Sunday, May 3, 2009

Scouting Report: Cardinals at Nationals (5/3)

Mother Nature is conspiring to help us enjoy our one-game win streak for another day.

Here's my look at the Cardinals' series finale starter and prediction.
You can check out my preview of the series here for breakdowns on their hitters and bullpen.

On the Mound
Kyle Lohse: Lohse is a guy who for years has been considered a solid fourth starter, nothing more, nothing less. There's a bit of a reevaluation happening though, as he's putting together his third straight year of declining ERA. As of today, he's sitting on a 1.97 ERA through his first 32 innings pitched.

Lohse is a groundball pitcher (45.8% last year) who doesn't walk anyone (2.21 per 9) but doesn't strike anyone out either (5.36). He's the kind of pitcher who's particularly vulnerable to the inherent randomness of the game, as balls in play, especially those on the ground, have a tendency to fluctuate pretty wildly in their results (whereas walks and strikeouts are always walks and strikeouts).

In his case, he's gone from homer-friendly parks in Cincy and Philly to St. Louis. Strangely, his HR/FB rate was always pretty far below what you'd expect for a neutral park, nevermind the bandboxes. He hasn't been over 10% since 2005, and you normally expect this rate to be closer to 11%. This year, he's down at 3.2%, which surely won't last. His BABIP last year was a little low for a groundballer (.303), but this year it's way way down at .252, which also surely won't last, especially given that the Cardinals have probably the worst middle-infield defense in baseball (sorry Skip, I do so admire the effort, if not the results).

But it's not fair to just call this all luck. He has cut his walk rate by about a walk per 9 since his days in Minnesota. The advanced metrics that measure controllable pitcher skills show real progress, as his tRA* has fallen from 5.35 in Cincy in '07 to 4.94 last year to 4.53 in the early going this year. Still, you'd expect a guy with those numbers to have an ERA in the low to mid-4s, not under 2. Me, I'm not sold on Lohse as anything more than a mediocre guy enjoying a modest career peak.

Fearless Prediction
Season record: 15-9
Mostly it looks like they're not going to get this one in. If they do, I'll say the Cardinals bounce back and take the finale 5-3.

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