A lot of people, myself included, were pretty irate when the Brewers forfeited their first round draft pick last year to sign Kyle Lohse. If not because they didn't like Lohse, then because they didn't see the logic in losing the pick. One can still argue losing the pick wasn't worth it, but there's no debating Lohse's effectiveness. He was the Brewers best starting pitcher last year and he may very well end up in the same position this year. In fact, so far he's not only been better this year, he might be having the best season of his career.
I joked early on about Kyle Lohse's new found strikeout ability because I naturally assumed it was a mere product of small sample size. Lohse has made 11 starts now, which is one third of his season, and his strikeout rate is still much higher than any previous season. He's striking out 7.18 batters per nine which equates to 19.7% off all batters faced. His previous highs were 6.89 K/9 and 17.1 K%. For his career he has struck out 5.7 batters per nine or 14.8% of total batters faced.
As good as his K% has been, it would be even better if not for a 3 game rough stretch. In that rough stretch he had strikeout rates of 7.7%, 8.0%, and 7.4%. Those three games were in a row and the next two games saw his K% jump back up. That might suggest he had trouble with his command or something else, but then fixed whatever was wrong. So far those games are the outlier and if he can avoid more stretches like that we could even see his strikeout rate jump up. That might be hoping for too much though, we'll have to wait and see.
In addition to that his walk rate has dropped to the lowest of his career, tied with his best full season (2012) where he walked 4.4% of total batters faced. His current K%-BB% is by far a career best at 15.4%. His second best mark (12.2%) also came from that 2012 season. It's interesting and encouraging to note that his third best mark (11%) came last season. That suggests this may be more of a trend than a fluke.
His batting average against this year is .235. His current WHIP is 1.08. His previous best where a .234 BAA and a 1.09 WHIP. Those are both from that 2012 season again.
From that season: 2.86 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 3.96 xFIP. From this season: 2.92 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 3.53 xFIP. In 2012 he started 33 games and threw 211 inning (6.39 IP/Start). That innings pitched per start ratio was the best of his career. So far this season he has started 11 games and thrown 74 innings (6.72 IP/Start).
And finally, I've often criticized fWAR for undervaluing pitchers like Lohse who are intentionally pitching to contact. Whatever you think of it, right now fWAR has Lohse on pace for his best season ever by the metric. One-third of the way through the season he has a 1.2 fWAR. Assuming he pitches 33 starts that means he's on pace for a 3.6 fWAR season. His previous high water mark was 3.4 fWAR in 2012. It's a marginal difference, but it just wraps everything up so nicely.
When you see such a change in a pitcher's profile, you want to look to see if he's doing things differently. A quick glance at Lohse's pitch usage shows me that he's using his four seam fastball (only 4.8% of the time!) and change-up less than ever and his slider more than ever. Brooks Baseball shows he's getting the most WHIFFS on his slider and change-up. Maybe he's saving the change-up as a sort of surprise out pitch? Brooks shows he uses it most with two strikes and when he's ahead of the batter, especially to left handed hitters.
A third of the way through Lohse's season isn't exactly a small sample size anymore, but it's also not enough time to make a definitive assessment. Every thing we look at to judge a pitcher is going good right now. He's pitching deeper into games than ever. He's striking guys out way more than ever. He's giving up walks at a career low rate. Even FIP and fWAR like him more than they ever have before. If Lohse keeps this up there's no doubt in my mind this is going to be his best season. With two-thirds of the year left anything can happen, but I like what I see.
Except where otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.