This weekend’s series was awful. It was a seemingly fitting display for a baseball club that has been so inconsistent this season that they can’t even consistently be inconsistent.
One of the popular fan responses and behavior this weekend was to pile onto Kyle Lohse as somewhat of a figurehead for everything that has gone wrong with the Cardinals this season. I would like to address a few of those…
Kyle Lohse had no business pitching Sunday
The validity of this argument depends upon your position.
If you argue that he’s not fit enough pitching-wise and doesn’t have his arm in shape to be throwing pennant-race big league innings, I’d probably side with you. After a few uninspired performances between Springfield and Memphis, Lohse turned in a solid start on August 10th for the Redbirds and was deemed “ready to go.” I realize that the team is hamstrung a bit by rehab rules and the roster moves that must be made to go along with a pitcher coming back from injury, but having been off for this long and with this type of injury/surgery (more on that later), patience should have been the plan for Lohse.
Now if, on the other hand, you argue that someone else on the roster should’ve been making the start against the Cubs, I ask – who? The regular turn in the rotation belonged to Jaime Garcia, who has a 6.79 ERA in August and has gotten one out beyond the fifth inning in his two August starts. Jeff Suppan remains on the “disabled list” because he hasn’t found success since the Cardinals signed him. Blake Hawksworth has yet to find any real measure of success as a starting pitcher in St. Louis, much less sustaining it. Who would you have preferred take the start?
Saying there were better options just because Lohse didn’t pitch well is short-sighted. Saying that there were better options because Lohse is not properly conditioned is at least reasonable.
Lohse is healthy, so why is he pitching horribly?
“Healthy” in this case is a description of how Lohse’s arm feels before, while, and after he’s throwing. He doesn’t feel the same discomfort as he did before. It should be said and remembered however, that Lohse’s surgery was largely unprecedented. So while he might FEEL fine in the arm, remember that the initial rehabilitation prognosis was “we’re not really sure.” As Lohse comes back from what was a muscle issue, we must remember that there could well be a long road back to where Lohse’s arm was strength- and conditioning-wise in order for him to be “healthy.”
Lohse hasn’t met expectations
Again, addressing this is a bit more complicated than the statement itself.
It has been said by folks much smarter and with more knowledge than I that if you’re expecting another 2008 out of Lohse, your expectations are simply too high. Lohse was never in his career prior to 2008 the pitcher that he was that year, and it would take some more Dave Duncan Voodoo ™ to get him back there again, in my opinion. Lohse has a career ERA of 4.75 and finished 2008 with a 3.78. It’s just not sustainable for him. Confidence in Dave Duncan aside, if John Mozeliak and the Cardinals front office were expecting him to continue on that arc for the duration of his four-year contract, I’d have to lower my opinion of their evaluation ability.
Now, if you had already tempered your expectations, and only wanted Lohse to eat up innings and stay healthy as he had throughout his career prior to 2009 – then you have right to be disappointed. Lohse has fought injury, and by extension, issues with control and fatigue since suffering the forearm injury caused by being hit by a pitch. There is certainly value to the Cardinals in an inning-eater, but it should be noted that those innings still came with the dreaded Kyle Lohse Fourth Inning ™.
For whatever reason, for his career, Lohse carries a 6.02 ERA in the fourth inning – better than a run and a quarter above his overall career ERA. Even in that career year of 2008, Lohse’s fourth inning ERA was 5.73, almost a full two runs higher than his overall ERA for that season. I really have no explanation for that, other than a hurdle that he obviously finds difficult to overcome in each game.
The Cardinals should release Lohse and use the money elsewhere
This is my favorite. Largely coming from the same folks who complain every season that the ownership is not spending enough money on the player payroll (surprise!), is the opinion that the Cards should “just cut bait” and release Lohse outright – THEN spend the “payroll space” elsewhere.
For those folks – when a player who is signed to a guaranteed contract is designated for assignment then released, his former team is still on the hook to pay the remainder of the contract under the terms of the original contract. The only possible relief they may receive is the salary paid to Lohse by any other team that might sign him – typically the major-league minimum salary or some pro-rated amount of that minimum. In other words, the almost $24 million owed to Lohse in 2011 and 2012 is still almost entirely the responsibility of the Cardinals. So there is no cost savings in releasing a player.
On to the second portion, now that we’re clear on the first. Knowing that the Cards are on the hook for $11 million or so of a pitcher that they are receiving no benefit from (other than any perceived benefit from him not pitching for them), is there anyone who really believes they’d just up and spend some more money elsewhere for another pitcher? You know that there’s a first-baseman due a large pay increase on the team, right?
Let the guy get conditioned before you release him. If he still can’t make it out of the fourth by the end of the first week of September, then you think about shutting him down. Even then, you can’t dump his contract in the off-season because he’s got a full no-trade clause.
Maybe the Cardinals should focus on getting him into pitching shape and contributing (and fans understanding it’s going to take him more than one start) rather than who they can sign in his place after he’s released?
I hope I’m not eating my words in t-minus four starts…