Back in February I discussed St Louis Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse, and how his ability to command his curve ball might define his season. Lohse just finished April 4-0 for the Cardinals; how is his curve ball working for him?
Through five starts Lohse’s velocity on all his pitches is within .5 MPH of what he was throwing last year, except with his change-up; interestingly that’s up 1 MPH from 2011. He is also throwing all his pitches with roughly the same frequency as in 2011 with two notable exceptions. Lohse’s change-up usage is down ~5% from his 2011 numbers, and his slider usage is up over 7%.
Has it made much difference? That is unclear so far. Lohse’s walk rate per 9 innings is down slightly as compared to 2011 (1.6 now, 2.0 last season), and his strike out rate is up a commensurate amount (5.7 now from 5.3 a year ago), but that could just be noise in the statistics.
Ok, so let’s look at his isolated pitch values. The wCH value is currently 2.0, the lowest it has been in April since 2008. On the other hand, his wSL value of 4.2 is the highest it has been as a Cardinal. Lohse’s slider has been a devastating pitch in 2012. His fastball hasn’t been half bad, either. Last season his April wFB value of 8.0 was more than twice as good as it had been in his Cardinal tenure. This year’s number of 4.2 is half that personal best, but it is also the second-best value he’s had as a Cardinal. Now Lohse’s fastball is a valuable pitch because it sets up all his off-speed stuff, but it has never been an out pitch for him. It would be exciting if he’s able to maintain that quality with his fastball throughout this season.
Lohse’s curve ball has not been a good pitch so far this year, just like it has not been that good in April in all his years in St Louis. So far it would appear the curve ball is not what’s driving Lohse’s success; it’s his slider that’s making him one of the NL’s best pitchers in 2012.
One caveat to all this discussion. Lohse is 14-2 in April as a Cardinal, by far his best month of the season; and April is the only month in which Lohse is over .500 in his career. Early season success does not guarantee full season success, as his injury-plagued 2009 would suggest. Lohse is pitching great so far, helping to lead St Louis to the second-best record in the league after one month of play.