National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey received considerable extra attention in 2012 due to the fact he experienced his breakout season at age 37. Yet Dickey’s success, in his 10th year as a major leaguer, had much to do with his late-career adoption and mastery of the knuckleball.
Like Dickey, St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse had a tremendous season on the mound in 2012. Like Dickey, Lohse received his first-ever Cy Young Award votes, but in his case, it took even longer. 2012 was Lohse’s 12th season as a major leaguer.
Like Dickey, Lohse underwent a successful mound transformation while in the majors, through less dramatic than adopting the knuckler. 2012 represented the culmination of his having earlier embraced the ground ball philosophy of long-time coach Dave Duncan. That helped enable Lohse to win 55 games while posting a .611 winning percentage in five seasons as a Cardinal.
The California native put together his best year as a professional this past season after having received the honor of starting on Opening Day. A major contributor was the fact that Lohse remained fully healthy for the first time since 2009, the first season of his four-year, $41 million contract that has now concluded.
In 2012, Lohse posted career highs in wins (16), win percentage (.842) and strikeouts (143). When his team needed his veteran leadership due to Adam Wainwright’s uneven return after missing 2011 and Chris Carpenter’s injury, Lohse stepped up. He pitched a career-high 211 innings in the regular season, with personal bests in ERA (2.86) and WHIP (1.09).
The 34-year-old was durable, leading the Cardinals in starts (33 – tied for most in the National League), quality starts (24) and tied for most average innings per start on the staff (6 1/3), despite receiving less run support than the team average. His .842 winning percentage was not only the best in team history; it also led all of Major League Baseball.
Lohse ranked in the top ten in the NL in wins, quality starts, ERA, innings pitched, WHIP, fewest walks per nine innings (1.62) and best strikeout to walk ratio (3.76). Plus, he was 11th in opponent batting average (.239). The right-hander contributed in other areas as well. Lohse finished fifth in the NL in sacrifice bunts with 12 and was even called upon to pinch hit.
He fielded his position flawlessly for the second consecutive season. In fact, Lohse has not made an error since May 2010, with his active streak of 105 errorless chances the longest current stretch by any MLB pitcher.
A playoff disappointment in 2011, Lohse got out to a strong start this October. He won the Wild Card game over Atlanta, then pitched seven innings against Washington in the Division Series, allowing just two hits and one run. In the Cardinals’ Game 3 win in the Championship Series over San Francisco, Lohse went 5 2/3 innings on one run.
What was stacking up to be a dominating post-season was brought down to earth by his season-worst outing in the NLCS Game 7. With the Cardinals’ season on the line once again, Lohse lasted just two innings this time. He allowed five runs, all earned, on six hits as the Giants went on to a 9-0 win. Prior to then, Lohse had never gone less than five innings in an outing all season long, while the five runs tied his worst single-game result in 2012.
Following the post-season, the Cardinals made Lohse a qualifying offer on a one-year contract for 2013 at $13.3 million. When he declined as expected, the Cardinals became eligible for a compensation pick in the 2013 draft when he signs elsewhere.
As part of his trade from New York to Toronto, Dickey received a two-year, $25 million contract extension. Now it is Lohse’s turn to cash in. He has earned it.