It has been a rough season for Kyle Lohse and the Brewers. The team entered the season hoping that Lohse could anchor a rotation that could at least have a shot at the playoffs. Instead, he has been hit hard. In 20 starts covering 113 innings, he has posted a 6.29 ERA and a 5.01 FIP. While his strikeout (6.61 K/9) and walk (2.07 BB/9) rates have held steady, his home run rate has jumped to 1.83 HR/9, a total of 23 HR this season. His 16.1% HR/FB ratio is double what it was last season, and his ground ball rate has dropped to 37.3%. Some of that may be due to luck, but some of it is definitely a decline in Lohse himself. Given more time, Lohse may turn it around. However, should the Brewers give him the time to figure things out?
The Brewers current plans for Lohse's role in the rotation remain unchanged. Despite his start yesterday, Craig Counsell said after the game that they are sticking with Lohse in the rotation for now based on his track record. It is true that Lohse's track record has been good, and looking at some of his peripheral stats, it makes you wonder if there is a chance for him to turn it around. However, it's not necessarily in the Brewers best interests to give him that time. If the Brewers stick with a five-man rotation, Lohse will make around 13 more starts in 2015 before becoming a free agent. Could those starts be better used to help some of the young pitchers?
Despite the Brewers recent surge, the outlook for the rest of the season remains mostly unchanged. The Brewers will sell at the deadline and won't compete for a playoff spot this year. Maybe a continued surge puts them back into the playoff picture as a fringe contender, but it's something that they can't bet on. Kyle Lohse will be a free agent at the end of the season, and his performance makes him unlikely to be traded. At the same time, the Brewers have some young talent (Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann) that could benefit from the extra playing time. If the Brewers stick with a five-man rotation after Peralta's return, Jungmann will likely get sent back to Colorado Springs, where he struggled earlier this season. That isn't in his best interests for development. Keeping him in the majors would be much better.
I'm going to be a little harsh here: The Brewers should just cut their losses with Lohse now. There's nothing left to gain. He has put up two quality starts in his last eleven starts. He hasn't pitched more than 6.1 innings in a start since May 15. If the Brewers do find a team willing to take a chance on him, it won't be for much more than a lottery ticket prospect, and that's if they take on some (or potentially all) of his remaining salary. Meanwhile, they will be eating up innings that could go to a young prospect who could use the experience. If the Brewers didn't have starters to fill the rotation, then holding on to Lohse would make some sense. It would also make sense if there was no depth in the minors in case of injury. However, they will be faced with a roster space issue very soon, and there are a few minor-league options (Tyler Cravy, Tyler Thornburg, Tyler Wagner) in case of injury. That needs to be the tipping point for making this decision.
I don't want to seem like I'm ungrateful for the work that Lohse has put in over the last few years. He put together two great seasons for the Brewers in years where they had hoped to contend for a playoff spot. His contract hasn't been a waste, like some past contracts have been for the Brewers. However, there's just not a place for Lohse in Milwaukee in the near future. By letting him go now, the Brewers may actually help him by giving him a chance to catch on with another team. Back in 2012, the Brewers did something similar with Randy Wolf. They released him on August 22, and he signed with the Orioles on August 31 for their playoff push (Wolf would only make five appearances, two of those being starts, before being shut down with a season-ending injury).
As the end of Lohse's time as a Brewer approaches (whether it is an in-season move or free agency at the end of the season), we should give him credit for all of the good he has done for this team. However, it's also time to realize that the Brewers need to move on, and that Lohse just isn't in the plans for the future.
Additional note: Noah pointed out an article to me from this morning in regards to Doug Melvin making a decision on Lohse. While he didn't specifically say anything, it sounds like the Brewers are considering their options. Here is a quote from the article:
One question that has been asked quite a bit has been about the immediate future of veteran right hander Kyle Lohse (5-11, 6.29 ERA). With Wily Peralta set to come off the disabled list before Lohse’s next turn in the rotation on Monday.
"Yeah, he’s had a tough year," Melvin said of Lohse. "We are going to have to make a decision to activate Willy for his start on…Monday. We are going to all have together and make a decision her over the next few days."