Yes, it's exceptionally strange that Kyle Lohse is still searching for gainful employment. Tuesday, Buster Olney offered a couple of reasons (via Twitter) for Lohse's situation:
Longtime MLB evaluator believes part of the reason he thinks Kyle Lohse hasn't landed with AL team is because of ugly AL history (4.88 ERA). Same evaluator also had this point: "When's the last time you saw a pitcher leave St. Louis and do well elsewhere?" The Dave Duncan effect.
I believe in the Dave Duncan Effect when it comes to pitchers who joined the St. Louis Cardinals. However, I've never studied the question of what happened to pitchers who left the St. Louis Cardinals. Then again, even if there were such an effect on outgoing Cardinals, its relevance in this case is questionable, for the simple reason that Dave Duncan wasn't the St. Louis Cardinals' pitching coach last season.
Still, it's an interesting question. To answer it, I went to Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index and made a list of all the St. Louis starting pitchers from 2001 through 2011 with at least 30 starts in a season and an ERA+ of at least 100 (that is, National League-average). There were 25 such pitcher-seasons ... but only a dozen pitchers. And most of them are irrelevant. Here are the 12:
Adam Wainwright (still with Cardinals)
Chris Carpenter (hasn't pitched since Cardinals)
Darryl Kile (died while a Cardinal)
Matt Morris (relevant)
Jeff Suppan (relevant)
Joel Pineiro (relevant)
Mark Mulder (retired as Cardinal)
Jason Marquis (terrible before leaving Cardinals)
Todd Wellemeyer (terrible before leaving Cardinals)
Woody Williams (relevant)
Braden Looper (relevant)
So we've got five 21st Century starting pitchers -- Morris, Suppan, Piñeiro, Williams, and Looper -- who were truly successful with the Cardinals, then left for another club. Let's take them one at a time. When possible, I'll compare their last two seasons as a Cardinal with their first two seasons elsewhere; otherwise I'll go with just one season if that's all there is. I'm going to look at two metrics: strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) and ground-ball percentage; the former because it's the most meaningful metric for pitchers generally, and the latter because Duncan was known for teaching his pitchers to keep the ball on the ground, and thus out of the stands.
Woody Williams pitched well for the Cardinals in 2003 and '4, then spent two seasons with the Padres. His strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped by 17 percent, his ground-ball percentage dropped by 14 percent.
Matt Morris pitched well for the Cardinals in 2004 and '5, then pitched for the Giants and the Pirates. His strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped by 31 percent, his ground-ball percentage dropped by 2 percent.
Jeff Suppan pitched well for the Cardinals in 2005 and '6, then pitched for the Brewers. His strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped by just 1 percent, his ground-ball percentage dropped by 7 percent.
Braden Looper pitched decently for the Cardinals in 2007 and '8, then pitched poorly for the Brewers in 2009 (but somehow managed to go 14-7 that season). His strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped by 18 percent; his ground-ball percentage actually rose by 2 percent.
Joel Piñeiro pitched decently for the Cardinals in 2008 and '9, then pitched for the Angels. His strikeout-to-walk ratio dropped by 20 percent, his ground-ball percentage dropped by 21 percent. Switching to the American League would have made Piñeiro's job harder, but not that much harder.
The last time a starting pitcher left St. Louis and did well elsewhere? I don't know. I haven't found one yet. But it's been a long time. A few of these guys did okay after leaving St. Louis, but all of them fell off some. As a group, they allowed 4.6 runs per nine innings in the two seasons before leaving St. Louis, and 5.1 runs per nine innings in the two seasons after (or in Looper's case, one season after).
That does not seem like a huge difference. It's a 13-percent difference, though. And you can understand a team not wanting to pay the market rate for a big-time starting pitcher if his performance is going to drop by 13 percent.
Of course, we're looking at a sample of only five pitchers ... none of whom were as consistently good over their last two seasons with the Cardinals as Lohse has been. I'm not saying all these numbers are irrelevant. Even considering that Dave Duncan wasn't actually the Cardinals' pitching coach last season, I do expect Lohse's strikeout-to-walk ratio and ground-ball percentage to drop some this season (if he does pitch). Just a little, though.
That's not the problem. I doubt if many teams have spent much time worrying about the Dave Duncan Effect. I suspect that more of them are concerned, not with the possibility that Lohse's percentages will drop, but rather that they'll stay where they've been. Because they haven't been all that great. Here's what the new edition of Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster says about Lohse:
Minor skills boost, but significantly outperformed xERA again. Ctl is legit, but not THIS good, and history says not to trust 2H Dom spike. Sterling W-L record will not repeat, and S% likely to regress. Sure, he's an effective MLB starter--not PQS splits--but let someone else pay for this year's inflated price tag.
Now, a lot of that might be gobbledygook to you. But that advice at the end to fantasy owners seems to have been followed by 30 major-league general managers, at least to this point. It's not that nobody wants Kyle Lohse; I suspect that every team in the majors would love to have Kyle Lohse. I also suspect that Kyle Lohse and his agent are trying to get paid like a pitcher who's 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA over the last two seasons. And nobody loves Lohse enough to pay him for what he's done; they want to pay him for what he's likely to do. Which is post an ERA closer to 4 than 3.