Michael Lancelot Lynn (seriously, that's his full name) had a great year in 2014. He helped many fantasy teams with his stellar 2.74 ERA, 181 Ks, 15 wins, and 203 durable innings. He even cut his WHIP to 1.26, which is a good value for him. Despite that success, many in the fantasy industry are avoiding Lynn this year. This concern stems from two things:
1. Even though his overall numbers were very good, he struggled against lefties.
2. His xFIP was a mediocre 3.81 and his SIERA was 3.84. This means that he got lucky with stranded runners, homeruns staying in the park, and a low BABIP.
I'm not here to completely dispel those concerns, but I also don't believe he will regress all the way to an ERA of 3.8. Let's see why I believe that.
Numero uno, Lynn's overall strikeout rate was at a career low after seasons of 24.2% and 23.1%, he posted a rate of only 20.9%. Why is that a good thing? Well, for one thing, his velocity remained identical to 2013, so that didn't cause the drop in Ks. His fastball's swinging strike rate actually increased in 2014 to a very robust 10.3%. This is important because he throws that fastball 57% of the time. It was remarkable that he was able to fool more hitters with it in 2015 than 2014, since he only threw it 55.7% of the time in 2014. Keep in mind that 6.4% on a fourseam fastball is the league average swinging strike rate, so Lynn's fastball is elite. His dip in strikeouts is likely due to a drop in swinging strike rates for all of his secondary pitches.
Although his two-seamer dropped in swinging strikes, it actually increased in GB%, which helped him get easy outs. In fact, both his two-seamer and curveball produced well above average groundball rates of 67.7% and 64%, respectively. These were career highs for him on those pitches. All of the projection systems are predicting a bounce back in his strikeouts up to the 21-24% range. That's good news if he can keep his improved fastball whiffs and add back some of the secondary pitch whiffs he lost, along with the excellent groundball rates.
Numero dos, Lynn set a three-year low in walk rate at a league-average 8.3%. If he can keep those gains in control and get some strikeouts back, he will be in excellent shape. If he cuts walks even more, look out. His K%-BB% was still 12.6% last season, despite his lower K%. K%-BB% is one of the best predictors of pitching success. Anything above the league average of 12.3% is good.
Numero tres, we get to discuss what is his most glaring problem: getting lefties out. As a righty that primarily throws two fastballs (79%), sliders (10.2%), and curves (8.4%), he doesn't have a lefty out pitch that he trusts. He only threw 76 changeups all year. Before we get to the potentially good news, here are his lefty/righty splits from last year:
You can see that ugly FIP and xFIP, despite the triple slash line not looking so bad. His K%-BB% is also poor. It is certainly not unusual for a righty starter to struggle against lefties when he doesn't have a good offspeed pitch. What is interesting is that his batted ball numbers: GB%, FB%, LD%, and infield fly% are all the same, regardless of handedness, so that isn't the reason for his struggles, the ball is just getting hit harder and/or the increased walks and decreased strikeouts are causing his problems, not batted ball distributions.
Similarly, Goold mentioned in his always essential chat last week that Lance Lynn is intending to try to use his changeup more this spring. He tried to do so last spring, but abandoned it. It's a pitch he threw occasionally in 2012, but it's been slipping away from his arsenal despite his poor LHB splits. As with Martinez, it would be a game-changing development if he can use the change as a consistent out pitch to lefties. It has been "working for him" in his recent sessions according to Goold. Watch for Lynn to play with it a lot in his spring training starts.
Before heading into the offseason, Cardinals pitchers and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist discussed new pitches they could work on over the winter and refine during spring. Most of them came away with a single pitch to add to their standards. For Lynn, it was a changeup that he had a good feel for at the end of last season.
This article describes how Lynn improved some against lefties (he was worse in 2012 and 2013 than in 2014) by using his sinker more against them. It's also a good description of how sneakily good he has been the last few years with excellent durability, consistency, and results (19th best FIP in baseball over last three years). If he can truly work in his changeup more and trust it this season, he could produce very good numbers this year. His changeup had just below average swinging strikes and groundballs back in 2012, when he threw it more, so there is potential for at least a pitch good enough to keep lefties honest.
After his adjustments last year to use the sinker more against lefties, he can add the change to his arsenal and really help those splits. It is nice to see that he can make adjustments and improve his results. He is also only 27 years old and doesn't rely on elite velocity to get hitters out (his fastball is about 93 mph), so his excellent durability and ability to adjust should propel him to another excellent season, even if his HR/FB ratio, strand rate, and BABIP regress some from last year. I have him ranked as my 30th starting pitcher this season, with upside to be in the 20-25 range. Draft him accordingly. You have to love the durability, reliability, and excellent fastball he brings. If he can keep working on his walk rate and use his changeup more, he could be special.
Here is a video of Lynn striking out lefty Gregor Blanco in the NLCS last year with a 94-mph fastball.
Here he is in the NLDS making the good Dodgers lineup look foolish. He even struck out a couple lefties. He was able to dial up his fastball to 97 at times, but he primarily used his standard 93-94 mph fourseamer, slider, and curveball in this outing. That's all for now! Tschus!