Is it good to have boxscores to look at again, or what? Today, $41-million man (whoops!) Kyle Lohse will be taking the hill for the Cardinals in a spring exhibition game against the Houston Astros. An afterthought before the sky fell on Wainwright’s right elbow, we are left hoping for something that resembles a comeback season for Kyle Lohse.
Lohse relies on his slider often, throwing it roughly 20% of the time over the course of his career. In his tenure with the Cardinals, it had been a plus pitch (0.65 runs/100 pitches in 2008 and 1.06 runs/100 pitches in 2009) until it fell to -1.77 runs/100 pitches in 2010. This isn’t to say that he’s never struggled with the pitch before – it had negative run values in 2003, 2005, and 2006 – but none were as damaging as pre-surgery (forearm) last season.
Back in August 2010, I wrote about Lohse’s struggling slider and its loss of horizontal movement:
“Given the flatter nature of the pitch, perhaps hitters are making more solid contact when they do connect even though their swinging strike percentage is stable. Another possibility is that hitters are able to sit on the pitch more often since he has thrown it more often this year. At any rate, seems like a poor combination for a pitch to be thrown more often despite having less movement and (however slightly) decreased velocity. Maybe the forearm injury can provide another explanation. Seems reasonable to allow that it may have been harder for him to throw off-speed pitches given their more complicated grips. It’ll be interesting to see if some of that horizontal movement returns now that he’s supposedly healthy.”
Though pure speculation at the time, Lohse confirmed my suspicion in an article by Derrick Goold at the P-D last week:
“I think I excused it sometimes,” Lohse said. “My slider wasn’t as sharp last year at this time. Even though I didn’t have any effects of (the injury) at this point in spring, my stuff wasn’t the same. In your mind, you’re like, ‘I’ll make that work. It’s early.’ Well, early became the season and the season became this isn’t working at all. Today was better than anything I had last year.”
So, how did the pitch look post-surgery? The numbers in the table below were obtained from Joe Lefkowitz’s Pitch F/X site:
Obviously, Lohse’s velocity was greatly diminished, but might that be explained by the trepidation that comes along with full throttle performance after surgery? It’s comforting to learn that some of the horizontal movement returned and, per FanGraphs, the pitch was worth a season-ending -1.56 runs/100 pitches. Although that’s still a negative number, it was better than it was pre-surgery, suggesting that he did gain some value from the pitch upon his return from the DL.
Cardinals fans would be foolish to expect Lohse to replicate his career best season in 2008 when he pitched his way to a 3.89 FIP, good for 3.1 fWAR. But assuming that health is now on his side, it’s reasonable to look for career norms to resurface. If his numbers don’t approximate 170-200 IP and 4.50-ish ERA, the Cardinals will be in trouble. In truth, they may need even more out of him. Last year, he had no chance with the injury. Let’s hope 2011 offers a different narrative. Lohse has his health back… maybe he’ll have his pitch(es) back too.