Posted on 21 February 2012.
Last week we talked about Jake Westbrook. Today we look at the other half of the back of the St. Louis Cardinal rotation.
Kyle Lohse has had an adventurous 4 years in St Louis. Signed as a free agent before the 2008 season, he posted arguably the best season of his career in 2008. The Cardinals rewarded him with a multi-year deal, although the fanbase had some misgivings about it based on the size of the contract he was awarded. Eager to prove his doubters wrong he started 2009 on fire, finishing April with 4 victories and a sub-2.00 ERA.
Then things derailed. He was hit on the right forearm by Phillies pitcher Joe Blanton in his next start and was never quite as dominating. He did two stints on the DL before the All-Star Break, then had an ERA of 5.72 the rest of the season. During the first two months of 2010 he was actually worse (ERA 5.89). Lohse was eventually diagnosed with exertional compartment syndrome in his right forearm and had surgery to repair the damage. He gamely came back to the rotation in August of that year; opponents said thank you by hitting .389 on balls in play off him the rest of the season.
After a full off-season of rest, and a good spring, Lohse seemed ready to reprise his 2008 form, and early in 2011 he did. Through the first two months of last season he posted a 2.13 ERA and a 3:1 K/BB ratio. Lohse was back. Then he got hammered by the Cubs on June 4 at home and spent the next three months with an ERA north of 5.00. In his last August start against Pittsburgh the light appeared to come on again; in September, when the Cardinals needed him most, he was sterling. In 4 September starts he posted a 1.37 ERA an a 4:1 K/BB ratio. His playoff outings were ultimately forgettable, although for his first 5 innings in Philadephia he was awesome.
Lohse lives and dies with his change-up. Last season his change-up was his most devastating pitch, and more valuable than any season since that 2008 campaign. Nineteen percent of his pitches were a change-up in 2011, the highest percentage of his career. He compensated by throwing fewer curveballs and sliders; of the former he threw 37% fewer than he had in 2010, the latter about 12% fewer. His slider was pretty effective (wSL of 4.1 by Fangraphs), but his curveball was just average (wCB 0.3), so that decision on which pitch to throw less frequently was the right one. What’s interesting is in his previous good season with St Louis, his curveball was far more dangerous (wCB 5.9) even though he threw it about the same frequency (6.7%) as he did in 2011.
Although controlling and spotting his change-up is key to his overall success, it is the ability to throw the curveball to good effect that will define Lohse’s season. It may be he lost the feel on that pitch due to the forearm injury; it hasn’t been there for him since the 2008 campaign, based solely on the weighted pitch values posted at Fangraphs (-1.0, -1.0, and 0.3 the last 3 seasons). If Lohse can regain that pitch in 2012 he will be the dominant, consistent pitcher he was in 2008. If he can’t, he will likely continue to have stretches of sublime pitching intermingled with stretches of throwing BP to major league hitters.
Watch for Lohse’s curveball during his spring training starts.
Posted in Cardinals
Posted on 22 July 2011.
Albert Pujols hit a 2-run home run in the first inning Thursday, jump-starting the Cardinals to a 6-2 win. Jake Westbrook threw eight innings en route to his 8th win of the year.
Pujols’ recovery from a broken forearm suffered 19 June has been nothing short of remarkable. Mere mortals take 6 weeks to heal, and another 2-to-3 to regain enough strength in their atrophied muscles to swing a bat with their former authority. The Cardinals first baseman missed 15 games total. He’s also hitting the ball out regularly again; through last night’s game, he was homering once every 10.75 at bats, an improvement of almost 6 at bats from his 16.47 pace through the first 73 games (for the record, his career rate is 1 HR for every 14.12 AB). So he’s back and better than ever, right?
Yes and no. As mentioned above, he’s driving the ball over the wall more. Even with the power surge, though, Pujols’ slash line of .233/.277/.535 since returning is worse than his .279/.355/.500 line before the injury. His drop in batting average can largely be attributed to worse luck on balls in play. His BABIP was .253 up to the injury, and .182 since. His BABIP was due to improve – it was well below his career mark of .311 already in 2011 – even before his injury. It’s still likely to bounce back, and his average should respond.
Although I’m looking at a small sample size, his OBP is off. This appears due to both the low BABIP discussed above, and because he’s walking less. Pujols has walked 4 times in 47 PA since returning, or about once every 15 appearances. Before the injury his rate was once every 8 (that number includes the 4 intentional walks he’s gotten this year). It seems when the Cardinals struggle Pujols presses at the plate (or perhaps Pujols pressing at the plate causes the Cardinals to struggle). Low walk rates can indicate a player who’s trying to do too much.
Why would he be less patient? This year’s lineup is much deeper than that of last year when he walked about once every 7 plate appearances, meaning he doesn’t have to carry the team like he did in years past. Is it a desire to prove he’s 100% healthy in his contract year? Could it be just coincidence? Bernie Miklasz pointed out the Cardinals team OBP has dropped significantly from their .357 April/May to .309 since 1 June, so AP’s low OBP might just be indicative of a change in approach by all the Cardinal hitters.
The Cardinals are a much more dangerous club with Albert in the lineup. He has been productive since returning, which has quelled all discussion about him coming back too early, but he still is not the hitter he was his first 10 years in the league. He needs to maintain his patience at the plate, and continue to hit the ball hard. His next hot streak is just around the corner. Hopefully he turns that corner soon.
Posted in Cardinals
Posted on 19 March 2011.
The 2011 Cardinals were poised to have one of the strongest rotations in the National League. A Cy Young winner still capable of competing at a high level, an ace that has pitched Cy Young caliber seasons the last two years, a young fire baller and an innings eating consistent pitcher. Add to those four the enigma that is Kyle Lohse, and you had a five man rotation that most teams not named the Phillies would love to have.
Before the first pitch of a spring training exhibition contest could be thrown the Cardinals were dealt the blow of the season. Adam Wainwright, their ace and hopeful Cy Young candidate, would be undergoing Tommy John surgery. The injury would bring to an end a season that had yet to begin for the young man and leave the team looking at what they had to fill the role. With the young fire baller (Jaime Garcia) noticeably struggling and a tight hamstring popping up in former Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter, the roles of the starters were being questioned everywhere.
Lohse was a late spring signing by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008. A young pitcher with something to prove, Lohse put together a season in 2008 that had the Cardinals dreaming of a top of the rotation quality pitcher. After a 15 win season with a 3.78 earned run average, both career bests, the Cardinals decided to lock Lohse up in a contract through 2012. The injury bug would bite Lohse the following year with muscle problems in his right forearm and take the dreams of a top of the rotation starter and bring them crashing down to a overpriced number five starter at best.
After the injury to Wainwright this year, Lohse’s role became one of the most talk about and scrutinized. If the Cardinals are to succeed and overcome the injury to their ace, Lohse will play a key part in that success. The Cardinals need Lohse to become the innings work horse he once was, control his earned run average, keep the ball on the ground and return to form.
Lohse does not need to overachieve. He does not even need to return to the 15 game winner he was when he earned his contract. A twelve or thirteen win season would solidify the middle of the rotation and keep the Cardinals well in the hunt for the National League Central title in 2011. If the last few seasons are more indicative of what Lohse brings to the table, the Cardinals rotation (and their pennant hopes) are in serious trouble. So far this Spring, Lohse is pitching like the guy that earned that contract in 2008.
For the Cardinals sake, he needs to keep it up.
Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
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Posted in Cardinals