took a positive turn in 2011, Lohse's peripherals have been consistently among the league leaders. He ranks 13th in ERA (3.17) and 35th in FIP (3.72) among pitchers with at least 500 innings during that stretch. He also has the seventh-lowest walk rate (4.7%).
To further the point that Lohse has yet to deviate from the path of consistency, take a look at this:
He has been essentially the same pitcher since 2011. His FIP has hardly fluctuated and his ERA hasn't even reached north of 4.00. Lohse is even better in 2014. He's 26th in ERA and 28th in ERA-. All across the board, Lohse's stats have remained around the same ballpark (no pun intended), a complete turnaround from his earlier days. Based on his good but not great FIP and xFIP, it's clear Lohse is no ace, but he doesn't need to be. He's been invaluable to the Brewers' rotation and has been the top pitcher on a very good staff. Every time he's on the mound, you know what you're going to get. He's Mr. Dependable now, and he's doing all of it as a 35 year old.
Lohse has always pitched to a constant, but that constant no longer includes bad statistics. He's finally turned into as reliable a pitcher as you'll find.
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Justin Schultz is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @JSchu23.