Photo Credit: cbssports.com
Cardinal Nation, it is time to give Lance Lynn some of the respect he deserves.
But, Joe, doesn’t he have a really high earned-run average? Well yes, he does. His 3.98 ERA is the 35th highest of starting pitchers in the MLB. However, regular ERA can at times be deceiving, so there is another statistic out there to come to Lynn’s defense (pun intended?)–fielding-independent pitching (FIP).
According to Fangraphs, FIP “measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance [by the defense] on balls in play and timing were league average.” Well, Lynn has the 16th best FIP in the MLB at 3.16. This ranks him above stud pitchers Cliff Lee (3.17), Yu Darvish (3.21), and Jose Fernandez (3.23).
What about his efficiency? He has to be the least efficient pitcher out there, right? In short, no.
Lynn is not the most efficient pitcher out there, but he is definitely not the least either. He is averaging 16.4 pitches per inning which is 28th highest in the league. Basing efficiency off this statistic, some notable pitchers that can be considered “less efficient” than him this season are Justin Verlander (17.4 pitches/inning), Gio Gonzalez (17.1 pitches/inning), and Shelby Miller (16.7 pitches/inning).
Well, then he for sure doesn’t go deep into games, does he? This notion is incorrect as well. Through 21 games started this season, Lynn has 129 innings pitched, which means he is averaging just under six and one-third innings pitched per outing.
Unless you are Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals really do not need the starter to pitch in the 8th and 9th innings that often with how effective Trevor Rosenthal and Edward Mujica have been this season.
Thus, based on the average of six and one-third innings per outing, Lynn leaves only two outs for the rest of the bullpen to get before reaching the Rosenthal/Mujica combination. With how effective Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist have been, they are fully capable of getting these two outs, so Lynn, once again, is not really punishing the team.
Lynn is no Wainwright or Miller, but he does not have to be on this team. St. Louis needs him to step up and be a reliable third or fourth starter, and as shown above, he is doing just that.
One last statistic I would like to throw out there is the quality start stat. A quality start is defined as any outing in which the pitcher completes six innings and allows no more than three runs. Lynn has 12 quality starts this season, second on the team to Waino (who has a league-leading 17). He has two more than Jake Westbrook and three more than Miller.
Room for Improvement
However, for all the praise I just gave Lynn, I 100% agree that he does have room for improvement, and the biggest thing he needs to work on if he wants to play a role in the post-season is his “efficiency.”
Through 21 games this season, he has thrown 2,108 pitches. This averages out to be just over 100 pitches per outing. He needs to cut down on this or else he will have a second half just like last season. I delved deeper into his pitch statistics to see what can be done for him to improve, and I came up with one thing. Before I get to that, though, let’s go over the numbers.
Lynn: Pitch Location Percentages
42% of his pitches in the strike zone, that can’t be good, can it? Well, let’s compare this to someone else in the National League. Wainwright. Waino is widely considered as one of the top-three NL Cy Young Candidates, and his percentages look like this:
The “inefficient” pitcher, Lynn, actually throws more pitches in the strike-zone than Wainwright by 2.99%. Then, why does Wainwright average 14.2 pitches per inning–2.2 less pitches per inning than Lynn?
Some would answer this by saying that Lynn just tries to strike everybody out. Is this really the case, though? Based on strikeouts and innings pitched, Lynn is averaging 0.95 strikeouts per inning compared to Wainwright who is getting 0.90 strikeouts per inning. Lynn may not be just pitching for strikeouts after all.
Then what’s the problem? What is causing him to have the 28th highest pitch per inning rate in the majors? Let’s look into it a little further.
Lynn: Swing Percentages
Wainwright: Swing Percentages
Hitters are not swinging at Lynn’s pitches that are out of the zone like they are with Wainwright. Hitters are swinging at nearly 10% more of pitches out of the zone when facing Waino than when they are facing Lynn. Why is that? Though no one can be entirely sure, I think I have a good reason behind this.
Lynn: Pitch Type Percentages
Using this table as reference, 84.78% of his pitches are variations of his fastball–fourseam, sinker/twoseam, and cutter. After including the changeup, 88.86% of Lynn’s pitches are considered “straight.” Sure, his sinker/twoseam and cutter have movement, but what makes these effective are their late movement–thus, they are not really considered breaking pitches.
Thus, his relative inefficiency lies here. Lynn is unable to locate his “straight” pitches. To be honest, at this point in his career, he may never gain control of these pitches. He either will always be wild or needs to fine-tune his mechanics which is usually something that is reserved for the off-season, not in-season.
Now, after five tables and various ramblings, I will state what I think Lynn needs to do…
What Lynn Needs to Do
To combat his inablity to locate his “straight” pitches, he needs to throw more curveballs. Hitters watch film and read scouting reports. They know that nearly 90% of what Lynn throws is straight. So if it looks like it is out of the zone coming from his hand, it will most likely stay out of the zone when it crosses the plate. The guesswork as to whether a pitch is going to be a strike or not is not as big of a deal for hitters facing Lynn.
So, why is Wainwright so “efficient” when only 39% of his pitches cross the plate in the strike-zone? One of the biggest reasons is his regular use of his curveball.
If Lynn wants to become more efficient, he needs to start utilizing his curveball more often. Wainwright throws his curveball 27% of the time, while Lynn throws his only 11% of the time. Sure, he does’t have a curveball half as good as Wainwright’s, but he needs to do something to keep hitters off-balance and second-guessing whether or not a pitch is going to be a strike or not.
He loves his fastball and for good reason, it is a fantastic pitch. However, by introducing a curveball on a more regular basis, hitters will start swinging at more pitches out of the zone. If hitters swing at more pitches out of the zone, this will ultimately lead to less pitches thrown per outing–increasing his “efficiency.”
To date, one of his best outings this season was against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 26th. He pitched seven innings, racked up nine strikeouts, and allowed just two hits and one run. In that game, Lynn used his curveball 22% of the time. He threw 106 pitches over seven innings–a 15.1 pitch per inning average. Thus, he was 1.3 pitches per inning more efficient than his current season average.
The outing that had people cringing was his start against the Chicago Cubs just before the All-Star break. In that game, he failed to get through the fifth inning, allowing six earned runs in the process. In that game, of the 74 pitches he threw, only TWO of them were curveballs.
Thus, unless he plans on magically gaining control of his fastball mid-season (very unlikely), he needs to start throwing his curveball more often. The statistics show that he is already missing the strike-zone 58% of the time, so he might as well make it a little more deceiving to the hitter by throwing a pitch that has movement. By doing this, he will not only get more swings on pitches out of the zone, but will also get more swings and misses on his fastball due to the velocity difference between the two pitches.
Thank you for hanging with me on this one.
Until next time…
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