The St. Louis Cardinals have settled on Kyle Lohse. They're just the first of what will be a long line of National League teams annually making this nervous Wild Card decision—which starter gets the entire season dropped onto his back for a one-game playoff?—and they've already demonstrated the kind of controversies it will create. Do you go with the hot hand that week? That year? That decade? To the chagrin of the sabermetrically inclined and Adam Wainwright fans everywhere, the Cardinals answered that question "year" on Wednesday.
Lohse, 33 and at the end of a four-year contract that looked like a millstone as late as 2010, is undoubtedly having the best season of his career, even if that 16-3 record feels a little less than accurate. Over a career-high 211 innings his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 3.76, eighth in the National League and more than a strikeout-and-a-half over his usual; his ERA is 2.86, another career high.
But if you look closely, Wainwright might be the best bet in a one-game playoff. His 3.94 ERA and 14-13 record bely a true-talent performance strikingly similar to his 2009-2010 run as a Cy Young candidate. His FIP (fielding-independent pitching) of 3.10 is better than Lohse's 3.54 mark, and seventh in all of baseball, between Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke. xFIP, a cousin of FIP that attempts to adjust for variations in home runs allowed, thinks Lohse has been a little gopherball-lucky besides.
But none of that matters until after the play-in game on Friday. After that, give or take the rest of October, we'll have an entire offseason to second-guess the Cardinals' decision or FIP, depending. Until then, it's time to hope Kyle Lohse can outduel Kris Medlen, another guy who's overperforming FIP.