Thursday, August 26, 2004

Not-So-Super Joe Escapes; The Fall of Kyle Lohse

I had originally planned on focusing solely on Kyle Lohse in today’s entry, but I decided Joe Nathan’s Eddie-like save last night cannot go un-commented upon.

As most of you already know, Nathan entered last night’s game with the easiest possible scenario a closer can face: no one on base with a three run lead. Many baseball purists believe that a save shouldn’t even be awarded in this situation. They contend that almost any major league caliber pitcher should be able to go one inning without allowing three runs or more. For a guy that had allowed just five runs the entire season before a week ago, this should not have been a problem. Unfortunately, it was a problem. Nathan didn’t allow any runs, but he gave the Rangers a good chance to win by loading the bases. Obviously Joe is struggling right now, and I’m sure he’d tell you exactly why this is the case: Nathan isn’t attacking hitters like he used to. He’s nit-picking at the corners, trying to be too fine. Earth to Joe! You can throw a baseball 97 mph! Keep the ball below the belt and get it in the general vicinity of the catcher’s glove and you will be just fine. Most players can’t hit that stuff and by pitching around them you are doing these guys a tremendous favor. I heard Joe acknowledge his problem after the game, so hopefully he can get it straightened out before his next appearance. I certainly hope so, because I liked the way things used to be. I’m talking about the Xantax-free save, a Minnesota rarity before this season and something I was getting used to with Super Joe.

The Rise (And Subsequent Fall) of Kyle Lohse
When the Twins jumped out to a four-run lead in the first inning of last night’s 8-5 win, it seemed to be the perfect situation for Kyle Lohse. Here was a guy that has been struggling for almost the entire season. Before he even steps on the mound he’s got a nice little safety net beneath him. Less pressure should translate into a better performance, but such was not the case last night for Lohse. He hung a curveball to Blalock in the first and the lead was prompt cut in half.

Overall, Lohse once again pitched poorly, failing to build off his last start—a 7 inning 3 hit win over Cleveland last week. We all hoped that he had turned the corner but it simply did not happen. It is plain to see that Lohse can’t locate his fastball at all and hangs seemingly every other curveball, but let’s compare some of his numbers from the last two seasons with this year:

This was Kyle’s best season statistically, and he was a key member of that 94 win team. His ERA was a stellar 4.23, although he threw only 180.1 innings. He allowed 181 hits and 70 walks for a 1.39 WHIP. His 124 strikeouts lead to a 6.18 K/9 ratio and a 1.77 K/BB ratio. Those were great numbers for a #5 starter and seemed like something to build off for Lohse.

Last year wasn’t a step forward for Lohse but it also wasn’t really a step back either. Kyle’s 4.61 ERA was a little high, and his 211 hits allowed (including 28 HRs) in 201 innings wasn’t overly impressive either. But Lohse did cut down on his walks (45) and improved his strikeouts (130), both of which were positive signs. Lohse seemed to fit right in on the Twins’ staff: lots of hits but few free passes. At multiple points during the season he seemed very close to putting it all together, which garnered him his first playoff start against Roger Clemens and the Yankees.

This year has been a letdown for Lohse almost since Day 1. In 27 starts, Lohse has only 9 “quality starts” (6+ innings with three earned runs or less). I question the definition of a “quality start”, and looking back at those games one can safely question the “quality” of at least two of those starts. In reality, Lohse has had pitched up to his potential a mere 7 times this season, the most obvious example being his complete game shutout of the Royals on July 7. His ERA currently stands at 5.35 and he’s had a monthly ERA over 5 every month except one. He’s already walked 12 more batters than last year in almost 50 fewer innings; he’s allowed more runs (93) and hits (196) already this year than he did the entire 2002 season and is quickly approaching his 2003 totals in those areas. His K/BB and K/9 ratios have obviously suffered as well. Lohse’s 1.38 K/BB ratio is one of the worst in the American League among starters, and this coming from a guy who doesn’t have the electric stuff of a Victor Zambrano (who walks a ton of guys but doesn’t give up very many hits).

All those statistics only confirm what we knew all along: Lohse is walking way more batters than normal, striking out far fewer than he has in the past, and is allowing WAY too many hits. Add it all up and you get a pretty predictable result: multiple schalackings such as the one that occurred last night. Five runs in five innings wouldn’t be that big a deal if Lohse hadn’t been doing the exact same thing all season long. A contender (or any team for that matter) needs more than five innings from a #3 starter, and Lohse has officially proved that he is no longer this team’s #3 guy. Frankly, I doubt that he will come around before the season is over.

That raises the obvious question: if not Lohse, then who will take the ball in Game 3 of the ALDS? It’s a topic we’ve discussed in length before and one that we will no doubt explore in much more detail as the playoffs get closer Thanks for stopping by Twins Chatter today, and be sure to check out John’s post tomorrow. Have a good one, everybody.

-Ryan M.