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Lohse, Arbitration & Great Expectations

We all know Kyle got the better end of arbitration, as he was awarded $3.95 million to play in 2006.  Is it too much?

Minnesota had offered Lohse $3.4 million in arbitration.  Had you asked me at the time what I thought, I'd have told you one of two things:  Kyle Lohse isn't worth $3.4 million or it doesn't matter we'll be trading him anyway.  Now I'm thinking that getting Lohse for less than $4 million suits me just fine.

American League #4 Starters by salary

Name                Salary  Age
Carl Pavano     $9,000,000   29
Jose Contreras  $8,500,000   33
Jarrod Washburn $6,550,000   30
C.C. Sabathia   $5,250,000   24
David Wells     $4,075,000   42
Gil Meche       $2,535,000   26
Kyle Lohse      $2,400,000   26
Ryan Drese        $550,000   29
Erik Bedard       $330,000   26
Doug Waechter     $330,000U  24
David Bush        $327,000   25
D.J. Carrasco     $320,500U  28
Jeremy Bonderman  $320,500   22
Kirk Saarloos     $320,000E  26

U=2005 salary unavailable; 2004 salary listed
E=No salary information available; Estimate

These are your American League #4 starters in 2005 based on statistical performance.  I'll follow this table with statistical and objective analysis, but I wanted to introduce you to the list first.  Looking through the list, there aren't a whole lot of appealing options.  Pavano is too expensive; Wells is too old; Carrasco is lucky to be around; Drese is running out of chances; Sabathia's throwing motion will shorten his career and is still pissed about LeCroy beating him to the post-game buffet.

Out of the 14 men listed, there are only three I like.  One is Jarrod Washburn, but he's too expensive.  There's no way the Twins are dishing out over $6 million for a fourth starter.  Two is Jeremy Bonderman, but he's had a rought start in Detroit and may still be a year out from living up to his potential.  Three is Kyle Lohse.

When you're a crazy-nuts fan, like most of us are, it's hard to be as close and familiar with a team as we can be and still not judge players subjectively.  If we were to subjectively review Kyle Lohse, we're basing our judgements against not only a strong Minnesota pitching staff but also against our expectations for Lohse himself.  That will bring up a laundry list of criticisms:  there seems to be no poise on the mound; potential we saw in 2001 and 2002 has turned into little growth or maturity; superb stuff that hasn't been harnassed; unmet expectations; the ability to be amazingly inconsistant.  Everyone has their own grocery list, and I know I've had mine.

Below is the same list, this time with select statistics to give you a broad view of each pitcher's performance in 2005.

American League #4 Starters by 2005 Statistics

Name               IP   ERA   K/9   WHIP   OPS
C. Pavano       100.0  4.77  5.04   1.47  .864
J. Contreras    205.2  3.61  6.77   1.23  .678
J. Washburn     177.1  3.20  4.77   1.33  .749
C. Sabathia     197.2  4.03  7.37   1.26  .682
D. Wells        184.0  4.45  5.23   1.31  .765
G. Meche        143.1  5.09  5.21   1.57  .788
K. Lohse        179.2  4.18  4.33   1.43  .798
R. Drese        129.1  5.78  3.20   1.61  .815
E. Bedard       142.2  4.00  7.94   1.38  .694
D. Waechter     157.0  5.62  4.99   1.46  .843
D. Bush         136.1  4.49  4.95   1.25  .780
D. Carrasco     115.2  4.79  3.85   1.57  .786
J. Bonderman    189.0  4.57  6.91   1.35  .761
K. Saarloos     160.2  4.17  2.99   1.40  .736
AVERAGE         158.2  4.48  5.25   1.40  .767

In 2005, if you look at this list and consider them all #4 starters, the mean average salary was just a hair under $3,000,000.  If this is correct, then last year the Twins had a #4 starter at $600,000 below market value.  In positive return you received 20 extra innings of work, an ERA 0.40 lower than average, and WHIP is roughly a push.  On the downside Kyle's strikeout numbers are a little low and his OPS is 30 points above the mean.

