Trying to stave off the San Francisco Giants, the St. Louis Cardinals turn to Kyle Lohse in tonight's Game Seven. Here is a look at his career and how he developed as a prospect.
Kyle Lohse was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 29th round in 1996 from high school in Hamilton City, California. He didn't sign, spent a freshman spring at Butte Junior College, then joined the organization as a draft-and-follow signee. He made his pro debut for the Arizona Rookie League Cubs, posting a 3.02 ERA with a 49/22 K/BB in 48 innings. I didn't pay much attention to short-season guys back then, but I would rate a similar guy as a Grade C today.
Lohse moved up to Rockford in the Low-A Midwest League for 1998, going 13-8 in 26 starts with a 3.22 ERA and a 121/45 K/BB ratio in 171 innings, allowing 158 hits. (Note the high innings totals in some of these old retrospectives). He threw strikes and ate a lot of innings. Reports indicated that he knew how to pitch, but he didn't stand out as an exceptional prospect at that point due to lack of plus velocity. I saw him pitch once that summer and he look like anything special. I gave him a Grade C going into 1999.
Moved up to High-A Daytona for '99, Lohse posted a 2.89 ERA with a 41/16 K/BB in 53 innings. Traded to the Minnesota Twins in the mid-season Rick Aguilera deal, he posted a 5.18 ERA with a 33/9 K/BB in 42 innings, then was promoted to Double-A New Britain. He got killed there, posting a 5.89 ERA with a 41/23 K/BB in 70 innings, allowing 87 hits.
Reports at this stage pointed to a decent slider and changeup, but his fastball was just 88-90 MPH and he looked helpless in Double-A. I gave him a Grade C, noting that his best attributes were youth and control.
Returned to Double-A for 2000, Lohse got stomped even worse, going 3-18, 6.04 in 28 starts. He had a decent 124/55 K/BB ratio in 167 innings, but he gave up 196 hits and 23 home runs. Reports indicated that his confidence was damaged by a series of poor early performances. I gave him a Grade C- in the 2001 book (yes, I gave Grade C-s back then) but noted that he had the stuff to rebound, if he was healthy.
Lohse was much better in 2001, posting a 2.79 ERA with an 80/17 K/BB in 87 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Promoted to the majors, he made 16 starts and went 4-7, 5.68 with a 64/29 K/BB in 90 innings. It wasn't a great debut, but considering the wreckage of his '00 season, it was good to see.
Lohse was in the Twins rotation for the next few years, eating innings and winning some games when properly supported, but putting up average numbers overall. He had a rough go in 2006 and lost his spot in the rotation, was traded to Cincinnati and then to Philadelphia. Overall he went 51-57 with a 4.88 ERA, 93 ERA+ in 908 innings of work over 172 games for the Twins, racking up 9.9 points of WAR value.
Lohse was your basic journeyman until joining the Cardinals as a free agent in 2008, going 15-6, 3.78 with a 112 ERA+ in 200 innings, 3.1 WAR. He struggled again in '09 and '10, but rebounded with strong seasons in 2011 and especially 2012. His 16-3, 2.86, 134 ERA+, 3.6 WAR season this year is by far the best campaign of his career. Overall, he's definitely been another successful reclamation project for the Cardinals.
Lohse has a career mark of 118-109, 4.45, ERA+ 97, WAR 24.7 in 1973 innings. If his career ended this year, he would rank with pitchers like Brad Penny, Esteban Loaiza, Charles Nagy, John Garland, and Ken Hill. His current WAR value ranks with Jack Billingham (25.0), Hideo Nomo (24.9), Bill Bonham (24.7), and Scott McGregor (24.7).
Interestingly enough, while their styles differed, those guys were basically average to slightly above average pitchers who could eat innings and occasionally have an excellent season, just like Lohse.