Milwaukee Brewers: How Long is the Leash for Kyle Lohse?

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There is little doubt that for the first two years after Kyle Lohse came to Milwaukee, he was the Brewers’ best pitcher. After being signed to a 3 year, $33 mil contract late in Spring Training of 2013, Lohse took his spot atop the Brewers’ starting rotation and performed about as well as anyone could have hoped. From 2013-14, Kyle led the Brewers with 397 innings pitched, walked a minuscule 1.84 batters per nine innings, and posted just a 1.16 WHIP. Lohse was the winning pitcher in 24 of 43 decisions (covering 63 starts) while posting a solid 3.45 ERA as well as 5.8 Wins Above Replacement.

One of the reasons Lohse stayed on the free agent market for so long in 2012-13 was because of the reluctance for any team to guarantee a third year on his contract, which he eventually received from the Brewers’ and owner Mark Attanasio. While Lohse was able to stave off father time for the first two years of his deal, it appears as though the aging curve might have finally caught up with the 36 year old Lohse, as he has gotten off to an awful start in 2015.

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For several seasons, Lohse has relied on pinpoint control in order to limit walks and induce weak contact. This is how Lohse has been so successful since the 2011 season despite not striking out more than 6.4 batter per nine. While he has still been able to limit his walks this season (just 2.0 BB/9), Kyle has given up line drives at a 25.8% rate, which ranks 9th highest among pitchers in the National League. Lohse’s 19.2% HR/FB ratio ranks 7th highest in league, while his 10 long balls given up is tied for second most. In seven starts this season, he has covered 39.2 innings and given up 31 earned runs. While Lohse’s HR/FB rate (almost double his career average) and very low 59.5% strand rate figure to improve some, his 5.21 Deserved Run Average and 117 cFIP- show that there probably isn’t much room for improvement on his current 7.02 ERA.

With this season quickly becoming a lost one for Milwaukee, the hope is that Lohse can turn his performance around so that the team can move him before the trade deadline. While some writers have speculated that Lohse is still a movable piece, I’m not certain that many teams are lining up to make a deal for a pitcher making $11 mil this season while getting minimal results. Unfortunately, this is not altogether unfamiliar territory for the Brewers. Both Randy Wolf and Jeff Suppan were high-profile free agent pitchers on the wrong side of 30 that were given multiyear deals by Milwaukee, and both were released before completing their respective contracts. Lohse has generally been more successful than those two during his time in Milwaukee, but his stark fall-off this season could lead to a similar fate.

With the Brewers’ now in the process of assessing how deep of a rebuild they need to undertake, it is important to begin to take stock of the assets that the team has. Lohse, an impending free agent, won’t be with the team after 2015 regardless of his results this season. Unless the Brewers’ can find a taker for Kyle within the next two months or so, it might be wise to start seeing what some younger pitchers can do when given a chance to prove themselves in the big league rotation. Tyler ThornburgMichael Blazek, and Taylor Jungmann all could figure into the starting rotation picture in the future, and have all done enough in the minors to warrant a shot at seeing if they can be a part of the future in Milwaukee. Of those three, Thornburg, a former top prospect who has bounced between starting and relieving at the big league level, looks to have the most upside and should probably get the first crack at filling any vacancy that comes up in the starting rotation.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope that Kyle Lohse can turn things around and become a useful arm once again, which would certainly make him a much stronger candidate to be traded. Unfortunately, neither Lohse’s current results or the advanced metrics seem to forecast much improvement in the near-term. While it’s probably still too early to make a drastic move like removing Lohse from the rotation, it should at least be in the back of manager Craig Counsell’s mind that he is going to need to start evaluating what some of his young, unproven starters are capable of at some point this season. Regardless of how his tenure ends, one thing is certain: Kyle Lohse’s days in Milwaukee are numbered.

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