Brewers Find Starter, Lohse Finds Work

Monday morning, Dave Cameron posted his bottom half of the 2013 starting pitcher positional power rankings. Just going to go ahead and paste a few select excerpts:

There’s a reason the team keeps getting tied to Kyle Lohse – he would be a pretty big upgrade over the internal candidates for the Brewers rotation.


If they had another quality starter, having two interesting upside guys with big variance at the back of the rotation would be more palatable. As it is, the Brewers look like they’re at least one good pitcher short of being a contender this year.

Funny story!

Monday morning, it looked like the Milwaukee Brewers badly needed another quality starting pitcher. Monday morning, the Milwaukee Brewers signed Kyle Lohse to a three-year contract worth $33 million, with an additional $1 million or so in attainable incentives. When the contract is official, the Brewers will lose the 17th overall pick in the next draft. The Cardinals, in turn, will gain a compensation pick, and the Cardinals are one of the Brewers’ rivals. But when the contract is official, the Brewers will have gained a good pitcher who can throw a lot of innings.

Lohse figures to slot in right behind Yovani Gallardo. He’ll then be followed by three of Marco Estrada, Chris Narveson, Michael Fiers, and Wily Peralta. The Brewers, previously, were hurting for starter depth, so Lohse goes a long way toward addressing that. Peralta is talented, but he might be best right now as insurance. The same goes for prospects Tyler Thornburg and Johnny Hellweg. When you’re trying to contend, it’s important not to freeze out your youth, but it’s also important to have reliable talent, and the Brewers haven’t stopped thinking about possibly making the 2013 playoffs.

A year ago, the Brewers won 83 games, and they’re returning most of the same position players. The rotation won’t have Zack Greinke or Shaun Marcum, but it also won’t have Randy Wolf and his near-6 ERA. PECOTA has projected this year’s Brewers for a near-.500 record. CAIRO, too, agrees on the matter. Those are pre-Lohse projections, meaning with Lohse, the Brewers might project as an average team. As you all understand, projections come with big error bars, and contributing to the Brewers’ upside is that Estrada and Fiers are volatile. A year ago they combined for 278 strikeouts and 65 walks in 266 major-league innings. If they out-pitch their projections in 2013, the Brewers could and should be a legitimate contender.

So for Milwaukee, signing Lohse is a win-now kind of move. Which should be obvious, given that Lohse isn’t young, and given that signing Lohse costs a first-round selection. He’ll also cost $11 million a year for three years, which is less than Scott Boras would’ve liked, but which also isn’t cheap. If you figure that Lohse is being paid to be something like a two-win starting pitcher, then this doesn’t seem out of line. The Brewers are protecting themselves against some of Lohse’s downside, while Lohse is still getting multi-year security.

To think, it was just a short while ago we were wondering if Lohse might hold out to sign until after the draft, so that the matter of compensation would go away. There was an argument for Lohse to do that, but Boras denied the possibility and sure enough, Boras came up with a deal. In the game of Kyle Lohse free-agency chicken, you could say both the Brewers and Lohse won, meaning this won’t be held against Boras and his agency. Meaning players will continue to trust Scott Boras to get good contracts.

You do wonder what this might mean for the case for free-agent-compensation reform. On the one hand, the qualifying-offer system might’ve caused Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn to linger too long as free agents, and it might’ve driven down their prices. On the other hand, Lohse signed for three years and $33 million, and Bourn signed for four years and $48 million. At the end of the day, both guys were paid well, so there might be less reason to change the existing agreement. That’s not something with which I personally agree, but this isn’t that black-and-white.

So anyway, we should talk a little bit about Kyle Lohse, and what he’s become, and what he could be. He’s 34 and he’s struggled in the past, so there’s some degree of skepticism regarding how he’ll pitch away from St. Louis. That’s perfectly fair — everything that’s happened with Lohse has inarguably happened. But it doesn’t make sense to focus more on Lohse’s distant past than his recent past, and recently Lohse has been quite effective. The last two years, he’s posted an 82 ERA-. He’s also posted a 95 FIP- and a 103 xFIP-, and even a triple-digit xFIP- isn’t a bad thing. Remember than 100 is average, and a bunch of innings of an average pitcher are valuable.

Lohse doesn’t succeed based on his raw stuff, and he misses a below-average number of bats. He certainly doesn’t do a great job of keeping the ball on the ground. But, since 2011, 190 different starting pitchers have thrown at least 100 innings. Only Tommy Milone has thrown a higher rate of first-pitch strikes, with Lohse coming in over 68%. He’s thrown about the same rate of first-pitch strikes as Cliff Lee, and so a lot of the time, Lohse has been working ahead in the count. According to StatCorner, Lohse has thrown about 40% of his pitches ahead in the count, against an average of about 36%. He’s thrown about 14% of his pitches behind in the count, against an average of about 18%. It’s not much, but it’s a small edge, and it’s how a guy with otherwise unremarkable stuff can give himself a boost.

Lohse throws strikes. If it’s most important to throw strikes, miss bats, and avoid home runs, Lohse has done a good job of the first one, and he’s done a good job of the last one. One can question how sustainable that last one is for Lohse, since we’re all familiar with the issues with home-run rate, but even with some dinger regression, Lohse can eat innings if he stays in the strike zone. Remember that he’s not being paid to repeat a sub-3 ERA.

Something else that could help Lohse will be the defensive work of Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado. Lucroy and Maldonado appear to be terrific pitch-framers, combined, and while that wouldn’t provide an exclusive advantage to Lohse, it should help Lohse to have fuzzier edges to the strike zone. He should have a bigger zone in which to work, meaning Lohse won’t have to pitch so much over the plate. That’s good news for a guy who does allow plenty of contact.

The Brewers aren’t getting a bargain here, not when you include the matter of the draft pick. Were it not for the pick, Lohse would’ve cost more — even Jeremy Guthrie will pull home $25 million over three years. Through 2015, Lohse is going to cost the Brewers eight figures. But look at the team context. Gallardo will cost the Brewers north of $11 million in 2014, and there exists a $13 million 2015 club option. Estrada, though, is under team control through 2015. Fiers doesn’t even have a year of service. Peralta and Thornburg are under team control forever. Narveson is under team control through 2015. If things go well, the Brewers will have some cheaper starters for years. You can think of that as freeing up some money for an investment like Lohse. Last season the team had an opening day payroll of just about $100 million.

For the Brewers right now, Kyle Lohse makes sense. He helps the current team, boosting its odds of making the playoffs. He doesn’t project to be a disaster, and there will be starter youth around him. For Lohse, he finally gets his money, and for Boras, he doesn’t lose, even if he didn’t exactly win. Lohse has been throwing in simulated games so he should be just about ready to step right in to the Brewers’ rotation. It was wild that Lohse remained a free agent so long given the season he just had. Lohse isn’t a free agent anymore, and there’s nothing wild about the team that just signed him. In the end, it all makes sense. In the end, everyone can smile.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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10 years ago

I was hoping the title of the article would be, “Brewers, Lohse, Collectively Ruin Perfectly Good Article Posted This Morning.”