The Lohse Legacy


Some dude whose name might as well be Not-Matt Damon. 
  • Some dude whose name might as well be Not-Matt Damon. 
Okay, so it isn't exactly as exciting as The Bourne Legacy, but it works better from an alliterative angle, right? Of course it does. Plus, so far as I know, Jeremy Renner isn't any good at baseball. So we've got that going for us right off the bat. (If Jeremy Renner is actually an ex-minor league ballplayer, a la Randy Savage, I apologize for the oversight.) 

Kyle Lohse's time in St. Louis has, almost assuredly, come to an end. Given the Cardinals' rotation situation for next season, the finances of the team, and the contract Lohse himself is likely to command, it just doesn't appear there's much chance he will wear a Cardinal uniform in 2012. And that's okay, really. The player will move on, and so will the team. 

And so ends five years of Kyle Lohse as a Redbird. So what kind of legacy does he leave behind? (Besides a decidedly non-secret agent-y one, that is.) 

Kyle Lohse's final start for the Cardinals was not, to put it lightly, a particularly good one. He started game seven of the recently-completed (that is to say, recently lost), National League Championship Series, allowing five runs on six hits and a walk in just two innings. So, you know, kind of rough. 

It was an ugly final performance, and the kind that could really leave a bad taste in the mouth of, well, pretty much anyone who happened to see it. (Short of Giants fans, perhaps, damn their very eyes.) And that's a real shame, that the most lasting impression we all have of Kyle Lohse, his entire half-decade of service to the team, may be watching him self-destruct when the Cardinals needed him the most. 

Wait. Is that right? A half of a decade? Good lord, it can't have been that long that Lohse has pitched for the Cards, can it? 

It's odd, but Lohse's tenure here has been almost entirely under the radar. It certainly doesn't feel like five years, does it? Of course, part of that could be the fact he was hurt and pitched only partial season two of those years, but a bigger part is simply where Lohse fit in with the Cardinals. He was never the star attraction, no matter what. A pleasant surprise, yes, and a contract to be discussed and dissected, but there were always bigger names on the pitching staff, bigger concerns with the team. Lohse was just kind of...there. 

He first came to the Redbirds in 2008, having signed a lowball offer of unbelievable proportions. He was seen as a career underachiever to that point, having bounced around a bit the previous two seasons and never having quite lived up to the talent he showed coming up through the Minnesota Twins' system. He and his agent, Scott Boras, thought he deserved a big multi-year contract. The market disagreed. He signed with the Cards in spring training for the less than princely sum (though only by baseball player standards), of $4.25 million. 

Lohse was really, really good that year, too. He compiled a 15-6 record, 3.78 ERA, and 3.89 FIP for the season, all personal bests. He talked up working with Dave Duncan and outperformed his contract by a sizable amount. The dollar amount to buy a win on the open market has been in the $4.5 million range for a while now; by that standard his 3.1 WAR in 2008 was an enormous bargain, worth somewhere in the 13-15 million dollar range. 

Following that career year, John Mozeliak and the Cardinals decided they just couldn't bear to let him go, and doubled down on their wildly successful bet, inking Lohse to a four year deal worth $41 million. Actually, come to think of it, that's not really doubling down, is it? That's, like, quadrupling down. Or something. 

Made up nomenclature aside, the reaction to the Lohse contract was generally pretty negative. Scribes and analysts such as yours truly questioned the wisdom of signing a player to a long-term deal coming off a contract year entering his 30s. You caught lightning in a bottle with the guy in '08, we argued, why would you now pay full value for the bottle? 

And then, a funny thing happened. Kyle Lohse was, for the first two years of his contract, a serious bust. But not in the way we all thought he would be. I think most of us believed he would just be the same inconsistent, slightly better than average pitcher he had been the whole of his career, all while collecting a salary somewhat above his station. But Lohse didn't do that. Lohse got hurt. 

