Since signing a four-year, $41 million contract at the end of the 2008 season, St. Louis pitcher Kyle Lohse has limped home more often than not with a ragged 6-13 record and a 4.97 ERA to show for his efforts. The current trend is not positive as it includes an 0-3, 5.68 start to his 2010.
It is quite a contrast to his results during his first season in the Cardinals uniform. In 2008, Lohse went 15-6, 3.78, parlaying it into his big payday.
Timing is everything, as they say. In his seven prior seasons with three major league clubs, Minnesota, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, Lohse’s numbers were below league-average, a 63-74 record and a 4.82 ERA.
In securing his big contract to remain with St. Louis, Lohse bucked the trend of veteran pitchers who moved on after posting unusual success with the club. After the Cardinals did not retain them, more often than not, these departing hurlers slipped back into past patterns.
Names that come to mind that fit the model from recent seasons include Jeff Weaver, now in the Dodgers bullpen, unsigned Braden Looper and perhaps Joel Pineiro, 3-4 with a 3.71 ERA eight games into his Angels contract.
Another is former Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan. Though he and Lohse were never St. Louis teammates, in my mind the two are closely linked.
The reasons? Their current contracts are almost identical in amount and duration as were their results, pre- and post-St. Louis. Further, each shaved a run off their career ERA with the Cardinals only to see a return to their former level (or worse) after their initial St. Louis success.
The difference? The Cardinals did not live to regret giving four years and $42 million to Suppan. The Milwaukee Brewers did.
Prior to joining St. Louis, Suppan was remarkably Lohse-like with a 62-75 record with a 4.90 ERA logged with four clubs, Boston, Arizona, Kansas City and Pittsburgh.
As a result, coming in, expectations for Suppan were moderate and like Lohse would later do in 2008, he exceeded them. As a Cardinal from 2004-06, Suppan was an aggregate 44-26, 3.95. Yet when it came time to write the big check, St. Louis passed.
Now after three-plus seasons in the Brewers rotation, Suppan has recently been reassigned to the bullpen. Since joining Milwaukee, “Soup” is 29-35 with a 4.98 ERA. His .453 winning percentage before and after St. Louis is identical and his ERA is remarkably close.
I am not suggesting these pitchers became complacent because they scored the big money. I am simply noting the similarities in each pitcher’s pre-Cardinals results and the marked erosion in their numbers post-contract.
In other words, Lohse has joined the “Soup” line – though he hasn’t yet made it all the way to the front.
At this point, the Cardinals have not shown any inclination to even consider moving Lohse out of the rotation. After all, he is only in the second year of his big deal. It took the Brewers over three years of frustrating outings every fifth day until they pulled the trigger and turned Suppan into a grossly-overpaid reliever. He is now in the fourth and final season of his Milwaukee contract.
For those who suggest a trade might be the solution, consider the unlikelihood that the Cardinals would be inclined to eat the almost three years of difference between Lohse’s contract and his current market value, not to mention having to first buy out his no-trade protection. Those high hurdles are likely the same reason Suppan has remained a Brewer.
The Cardinals put themselves in the Lohse soup and they have to try to find the way out together. They have almost three more years to refine the recipe, with the next opportunity at home on Monday night. Lohse takes the mound against Washington still looking for his first win in his eighth start of the season.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Brian pens a column each Wednesday at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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