The Kyle Lohse Dilemma: Does Adding Lohse Make Sense for the Milwaukee Brewers?
By Conner Boyd
One of the best starters in baseball last year statistically.
Spearheaded a rotation that has made deep playoff runs two years in a row, including a World Series championship.
Two consecutive seasons of statistical mastery, and a fairly expansive repertoire with ever improving control.
2012 statline: 16-3 (league leading .842 W-L%), 2.86 ERA, 211 IP, 143 K, 1.090 WHIP, 3.76 K/BB
All of these things lead one to believe that every major league team would be drooling at getting that pitcher off the market for a price that is dropping every day now that spring training has began. Those are ace-like numbers, and still, the owner of that statline, Kyle Lohse, remains unsigned at the time of writing this article (2/19/13).
Why? Well, there are a couple of reasons, but I’ll discuss the two big ones. First, and probably foremost is the fact that he is represented by Scott Boras, the uber-agent who forces teams to sell their souls and their firstborn chil… I mean, spend a lot of money and commit to a lot of years on contracts for the players he represents.
I won’t beat around the bush. I hate Scott Boras. I think what he’s doing to baseball is damaging the sport on the same level as steroid-usage and the fallout it created in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Boras oversells his clients, teams are forced to sell the farm and their left legs to get a decent player, and then they’re stuck for a decade and 200 million dollars with a player who will, inevitably, stop producing at a level worthy of such high pay.
Why do I hate this? It kills smaller clubs. Teams like… well… the Milwaukee Brewers can’t compete with that level of spending, and many teams lose their best players to mega-teams like the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Angels, the Boston Red Sox, and a few choice others.
Let’s just say baseball needs a salary cap, and you can blame Scott Boras for that.
But, in Kyle Lohse’s case, it doesn’t seem that Boras is really doing a great job of selling his client. Naturally, Boras asked for an outrageous amount of money and a long-term deal for Lohse, who is already 34 and has had only two good seasons in the majors, a couple of average-to-mediocre seasons, and a bunch of bad ones.
So, count Boras and his overzealous method of selling clients as a negative for Lohse. Also, count draft pick compensation against Lohse. Signing him means giving up the team’s first round draft pick… in Milwaukee’s case, that would be the 17th overall pick, and a mid-first round pick is nothing to shake off. There is some legitimate talent coming into this draft, and the Brewers (as well as every other team in the majors, obviously) are turned off by the fact that they have to give up that first round pick for a pitcher that may or may not be worth it.
Lohse has seen a decrease in his velocity all across his repertoire. His fastball has dropped a few clicks, and now sits around 90 MPH. Not too bad, considering he has gained control with the decrease in velocity, but the question has to be asked: Is his arm getting tired, or did he just sacrifice velocity for control?
If you look at sabermetrics, you won’t be able to sort much out either. All indications are that he had two great seasons, and that they weren’t flukes. In fact, his career FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching—think of it as a more comprehensive version of ERA) is a few clicks lower than his traditional ERA… his ERA standing at a career 4.45, while his FIP is at 4.34, indicating that, on the whole over his career, he is slightly better than what surface statistics tell us.
Sure, he’s not a strikeout pitcher. A measly career K/9 of 5.6 is not a lot to look at. But he does a great job of getting ground ball outs, last season getting 40.5 percent of batters to ground out. The rest of the rotation is more than capable of having K/9s of over 9.0, so it might be good to have a contact guy come in every fifth day to throw off opposing teams.
What does this mean for the Milwaukee Brewers?
Well, before spring training had started and I was sure Lohse would find a home before pitchers and catchers reporting, I made it known that I didn’t think they should sign him. In fact, in a post regarding Marco Estrada, I flat out said that the Brewers shouldn’t go after Lohse.
But if the price drops (which it is every day), and if the Brewers can sign him to a two-year deal with a third year team or mutual option, my mind has changed. They should go for it.
Look, I love that the Brewers are going young this season. I love that young arms are getting a chance to start. But really, really think about it. If injuries hit this team like they did last year, there is simply not enough depth to cover the losses. Without Lohse, we are looking at a minimum of two “prospects” to be in the rotation, and one mediocre veteran starter (Chris Narveson) who is just getting out of a season ending rotator cuff injury.
Sure, the battle for the rotation is interesting. You have Mike Fiers, Chris Narveson, Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers, and even Tyler Thornburg all vying for a spot to start. But seriously, what if Rogers and/or Narveson re-injure themselves? What if Fiers pitches like he did in September, when he earned an ERA of 7.09, instead of June/July, when he had a 1.83 ERA? What if Peralta and/or Thornburg just aren’t ready?
There is so much talent in the list of people I just gave you, and all can start, but some of them just flat out aren’t ready, or are very high-risk commitments.
At the very least, Lohse gives the Brewers veteran stability to go behind Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada. He might not be a sub-3.00 ERA pitcher like last year, but with his good command, good pitch selection, postseason experience, and what appears to be increased productivity, it’s time to seriously evaluate him as a risk worth taking.
Do I really want it? Do I really want the Brewers to give up that 17th pick? No, I don’t. I wish they would have re-signed Shaun Marcum or gone after guys like Dan Haren or Brandon McCarthy instead.
But when you really sit back and look at it, it’s a bigger risk not to sign him. The youth of this rotation might flourish, or they might be last season’s bullpen and completely sink the team.
It is also worth noting that Lohse has seven years of service on two different NL Central teams, spending two years with the Cincinnati Reds and five with the St. Louis Cardinals. He knows his way around the division, as well as the National League, where he has spent most of career.
Boras is becoming desperate to find Lohse a home, and I’m sure Lohse is just ready to find a place to pitch for the spring. Jim Bowden has predicted the Brewers or the Texas Rangers as the most likely landing spots for Lohse, and the more footage I watch, and the more I worry about starting depth, the more signing Lohse makes sense to me.
Doug Melvin and Gord Ash know that Scott Boras is sweating over getting his client signed. They have dealt with him before, and they know better than any reporter or critic about what’s going on in his mind, but my gut tells me that Boras is in a hole and he needs someone to pull him out. The Brewers should be that team.
Only time will tell, but time is running out, and it’s time for the Brewers, Boras, and Lohse to make their decisions. Here’s to hoping it’s the right one, and that Lohse can perform like he has with the Cardinals the past two seasons.