Everyone is talking about Kyle Lohse or more specifically why he hasn’t yet got a big long term contract after having one pretty good and one really good year with the Cardinals. The blame’s largely been placed on the new CBA; specifically the qualifying offer and loss of a draft pick. It’s a big mystery. Except, well, it isn’t.
The New CBA – A Free Agent Primer
The collective bargaining agreement signed last fall eliminated the old Type A and B free agents. Under the old rules, teams that lost a Type A free agent they offered arbitration to got the top draft pick from the team that signed that player AND a supplemental draft pick in the upcoming draft as compensation. The new rules simplified that by saying that in order for a team to get a draft pick (or be forced to give one up) a player had to be extended a qualifying offer based on a formula involving the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players each year. This year that amount was $13.5 million.
The other change the CBA brought in this year was an effective slotting system. There had always been suggested slot amounts for each round and those amounts had been widely ignored. Without getting into specific dollar amounts, if this year is you go over slot you have less money to spend later and if you lose a draft pick, you also lose the money slotted for that draft pick. So teams lose the draft pick and the ability to spend their first round money on subsequent picks. Two players are said to have been affected by this change, Lohse and Michael Bourn. Balderdash.
Bourn simply priced himself – guided by his super agent, Scott Boras – out of the market and ended up with what most independent folks think is a fair salary. Lohse wanted a raise and if you ignore everything else, pitched himself into one. But the teams haven’t yet ignored everything else.
Why Teams Haven’t Signed Kyle Lohse
In 2012, Lohse had a career year for the Cardinals going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.090 WHIP in 211 innings. He finished with the best winning percentage in the league and garnered some Cy Young votes as a result. Immediately his agent, also the aforementioned Boras, let everyone know Lohse would want 5 years and big $. If he had been 27 going into his 28 year old season instead of 33 going in his 34 year old season he might have got it. Age isn’t the only factor here. If you look at his record, the numbers are against Lohse.
I’d Rather Be Lucky Than Just Good
My dad used to tell me that he’d rather be lucky than just good. In 2012 Kyle Lohse was very lucky. Hitters managed only a BABIP of .267 against him, 35 points below his career average and only the third time since 2003 that number was below .300. His ERA of 2.86 was 1.59 below his career mark and 70 points below his FIP of 3.51. His line drive, ground ball, fly ball, and popup rates are exactly where they’ve always been. That says he was pitching the same way as always but the hits that usually fall in were outs and the runs that usually accompanied them never scored. That’s seems mostly like luck, at least to me. His catcher, Yadier Molina, is widely recognized not only as a superb defender but as the best game caller out there. If you watched the WBC you saw Molina work magic with pitchers most of us have never heard of. Having Molina and a Cardinal defense playing well behind him was a factor in last year’s success. He wasn’t always that successful.
He Needed To Visit St Louis
The Cardinals under Dave Duncan had a reputation of turning pitcher’s careers around. They signed Kyle Lohse in 2008 attempting just such a turnaround. Between 2001 and 2007 Lohse was not good. During that time 46 pitchers made more than 175 starts, of those pitchers only three had ERAs over 4.75 and an ERA+ under 100.
So the Cards brought him in for just over $4M and his first year was a typical Duncan turn around. Lohse went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA and an ERA+ of 112. As a result he earned a mid-year $41M extension in St Louis. In fact the Cardinals were so anxious to sign him to that extension in season (Scott Boras hypnotism perhaps?) that they had him miss a start to sign.
Lohse’s 2009 numbers fell to 6-10 with a 4.74 ERA and an ERA+ of 86 and he followed that up with a 4-8 record in 2010 including an ERA of 6.55, ERA+ of 59, and a WHIP of 1.783. A lot of that was injury driven as Lohse threw only 117 innings in ’09 and 92 in 2010. The injury was a recurrent forearm strain related to a dirt bike riding incident after the 2008 contract signing, An incident that coincidentally he initially conspired with Ron Mahay to hide from the Cardinals.
In 2011 he had his best year to that point finishing with a 3.39 ERA, 1.168 WHIP, and as noted above, a better than average ERA+. Lohse’s 2012 was by anyone’s definition, a career year and a certain payday maker. That’s what his agent no doubt told him. Who knows, the Cardinals might have tried to sign him again if he had not fibbed to them after 2008, not that his asking price would have fit their budget. They didn’t and it is notable that even after Chris Carpenter went down with a potential career ending injury this spring the Cardinals were very emphatic that Lohse was not an option. They would not lose a draft pick or the slot money and they still don’t want Lohse? Hmmm. . .
The CBA Did Not Eat His Contract
The new CBA did not and is not keeping Kyle Lohse from his big payday. Lohse would likely have been a Type A free agent, costing a draft pick anyway. He was in the top 30% of pitchers for the last two years and that’s pretty much the qualification. The lost slot money means nothing to a team who needs one more pitcher to win now. It didn’t stop the Indians from signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn nor did it stop the Nationals from signing Rafael Soriano. The money and the draft pick and all of that talk then is smoke and mirrors. The cause is a lot simpler than that.
Teams have a longer memory that the media particularly when it comes to Scott Boras clients, I’d guess. They understand that Lohse is a 34 year old number three or four starter, not a one or two and not a difference maker. They see his asking price and contract demands as exceeding his likely production at a time when that production will likely start to decline, particularly for a guy who doesn’t strike a lot of people out. All of those things – his age and historical performance – tell anyone looking hard that this man is over priced and not an option until he goes on sale.
That’s A Wrap
Lohse had his career year four years too late to cash in a huge payday. Teams remember what happened when Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver left St Louis and they have no reason at all to believe a 34 year old Lohse will be any different. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the man most similar to him at age 33 is Esteban Loaiza, who earned between $6M and $7.5M from age 34-36. Allowing for the inflated price of pitchers, Lohse is probably worth three years at about $9M. Anymore is an overpay – not saying that Boras won’t coax more out of some gullible team, look what he got for Jayson Werth. Boras said just yesterday that Lohse will sign soon, I look forward to seeing that contract.