Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’14 – #26 Kyle Lohse

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We’re rounding a crucial turn in the marathon off-season. We’re inside of four weeks until Opening Day, Cactus League games are underway, people are making crazy predictions based off of a handful of appearances…

Yup, Spring Training is like few other things in sports. However, a year ago at this time, jersey number 26 wasn’t being worn on the big league fields of Maryvale Baseball Park.

The man who would wear it in the regular season didn’t show up until the week before camp broke, though that wasn’t all his fault as he wasn’t signed until then either. He would go on to become a fast leader in the home clubhouse and have a solid first season in Milwaukee.

Of course, I’m talking about…

Kyle Lohse.

KyleLohse

As starting pitchers go, Kyle Matthew Lohse was a bit of a late bloomer. He makes no bones about that fact and is quite forthcoming in his career resuscitation with Dave Duncan in St. Louis. These last three seasons have been pretty good ones for the 35-year-old Northern California native and 13-year MLB veteran.

Lohse got paid off of his 2012 season when, despite the reduced emphasis on such things, he posted 16 Wins against just three Losses with a 2.86 ERA in 33 starts. That came with career bests in innings pitched, strikeouts, WHIP, home run rate, walk rate, and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

So why did it take so long for him to be signed?

Lohse was a 34-year-old free agent seeking three-year contract. And against the prices this off-season, his average annual value request seem even more reasonable today than it did a year ago. So it wasn’t his asking price.

Kyle Lohse carried with him two problems as a free agent. First, there was the question of how real this late-career renaissance really was. More on that in a minute. The second issue was that when the Cardinals decided not to retain Lohse, they extended him a qualifying offer under the brand new free agency system. That meant that any team signing Lohse would forfeit a draft pick and, in the Brewers case that ended up being a first-round choice. The Brewers surrendered the 17th overall pick in 2013 First-Year Player draft, so the cost to acquire their best pitcher last year cost them more than just money.

As for whether Lohse could succeed outside of the spacious Busch Stadium, he answered that well in 2013. And while he fell off from his career year in 2012, which is called such because it happens once, he still put up the following line despite a moribund month of May while dealing with a pair of injuries:

11-10, 3.35 ERA, 32 starts, 198.2 IP, 196 H, 78 R (74 ER), 26 HR, 36 BB, 125 K, 1.168 WHIP, 117 ERA+

Lohse matched his career best walk rate (1.6), so his control was still present, but he did give up 10 and seven more home runs than the two respective years prior.

So was the signing worth it for Milwaukee?

You can’t truly ever assess what was lost in the draft pick, and the team suffered collectively through that May and ended up with just 74 wins. Well, Lohse is still on the team for this 2014 run and didn’t cost another draft pick. But more than that, Lohse was routinely named by his new teammates as a leader who was willing to share what he had learned over a long career and downs and ups.

For a team that ended up relying on a calvacade of young players who were inexperienced at the big league level and for a team that dealt with many major injuries and a couple of off-the-diamond problems as well, Lohse’s steadying guidance was extremely valuable. The team will be better for it in the long run.

Post another solid season on a team and with a bit more luck, his leadership and performance could be worth far more than one extra draft pick ever could be.

2014 is a year full of potential for the Milwaukee Brewers. Lohse will be at the forefront of it all as the Brewers look to make some noise in a tough NL Central.

Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:

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