Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Once and Future Kyle Lohse

Twins 4, White Sox 2

That felt good. Beating the White Sox never gets old, does it? Even if Chicago is going to run away with the division this year, I can still enjoy seeing the Twins take 'em down a peg on any given night along the way.

The Twins finally produced some hits with the bases loaded, even doing it twice in the 4th inning last night. Lew Ford slashed a liner to Leftfield with 1 out to bring home Nick Punto and Justin Morneau, sliding just ahead of the tag. After Michael Ryan singled to load the bases again, and Cuddyer struck out on a breaking pitch for the 2nd out, Brent Abernathy came through by slapping a 2-run single into Rightfield. Kyle Lohse was good enough to keep the Sox at bay through 5.1 innings, and the Twins pen locked down the game from there.

Lohse flirted with danger a few times through 4 innings, but managed to fight off the nasty boys with his virtue and a clean scoresheet intact before they could get past 2nd base. Two batters reached base in the 1st inning, on a hit-batsman and a walk, but the Twins escaped with no damage when Paul Konerko hit a pop-up to Morneau, just foul of 1st base, as the runners had already taken off with the pitch and left Morneau with an easy double play. Geoff Blum led off the 3rd with a double, but Lohse struck out Joe Crede and induced two groundouts to snuff that threat. After the Twins offense had just staked Lohse to a 4-0 lead in the top of the 4th, Lohse set to face the heart of the Sox order a second time, and promptly gave up a single to Carl Everett and surrendered a deep drive to Leftfield off the bat of Paul Konerko, snatched above the wall by Shannon Stewart to rob the home run. Still 4-0 Twins at the end of the inning.

In the 5th inning, with runners on 2nd and 3rd and 2 out, Juan Uribe drove a single up the middle to bring home one run and Joe Crede came around to try for two, but Lew Ford's perfect throw on one hop was in time to save another run. However, Lohse would be facing the heart of the order for a third time in the 6th inning, and they knocked him out after starting the inning with two singles and A.J. Pierzynski taking a pitch off his arm for his new team. Fortunately, Gardy didn't wait too long to bring the hook. Jesse Crain entered and added one more run to Lohse's stat sheet by allowing Jermaine Dye a sac fly, but he closed the book on Lohse by getting Aaron Rowand to fly out to CF, ending the inning.

Lohse had a pretty good night in the box score--2 runs, 7 hits, 1 BB, 1 K, 5.1 IP, and the W--but the details of the game also illustrate the fine line Kyle Lohse walks between serving as a "pretty good #4 starter" and flakey enigma who probably would be much more effective pitching out of the bullpen. Three runs were saved directly by stellar defensive plays last night, while batters were hitting him progressively harder as they saw him a second and third time in the game. Struggling to hold down a lineup more than once through the order has been a problem for Lohse throughout his career. From 2002-4, opponents hit .264 with a .416 slg pct. through his first 45 pitches of a game; afterwards, they hit .289 with a .470 slg pct. and even those numbers are pulled down a bit by the handful of times (38 at-bats) when he was cruising along so easily that Gardy let him go past 105 pitches and still nothing could touch him.

The struggle hasn't become any easier for Lohse this season. After the 45th pitch, opponents are hitting .328 with a .502 slg pct. against him. So he doesn't have the staying power to be consistently effective in the rotation. Trouble is, next year he'll be too expensive for the Twins to keep him as a reliever. In his first year of arbitration last winter, he was awarded $2.4 million despite a 9-13 record and 5.34 ERA in 2004. He won his case because he'd been a regular member of the rotation for three and a half seasons, ate innings, and came to the hearing with a 4.86 career ERA. Not much changed this year, except he'll have another year of service time and he'll probably end the season with an ERA in the mid 4's. Think that'll take in $4 million in arbitration next winter? Easy.

The Twins can't pay $4 million for Kyle Lohse to do setup work or pitch middle relief. Terry Ryan will have bigger problems he could address with that money. That's why I hoped to see him traded last month. It needs to happen next winter. If he should finish the season strong, people will say he's turned the corner and can't be traded just as he's putting it all together. Don't be fooled. Remember he's teased us like that before. A glittery finish by Lohse is meaningful only in so much as it boosts his trade value. If we may be so lucky, let some other suckers be taken in by the shiny veneer.


At 8/16/2005 10:18 AM, Anonymous Aaron.* said...

It's always nice to see "Smart Ball" lose.

I will be revelling in their first round defeat.


At 8/17/2005 2:25 AM, Blogger Batgirl said...

Dear Mr. Wig,

I do have to give Lohse some credit. Last year, I was really hard on him--not because he was so excrutiatingly bad, but because he was always blaming everyone else but himself for the losses. This year, he seems to have buckled down and is listening to Andy, dropping pitches and it's served him well.

Nonetheless, with the Wonder Twins down there in Triple A who can be had essentially for free next year, it doesn't seem like it makes sense to keep him, but I still think there's a good pitcher in there somewhere.


At 8/17/2005 2:58 AM, Blogger frightwig said...

I think there was a stretch of about a year between the last half of 2002 and the first half of 2003 when Lohse was really terrific, and I thought he might be a future ace. Now I'm resigned to thinking he is what he is. I'm sure he'll find another team willing to bank on his potential as a starter, but my crystal ball foresees him either moved to the bullpen or out of baseball within the next 5 years.

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