From 2011-2013, Kyle Lohse ranked 15th among all MLB starting pitchers with 41 wins, 16th with a 3.19 ERA, 14th with a 1.14 WHIP and sixth with a 1.75 BB/9. Despite being so good for so long, fantasy baseball owners were still reluctant to take the Milwaukee Brewers‘ ace early in fantasy drafts this season.
According to ESPN’s ADP, Lohse was the 75th starting pitcher taken on draft day, way behind guys like Zack Wheeler, Tony Cingrani and Danny Salazar.
Why the hesitation? Is it time for fantasy owners to conquer their Lohseaphobia?
There’s no cut-and-dry explanation as to why owners have historically shied away from Lohse, but I think it’s a culmination of factor.: He’s a veteran pitcher who struggled mightily early in his career (he had seven seasons with an ERA of 4.60 or higher between 2001-2010, including a 6.55 ERA in 2010). Even during this period of new-found success, he’s had a very below-average strikeout rate.
Fantasy owners generally dislike owning starting pitchers who don’t rack up strikeouts. The argument against Lohse is that if you start him, and he gets rocked, you get absolutely nothing out of him compared to a pitcher who can at least tally 5-6 strikeouts during a bad six-inning start.
That argument doesn’t work though if the pitcher in question never gets rocked. Since the start of 2011, Lohse has allowed three runs or fewer in 79.4 percent of his starts. To put that in perspective, over the same time period, Clayton Kershaw has allowed three runs or fewer in 84.9 percent of his starts, David Price in 75 percent of his, Max Scherzer in 72.5 percent of his, and Felix Hernandez in 71.8 percent of his.
In terms of keeping offensive players from scoring, Lohse isn’t just a good pitcher, he’s an elite pitcher.
Lohse is at it again in 2014. He’s on pace to have the best year of his career. He currently sports a 2.60 ERA (backed by a 3.29 FIP) to go with a 1.00 WHIP, and he’s getting strikeouts. His career-high 7.05 K/9 is still below average, but it’s much more respectable than his 5.70 career rate.
Lohse is currently the eighth starting pitcher on ESPN’s player rater and as long as he maintains his current strikeout rate, there’s a very strong chance he finishes 2014 as a top-20 starting pitcher; and if he doesn’t, he’s still going to finish as a top-40 starting pitcher with elite ratios.