Kyle Lohse And The Light Workload Of A Cy Young Candidate

PITTSBURGH, PA: Kyle Lohse #26 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the game. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Kyle Lohse is a surprise Cy Young contender, but he's also surprising because of how the Cardinals have been using him.

Kyle Lohse will probably make six more starts. There's also a chance he could pitch in the play-in game to the play-in game for the playoff game to reach the playoffs, and those first two might count in the regular-season ledger.

Kyle Lohse is 14-2, and his 2.64 ERA currently ranks third in the National League.

I guess what I'm getting at, and hear me out, is that Kyle Lohse has a chance to win the Cy Young Award.

I see the delegates from Minnesota are leaving in disgust. Hold on a sec. Since Lohse joined the Cardinals in 2008, he's had three healthy seasons, and two injury-marred seasons. He's been excellent when healthy, and waiver bait when pitching through injuries. But he's mostly been quite good, and this has been going on for a while now. In 2012, though, he's having his best season yet.

Johnny Cueto is the favorite for the award. He leads the league in wins and ERA, and he's somehow allowed fewer than 10 home runs while pitching half his games in Cincinnati. And there are others who could put together a dominant stretch to take over that lead, like R.A. Dickey or Matt Cain. So let's not overstate Lohse's case.

But it wouldn't take a court order or a miracle to make Lohse the favorite. If Cueto has a couple of bad outings -- or one horrific outing -- his delicate ERA would shoot up. And if Lohse continues pitching well, he could finish at 18-2, or 16-3, or some sort of record that looks mighty impressive. It's 2012, and the Cy Young voters aren't supposed to care about win-loss records these days, but they'll always be suckers for a "2" or a "3" in that loss column.

Lohse would be, quite possibly, the weirdest Cy Young winner ever. Not just because it wasn't that long ago that he was on the cover of Generic Innings-Eater Quarterly at least once every year. But because of how the Cardinals have handled him.

  • He's pitched into the eighth inning five times, the last time on July 2, but he hasn't finished an eighth inning this year. Not once.
  • He has 11 starts this season in which he's pitched six innings or fewer, but none where he's been knocked out before completing five.
  • He's thrown 100 or more pitches in just eight of his 27 starts this season, and his season high is just 107 pitches.

Lohse is a Cy Young candidate, but he's also been treated like few pitchers in baseball this season. For comparison, Stephen Strasburg has thrown 2,443 pitches this season, and Adam Wainwright has thrown 2,546. Lohse has thrown 2,541, Matt Cain has thrown 2,770, and Cueto has thrown 2,886. Lohse has been treated more like the pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery than the typical ERA leaders.

Mike Matheny certainly must be tempted to push one of his better pitchers deeper into games, especially with the Cardinals bullpen being dodgy at times this season, but he's resisted. And whatever the Cardinals are doing, it's working. Lohse has dealt with forearm strains in his career, and they've often been preceded by stretches of miserable pitching. The Cardinals are probably figuring a fresh Lohse is a healthy Lohse, and it sure looks like they're on to something. You pace the Lohse in your wins, or else you get hosed again.

Kyle Lohse, Cy Young candidate. Feels weird to type. Feels weird to read. But he's a legitimate candidate, and probably in no small part because of how the Cardinals have handled him. I wonder if more teams will identify pitchers like Lohse, who seem to benefit greatly from lighter workloads, or if he'll remain an anomaly. With the success he's been having, though, you have to wonder if the six/seven-inning specialist is soon going to be all the rage.

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