Kyle Lohse and the Uselessness of Pitcher Wins


Since 2010, fourteen pitchers (including Yovani Gallardo) have won more games than Seattle’s Felix Hernandez.

The smile of a true leader. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

2010 was also the season that Hernandez won the American League Cy Young Award.

With 13 wins.

The case of King Felix provides a proper transition into digressing upon the subjectivity and, to put in bluntly, the uselessness of wins as a stat for pitchers.

Within the confines of the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers, Kyle Lohse examples this notion to its full extent. Lohse has been the Brewers’ top starting pitcher, posting a 3.53 earned run average and 3.77 FIP, both tops among Milwaukee starters.

Yet, the first stat shown following the score in the game recap, one of the pitching triple crown categories, and the number by which the careers of most pitchers are assessed shows that Lohse really hasn’t been worthy of much praise.

Kyle Lohse has one win.

Through seven weeks, does this void the value of signing Kyle Lohse? I mean, he won 16 games last season and has one this year, right? Start the mob! Incite the riot! Send Kyle Lohse back to St. Louis where he’ll throw complete game shutouts!

Or come to grips that using wins as a primary way to assess a pitcher’s value makes less sense than asking Bob Uecker to run a marathon.

Wins are not only dependent on how well/poor the starting pitcher pitches on any given day, but also subject to the opposing starter’s performance, the offensive production, any defensive miscues behind the starter, pitch count, managerial decisions, and the bullpen performances of both teams.

For Lohse in 2013, seemingly all of these have gone the wrong way for Lohse.

Lohse holds a 1-4 record, but his ERA would indicate anything but that (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

On April 12 at Busch Stadium, he surrendered only six baserunners and two runs in seven innings, yet the Cardinals limited Milwaukee to two hits and no runs over nine innings as Lohse took his first loss as a starter. At the time, it was arguably the top start for any Brewers starter to that point…yet Lohse lost.

Furthermore, Lohse has posted career-high LOB% and BB/9 through seven starts (entering Tuesday night’s start in Pittsburgh) in addition to his highest K/9 rate since 2006. These, along with a FIP that ranks among the top 50 in Major League Baseball, are far more effective in assessing Lohse’s value.

Rather simply, Lohse has just been unlucky this season–arguably the unluckiest pitcher in all of baseball. Repeatedly he has been “squeezed” by home plate umpires, seemingly more so than other starters(on May 3, what should have been an inning-ended strike three according to Pitch F/X and Lohse himself was called a ball, and Matt Holliday took advantage of the new life by blasting a two-run homer off the scoreboard).

In his four losses, Lohse has been the recipient of three runs of support. Outside of a seven-run outburst against San Diego, the offense has provided Lohse with seven runs in six starts.

Good news for Lohse and the Brewers is that, over the course of 162 games, this pattern won’t stay the same. He won’t face Shelby Miller or Adam Wainwright or Clayton Kershaw every fifth day. There’s a Barry Zito or Edwin Jackson in there somewhere. The offense won’t average 2.0 runs per game for him all season. The #LohseLeadership is just too strong.

Once the wins begin to balance out the losses, though, it still won’t even serve as the determining factor for Lohse and for pitchers in general. While it’s nice to register as the winning pitcher, the game of baseball is just so crazy, so unpredictable that they serve far down on the register of ways to evaluate a pitcher.

Just ask Felix Hernandez and his mantelpiece.