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Twins fans might be furrowing their collective brow, but Kyle Lohse is one of the more dependable pitchers in the game now.
Kyle Lohse isn't going to win the Cy Young. But he was a contender a lot later than you'd expect Kyle Lohse to be, and it's not like he did anything wrong. He pitched well to close out the season. He just needed some luck; rather, he needed other pitchers to experience the absence of luck, such as Gio Gonzalez missing out on 20 wins, or R.A. Dickey giving up eight earned runs in a September start. None of that happened. so Lohse's season will be remembered as fantastic rather than award-winning.
Let's step back a bit, though, and realize that we're talking about Kyle Lohse. Baseball Reference's similarity scores indicate that in the three seasons before this one, Lohse's career was a match for Jeff Suppan's. And Suppan is the patron saint of That Guy. Somewhere between replacement level and good fifth starter is That Guy. Suppan gave up the title. Lohse would have been a good replacement.
Except Lohse became a de facto ace. With Adam Wainwright having an up-and-down year, Chris Carpenter coming back from serious injury, Lance Lynn getting demoted to the bullpen, and Jake Westbrook and Jamie Garcia going through erratic, injury-touched seasons, Lohse is the Cardinals' choice to pitch the big games. He started the Wild Card Game. He started the crucial Game 4 in the NLDS. And if the Giants hadn't won Game 6 of the NLCS, it would have been Lohse matched up against Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the World Series.
And this isn't something suggesting the Cardinals are being weird, or that they're in dire straits. No, they're right to trust Lohse like this. We're now 400 innings into the New Kyle Lohse Era, and he's been fantastic in the playoffs this season. Here's a quick and dirty look at the raw numbers for the batters hitting against Lohse over his career:
Pretend those average/on-base/slugging marks belonged to a hitter. That would be a consistent hitter who might have received an All-Star nod or two. Even when Lohse's walk rate dipped, he still allowed a good number of extra-base hits.
Now look at those last two seasons. Basically, every batter who faced Lohse before 2011 was Hunter Pence with the Astros. Power, average, and just enough walks to make things difficult on pitchers. And now, every batter facing Lohse is Hunter Pence with the Giants. No power, poor average, and a dearth of patience. If you're wondering about batting average on balls in play, yes, it's a lot lower over the past two seasons (.269 combined), but that's over 1,639 plate appearances. It's a little lazy to point at BABiP, check off a box, and walk away. He's been a different pitcher.
And, say, Lohse gets to face the real Hunter Pence in a Game 7 on Monday night. If the Cardinals could wave the magic rest wand over all of their pitchers, they might have chosen Wainwright based on his dominance earlier in the series, but it's likely they would have gone with Lohse anyway.
If you're wondering what happened to Lohse, you probably have an educated guess: Dave Duncan.
Percentage of sinkers thrown
Lohse came to the Cardinals in 2008 and reinvented himself as a sinker-baller. Since then, his command and control have improved, and he's improved in every facet of the game.
The Cardinals came into spring training excited to have Wainwright and Carpenter in the rotation together for the first time since 2010, but it was Lohse who morphed into the most trustworthy pitcher on the staff. It's a little weird to think about Kyle Lohse, Game 7 Stopper, but that's only if you haven't been paying attention. He isn't the same pitcher who kicked around with the Twins, Reds, and Phillies before he was 30. Suddenly he is one of the more reliable pitchers in baseball.