If Six Flags opened a new roller coaster ride called “Kyle Lohse‘s ERA” I think I’d be too afraid to ride it.
Did you know that Lohse, a 12-year MLB veteran, hasn’t had an ERA that began with the same number since the 2002 and 2003 seasons (4.23 and 4.61, respectively)? In the nine years since, Lohse’s ERA has once been in the 6.00s, twice in the 5.00s, three times in the 4.00s, once in the 3.00s, and once in the 2.00s.
For the most part his strikeout and walk rates have remained rather constant, but Lohse allows so much contact (by virtue of those constantly low strikeout rates) that modest yearly fluctuations in his BABIP have very pronounced effects. The end result has been a wildly erratic pitcher for the better part of the last decade, however Lohse has discovered something in his last two years with the Cardinals.
His 2.01 BB/9 and 1.62 BB/9 in 2011 and 2012, respectively, were the two lowest rates of his career, and his 3.76 K:BB ratio in 2012 was easily a career-best (previous best was 2.89 in 2003). Not surprisingly, Lohse’s 3.67 FIP in 2011 and 3.51 FIP in 2012 are also the two best of his career, and even though he isn’t signed for 2013, Lohse has shown that he’s finally figured out what it takes to harness consistent success.
At a Glance
Strengths: WHIP, QS, BB, BB/9
Neutral: W, ERA
Weaknesses: K, K/9
Best-case scenario: Jordan Zimmermann (WAS) minus about 20 Ks
Likely scenario: Mark Buehrle (TOR), Tim Hudson (ATL), Tommy Milone (OAK)
Worst-case scenario: Ricky Nolasco (MIA)
Kyle Lohse 2013 Fantasy Projection
Lohse’s official 2013 projection hinges a bit on where he signs, but for the most part I feel confident with what we’ve projected. Our projected 3.52 ERA is right in line with his FIPs from 2011 and 2012, and we didn’t really go out on a limb projecting 13 wins for a pitcher who’s averaged 15 wins over the last two years (though those 13 wins could easily be 11 or 15 depending on which jersey he wears come April).
Lohse will have a hard time duplicating his 1.09 WHIP from last year, but he’s shown the ability to command the strike zone very well. Even though his strikeout rate was a below average 6.10 K/9 last year (which was very high for Lohse), his control was so good that his 3.76 K:BB ratio actually ranked 18th among the 99 pitchers who threw at least 150 innings and 11th of the 31 pitchers who threw at least 200 innings. It was better than the marks posted by Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Johnny Cueto, and Hiroki Kuroda.
The problem with drafting Lohse, though, is that his value is completely tied to the most erratic and variable fantasy stat of all: ERA. Pitchers that have high strikeout totals on a yearly basis will almost always maintain high strikeout rates. Obviously there’s a little variance from year to year, but usually it’s not much. Slight changes in strand rate (LOB%), HR/FB rate, BABIP, or, God forbid, all three can drastically affect a pitcher’s ERA.
And Lohse is a perfect example. Throughout most of his career he’s had FIPs in the mid-4.00s, but his ERAs have varied greatly. Much of that is because he allows so much contact and is more susceptible to the effects of those slight changes. Because he doesn’t have the strikeouts to fall back on, Lohse’s fantasy value is often tied to how luck-neutral he can remain. Drafting such a player can be dicey, but Lohse is worth rolling the dice on, especially because he doesn’t carry the same star power that other pitchers in his tier do. That could make him a great value in 2013.