October 3, 2012 at 9:20 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
If you follow my posts over at FanGraphs, I pick a pitcher a week to dissect and figure out why they have been successful or have struggled this year compared to years past. The matchup in the wildcard game is particularly interesting considering how surprising both pitchers have been this season. Nobody expected Kris Medlen to be the team’s best pitcher at the start of the year, and nobody expected Kyle Lohse to record a 2.86 ERA over 33 starts. After all, Lohse is just two years removed from posting a 6.55 ERA over 18 starts, so his transformation has been just as surprising as Medlen’s stellar season. Here is what we should expect on Friday from the Cardinal’s starting pitcher.
Traditionally, Lohse features a sinker heavy arsenal with his four-seam fastball used at roughly a 10% frequency, which is similar to Medlen. His sinker heavy approach has allowed him to limit walks at a tremendous rate, as his 4.4% walk rate ranks fifth in the majors. What he has done differently this season is increase the usage of his slider. Usually, the increased usage of a breaking ball would correlate with a higher walk rate, but Lohse has shown tremendous command with all of his pitches this season and posted a walk rate lower than he ever has in his career. As he has been able to maintain such a stellar walk rate, the increased usage of his breaking ball has allowed him to post a career high strikeout rate of 16.6%. Together, his 3.76 strikeout-to-walk ratio is significantly higher than his previous career high of 2.89. He has shown a great ability to pound the zone and create enough strikeouts to post a strikeout-to-walk ratio that is far above a respectable level.
One interesting note is that despite throwing his sinker at such a high rate, his 40% ground ball rate is not something to write home about. This is where I believe the Braves will have to take advantage. Since he is such a high contact hitter, they will have to get a hold of the sinker and put it in the air. Lohse has done a solid job of limiting home runs this season, and the game will be played in a slight pitcher’s ballpark, so pushing one out of the stadium will be difficult. Even so, if they can elevate his sinker slightly they could put balls into the gaps and rely on rallies to score their runs. Lohse is going to throw strikes, so being aggressive is likely the best way to attack the sinkerballer. Even though his strikeout rate is higher than usual, compared to the rest of the league it is not entirely impressive. The Braves will make contact, they just need to hope the ball lands where the fielders aren’t.
I expect this to be a pitcher’s duel, despite the Cardinal’s big bats and right-handed heavy lineup, which should slightly neutralize Kris Medlen’s changeup — though he does throw it to pitcher’s of both handedness. Lohse and Medlen are similar pitchers in that they avoid free passes, so this game will come down to who avoids hitting the ball to fielders the best. My money is on Medlen.