A lot of the dilemma in giving Lohse a break is that he came on as a youngster in 2001 at the age of 22.  In 2002 he put together a decent year, and it set up the fan base to believe they had a brash, young right-hander who could become a number two starter in time.  But did he ever truly show that potential, or were our expectations just based on the flawed logic that he was a young gun at The Show?  Kyle's minor league numbers aren't bad, but they didn't necessarily fortell the most promise either.

Did Kyle Lohse deserve to win arbitration?

Basically, arbitration breaks down like this.  If you've had at least 3 years, no more than 6 years experience, and do not have a contract the following season, you are eligible for arbitration.  If you're in the top third of players at your position statistically, you're also eligible.  Both sides determine figures they deem fair, and go before 3 arbiters.  Organizations can offer no lower than 80% of the player's salary the previous year and no lower than 70% of the salary two years prior.

Relevant Salary

Year       Salary
2004     $395,000
2005   $2,400,000
2006   $3,950,000

Over the past two seasons, Lohse has gone to arbitration twice and has won twice.  In each case the Twins were offering him a raise, but the two sides couldn't agree on a number.  In 2005 each side couldn't close a $250,000 gap, and in the end Kyle got a $2 million dollar raise instead of a $1.75 million dollar raise.  This season he'll get a $1.5 million dollar raise instead of a $1 million dollar raise.  This tells me that while Minnesota recognizes the significance of Lohse's role in the rotation, they obviously didn't think he did as well as Kyle and his agent thought he did.

There's a reasonable man inside me somewhere insisting that paying Kyle $3.4 million would have been more than enough, but mostly that's the voice of a guy who thinks all athletes are overpaid.  Then there's the baseball man inside me who, the more he looks into it, thinks that paying $3.95 million for Lohse is very fair.  All things considered he did a very average job as the 4th man out of the rotation last season, and asking for what will be roughly $300-400K above average for a #4 starter in 2006 (with the abilities of Kyle Lohse) makes perfect sense.

He's 18-26 the past two seasons.  His innings pitched have declined the past two seasons.  Strikeout rates have dipped as well.  But at the back end of the rotation, for the talent you're getting and the numbers you're getting, you can't go much more inexpensive.  If you want better numbers, you'd have to overpay to get them. C.C. Sabathia's numbers were better across the board, but the Twins couldn't afford that salary.  Erik Bedard performed on the cheap, but he's the diamond in the rough from 2005.

Does Kyle Lohse deserve to win his second consecutive arbitration?  I believe he does.  He'll throw 180 innings, he'll have an ERA in the lower 4's, and there will be plenty of quality starts to bring on an air of "strokey beards" in all of us.  He's being paid more, and I expect him to improve accordingly.  Why can't we see this Kyle every game? we'll ask while scratching our chins.  There won't be any answers, but in that moment we'll be happy.

If Luis Rivas was the "Twin Most Likely To Get Ripped On" of 2005, who will get the nod in 2006?

Tony Batista      - 56 %  
Torii Hunter      -  2 %  
Jesse Crain       -  0 %  
Justin Morneau    -  8 %  
Michael Cuddyer   - 10 %  
Shannon Stewart   -  6 %  
Jason Bartlett    -  1 %  
Kyle Lohse        - 14 %  

I posted this poll a few weeks ago, and Lohse came in second.  In the heat of the moment, there's no doubt I'll be up in the mix.  But right now, while I can still be removed from the game, I'm objective.  Lohse ain't so bad.

[EDIT: If you do want to go more inexpensive, then you're probably forcing Liriano into the rotation early. This post is quite officially long enough, but it's an interesting question. Would you be willing to possibly rush Liriano to save the extra money? Lots of upside, lots to lose. IF he's put into the rotation and handles himself fine, do you get average numbers in 2006?]