The Phillies could have signed Kyle Lohse to a contract after the 2007 season; instead, they thought the right-hander was nothing more than a back-end scratch, offering him nowhere close to the price upon which he and agent Scott Boras insisted. Lohse wanted years and close to Carlos Silva buck. The Phils weren’t touching that.
And yet, Lohse has quietly become one of the National League’s best starters. In 2008 he went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA. He threw 200 innings. Even his 1.300 WHIP was acceptable. And so far in 2009, Lohse is 3-0 with a 1.97 ERA. He is currently fifth in the NL in ERA.
Tonight the Phillies face Lohse again. He has already schooled his former team (2-0, 3.38 ERA in 2008). But how? Wasn’t this the same Lohse who got lit up in game two of the 2007 Division Series?
Look at Lohse’s ground ball rates:
2006 (w/MIN, CIN): 1.15 GB/FB
2007 (w/CIN, PHI): 0.89 GB/FB
2008 (w/STL): 1.43 GB/FB
2009 (w/STL): 1.48 GB/FB
Lohse had a terrible year keeping it down in 2007, still, he improved tremendously even upon his career averages since moving to Saint Louis. So is it pitch choice? Not quite – though he has used his fastball a bit more since coming to Saint Louis, he’s still throwing his slider and curve.
What about park factors?
Busch Stadium is 26th in home run factor, while Citizens Bank Park and Great American Ballpark are 13th and 11th, respectively, in 2009. Yes, the latter parks are notoriously better home run parks, but that wouldn’t change the huge spike in ground ball rates. Clearly Lohse is doing something to get his fastball lower in the zone. Basically, his stuff has improved.
And it completely calls into question coaching. We’ve all heard about the tremendous work of Saint Louis Pitching Coach Dave Duncan. Here’s a guy who’s found a diamond out of Jeff Suppan. He resurrected Braden Looper. Yes, he’s a great coach, and suddenly, he’s made Lohse a valuable “get ’em to hit it to the fielders” pitcher. Aka, the kind of pitcher the Phillies – and most undisciplined free-swinging teams – can’t hit. So what of his counterpart tonight, Joe Blanton?
Blanton – like Lohse – has a slew of pitches without one dominant out pitch. To be effective, Blanton – like Lohse – has to position his pitches correctly. But Blanton – unlike Lohse – is trending toward the 5.00-ERA range for his career and is having a difficult 2009. And Blanton – unlike Lohse – doesn’t have Duncan. He has Rich Dubee.
Yes, it’s now a pitching coach column. Is Rich Dubee good at all? Can we cite him as the reason that 2008 pitching staff performed so well? Or was it mostly good luck, health and organization? What of Blanton, who can’t keep a pitch below the belt? And what of Lohse, who lucked out in Philadelphia, but now looks like Derek Lowe in Saint Louis? What of Dubee?