I have no real reason to think that Kyle Lohse is hurt. The fact that Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan let him pitch deep into a failing outing makes me think that there’s nothing physically wrong with him. He did seem remarkably detached from what he was doing as the game progressed but that’s a very subjective assessment on my part and one that, admittedly, may not be fair.
That said, we’ve seen players hit the DL with what many outside the clubhouse perceive to be phantom illnesses. Whether that’s to let them rest or get some mental things worked out, it’s tacitly accepted among MLB. So if that were the case, who would be the option to come up from Memphis? This also assumes that the Cardinals wouldn’t want to simply give Kyle McClellan, Mitchell Boggs or Blake Hawksworth a spot start but they seem content with those three in the pen. On to the stats!
Shall we start with the obvious? Rich Hill wasn’t getting it done in the starting rotation and was pushed to the pen with the return of PJ Walters.
Speaking of Walters, he’s been sharp since his return to Memphis. With him on the 40-man roster, he’s certainly a candidate to be considered. From a ‘stuff’ standpoint, I worry about PJ being able to keep pace with major league hitters. I’d be inclined to look elsewhere but this would be a judgment call from the Cardinals front office.
Evan MacLane has been a tremendous workhorse for Memphis. Like Walters, I think his performance would suffer greatly with the step up to the majors.
Brandon Dickson has been very good to start the year. FIP is likely to under represent his true talent as a pitcher assuming the high GB% is not a fluke but skill. When I’ve seen Dickson in person, he was underwhelming but this is exactly the type of pitcher profile that seems to excel under Duncan. The overall line though looks like a pitcher who doesn’t quite have everything worked out at AAA. If you translate the line (MLE), it turns ugly quickly (5.29 FIP). Dickson is someone to watch for 2011 but he’s very unlikely to impact the team this year.
And then there were two. Lance Lynn’s* good looking FIP is a product of his HR rate (or lack thereof). The walk rate is not something you’d want to see promoted to the majors where balls are likely to leave the park when he’s forced to groove pitches or continue to walk batters. Lynn may be an option in the second half of the year but he hasn’t been that sharp to date.
Which leaves me with Ottavino. He’s long on stuff and thin on dominating minor league performances. He’s off to a very good start this year that’s obscured by some pitches that left the yard. His command is as good as it’s ever been, he’s generating groundballs and continues to strike out hitters. He’s already on the 40-man roster so you aren’t burning an option year. It’s also a good scenario to get Ottavino a look at the majors. 2-3 starts, working with Dave Duncan and Marty Mason, an improved defense behind him. All these things would give the Cardinals a chance to look at whether he’s a viable candidate for the future in the starting rotation.
I’d unquestionably pick Ottavino right now to replace Lohse, if I had to. Based on their past comments of Walters, the front office still believes he could be a major league starter and in all probability he’s ahead of Ottavino on the depth chart. The reality is that if you look at Ottavino’s MLE right now (arguably when he’s pitching at his best of the last few years) and compare it to Lohse (arguably when he’s pitching at his worst), Ottavino still comes out behind: 5.65 MLE FIP versus a 4.77 xFIP for Lohse**. Unless there’ something physically wrong with Lohse, the Cardinals are unlikely to make any change in the near term.
*This doesn’t include Lynn’s 5/12 start.
**Small sample size caveats apply. I’m using these stats to try and penalize Lohse and give Ottavino the benefit. The stats aren’t predictive in this sample.