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As the Reviewing the Brew squad has completed its projection of the eight starting position players for the 2015 season, the projections shift to the pitching staff, where we project Kyle Lohse as the Opening Day starter.
Lohse came to the Brewers on March 25th, 2013, well after the typical signing period for top free agents. Lohse had been waiting for a team to offer him more than he had seen to that point, and eventually settled with the Brewers on a 3-year, $33 million deal.
This was seen as a relatively team-friendly deal, as Lohse was coming off a 2.86 ERA in 2012, but teams had been unwilling to pull the trigger on what was then a 34-year-old with just two strong, consecutive years as a starter.
Over the two completed years of the deal, Lohse has been well worth his price, posting a 2.0 fWAR on back-to-back occasions, with a 3.45 ERA over 397 innings. His good health in the last four years is integral to the success of a team that features the oft-injured Matt Garza and pitchers that have never thrown for a full year in Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson.
Lohse chews through innings by pounding the strike zone and walking as few batters as possible. He also strikes out few batters, with a fastball that averages out at 90 MPH, according to Brooks Baseball. It is worth noting, however, that his velocity has remained steady for six years, and does not seem to be in jeopardy of dipping below an acceptable level.
The starting pitcher projections are being done with the average ERA projected between our polled writers, with the remaining stats being filled in by the writer of each particular projection. With that in mind, here’s what we’re projecting for Lohse in 2015
GS 31 IP 198 ERA 3.57 FIP 4.01 xFIP 4.05 WHIP 1.177 H/9 8.5 HR/9 1.2 GB% 40.5% BB/9 2.1 K/9 6.0 K/BB 2.86
As you can probably see, we’re projecting a similar season for 2015 as in his previous year, when Lohse ended with a 3.54 ERA and a 3.95 FIP. His ERA/FIP discrepancy is actually quite interesting.
In the last four years, while Lohse has posted an impressive 3.28 ERA, both his FIP (3.80) and xFIP (4.02) have lagged well behind. This can tell us one of a few things. The first is that Lohse has been notably lucky over four full seasons, which seems silly, but is possible.
More likely is that, in the case of his FIP, he creates weak contact on balls in play, which are therefore easier for the defense to make plays on. His inflated xFIP means that he continually allows less home runs per fly ball than is average in the league.
Typically these home run numbers end up near average over the course of a pitcher’s career, which is why xFIP exists, but Lohse has uniquely avoided the long ball based his number of fly balls.
It should be mentioned that Steamer, the projection system most notably used by FanGraphs, hates Lohse going into this year, and projects a 4.42 ERA and a 4.44 FIP. While I would admit that perhaps our group-sourced ERA may be optimistic, I think it’s very unlikely he suffers from a drop in production such as they are projecting.
I also think that despite his spot at the top of the rotation, Lohse could be bested in ERA by a number of his cohorts. If he should begin to show his age, I think Garza, Fiers, and Peralta could all have better showings over the course of the 2015 season.
With the exception of Jimmy Nelson, all of the starters could be projected to end with similar ERA’s, which leaves health and veteran status to determine the rotation’s order, hence Lohse at the top.
For two seasons, Lohse has spoiled the Brewers and their fans with a high level of play and a team-friendly deal. We at Reviewing the Brew feel he will finish out his final year of the deal in similar fashion.