Kyle Lohse succeeds without overpowering

March, 19, 2013
3/19/13
10:46
AM ET

Sarah Glenn/Getty ImagesKyle Lohse has been one of baseball's best strike-throwers the last two seasons.
Kyle Lohse remains on the free agent market, with first-round compensation required if a team chooses to sign him.

What would the team that signs Lohse be getting?

Let’s run through a few of Lohse's areas of strength.

Lohse is not a power pitcher. His fastball averages 89 miles-per-hour and tops out at 92 on a good day. He gets his outs through getting contact and letting his defense turn outs behind him. His effectiveness over the last five seasons has coincided with a dip in two key stats: he’s cut his walks per nine innings from 2.8 (from 2001 to 2007) to 2.2, and his home runs per nine from 1.2 to 0.9.

In a 200-inning season, that equates to 13 fewer walks and seven fewer home runs allowed.

Lohse had his best season in terms of control in 2012. His 1.62 walks per nine innings ranked fifth-lowest among ERA qualifiers (six-hundredths of a point from Bronson Arroyo for second place).

Over the past two seasons, Lohse has excelled at throwing first-pitch strikes. His 68 percent first-pitch strike rate is tied with Cliff Lee for second-best among pitchers who have thrown at least 200 innings in that span.

He's also been terrific at getting called strikes. His called-strike rate of 39 percent ranks third, trailing only control artists Bartolo Colon and Lee.

In particular, Lohse excels at hitting the outside corner. Since 2011, his 38 percent called-strike rate on pitches to the outer-third of the plate (or off the outside corner) is the best in all of baseball.

What’s next for Lohse?
The five projection systems used by Fangraphs.com all have Lohse’s ERA increasing by at least half a run from 2012, from 3.39 by OLIVER to 4.28 from Steamer Projections. ESPN’s predictive system of choice, ZIPS, gives Lohse a 3.63 ERA.

Media reports have the Texas Rangers as the team with the most interest in Lohse. One thing to keep in mind that if Lohse goes to Texas, he would go from pitching in a park that is modestly pitcher-friendly (Busch Stadium ranked 18th in Park Factor for runs scored last season and 21st for home runs) to a park that is much more hitter-friendly. (Rangers Ballpark ranks fourth in Park Factor in runs scored and seventh in home runs.)

One other thing to keep in mind for Lohse. Over the past two seasons, Lohse has gone 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA in nearly 400 innings. In each of those seasons he has outpitched his peripheral numbers. In 2011, he had a 3.39 ERA, but his strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed produced a Fielding Independent Pitching (an estimator of what his ERA was likely to be) of 3.67. Last season, he had a 2.86 ERA and a FIP of 3.51.

The difference between Lohse’s ERA and FIP was .-65 (meaning his FIP was 65 points above his ERA). That was the fifth-worst negative differential among those who qualified for the ERA title last season.

In 2011, 10 ERA-title qualifiers had an ERA-FIP differential of -.65 or worse. Of those 10, nine saw their ERA increase in 2012.

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