It was the one outcome I didn't expect at all, I have to admit. Lohse's biggest selling point up until 2009 was his durability; right up until the time he came down with a freak injury that literally never happens to baseball players, an injury to his forearm that cost him the better part of two seasons. 

Regardless of how it came to be, 2009 and '10 were disastrous years for Lohse and the Cardinals, value-wise. He made roughly $16 million over those two seasons, and was worth a total of 1.5 wins above replacement. So, about $7 million in value for $16 million in salary. It looked like the skeptics were completely right, albeit in a way no one really anticipated. 

But over the past two sesaons, Lohse has come back healthy, and he's actually been pretty good. Not just good for Kyle Lohse, but really good. Particularly this season. 

In 2011, Lohse was worth 2.5 wins. In 2012, he was worth a pretty fantastic 3.6. That's not Cy Young material (no matter what some people lobbying for Lohse as a candidate might want to tell you), but it's really, really good. A 2.86 ERA and 3.51 FIP are both more than respectable. Kyle Lohse was the de facto ace of this year's staff, to be completely honest. As strange as that still feels to say. 

Lohse made $23.75 million the past two seasons, and contributed 6.1 WAR to the cause in that time. That $4.5 million per marginal win mark is probably a little low now, but you're still looking at something like $27-30 million in value. That's good -- and a bit of a bargain -- but not the kind of huge windfall that's going to change a team's fortunes. Even pitching at the very top of his personal form, Kyle Lohse was a modest bargain the past two seasons. 

So that four year deal looks something like this: $41 million spent, 7.6 wins in value added. Depending on where exactly you want to stick the sliding scale, those 7.6 wins could be worth anywhere between $34.2 and $38 million on the open market. So, overall, the Cards probably overpaid him a little. Not a disaster of a contract, certainly, but a little bit of an overpay by Mo and Co. 

Ah, but wait! you say. That's ignoring the bargain the Redbirds got that first season, when Lohse made relative peanuts and had a career year for them. And, well, you would be right. I'm trying to get a handle on Lohse's St. Louis legacy here, not the legacy of the contract he signed alone. 

Adding in that first year, we get something like a 5 year, $45 million deal for Lohse. (I'm rounding down slightly, because decimals piss me off.) Over those five seasons, he contributed 10.7 wins above replacement, which isn't too bad, all things considered. You can average that out to just slightly above league average (2 WAR, give or take), which is...roughly what we expected. Just a bizarre path getting there, you know? 

Take those 10.7 wins, feed them into the old calculator, and you get...roughly 48 million dollars in value. (Well, on the low end; it could be as high as $53 million or so if you wanted to be really, really generous.) I don't mind rounding that up to $50 million; we're dealing in abstracts anyway, so what's a few million dollars between friends? 

Five years. A salary of $45 million (roughly), and a value of $50 million (roughly). It's really not fair to boil down a player's whole time with a team to just a couple numbers, I'm sure, but that's what I'm doing. And you know what? I'm okay with that. 

Kyle Lohse pitched for the Cardinals for five years. Half a decade. He took a circuitous and strange path at times, failing at the one thing he had previously succeeded at, but succeeding beyond himself at other times. And in the end, he gave the Redbirds about what they paid for. He wasn't a bargain, even figuring in that first season when he absolutely was. But he also wasn't a bad signing. For five years he pitched here and ended up being almost exactly what he was paid to be. 

The last half decade will never be known as the Kyle Lohse Era, except perhaps in pithy columns by pithy columnists like me, making light of either the team or the player. (Isn't that just the worst, by the way?) He was never the star, sitting behind other pitchers like Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. And even when he was hurt, he was never the biggest hole the team had. He was always just a guy getting paid a little more than we thought he should be to be a goodish pitcher. 

Sounds about right, doesn't it? Kyle Lohse's legacy will likely be fairly easy to overlook. But that's okay. He was pretty much exactly what the Cardinals paid him to be, which is to say he was pretty much exactly what they needed. 

And that's not a bad legacy to leave behind at all. 

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.