Hola Razzballers! This is my first article for Razzball Baseball and if you’re a Razzball loyalist (and really, why aren’t you?) you may recognize me from the fantasy football side of things last year. I look forward to summoning you guys (and some gals) some Phillip Humber-esque perfect fantasy advice. Just not against the Red Sox or Indians.
I must admit early on, I’m biased. I like pitching much more than hitting. I’m 6-foot-7 and could never hit the ball to save my life in Little League. And in fantasy, I can’t stand being in the bottom of my leagues’ ERA, WHIP, and strikeout categories. So I never do. Hah, just kidding… but seriously… I always seem to have fantasy quality pitching and below average hitting on my fantasy squads. Maybe it’s because I always seem to own Mark Reynolds.
So without much ado, and right after I dropped Mark Reynolds in every league, I got ready to break down a pitcher’s start last night. Of all the data that feeds into your roto score, starts by pitchers are the fewest throughout the season with a max of only 33 to 34. Compare that with 60-70 appearances by relievers and everyday at-bats by hitters and starting pitching turns into picking up chicks at the bar. When pegged in your lineup, only one rough outing and you’re done (thanks Bartolo Colon, for that brutal second start), and after a few awesome starts you can’t let ‘em go (Mike Minor is looking a little droppable, but I doubt anyone wants to). With so many starters out there, it’s tough to buy into guys emerging and tough to know when to cut the big name guys loose.
One of those emerging pitchers so far in this young 2012 season is Cardinals reliever-turned-starter Lance Lynn. Cardinals fans are hoping he turns into Adam Wainwright minus the whole TJ thing, Brewers fans (like myself and my other bias) are hoping he turns into Todd Wellemeyer.
For this installment, I will be breaking down Lynn’s outing against the Pirates last night and trying to evaluate if he’s getting lucky or unlucky by either giving up flare base hits or having ropes that happened to end up in gloves. I write these live and in a full stream of consciousness during the game, so they’re immediate, and for once, unbiased thoughts. Here’s how Lynn looked:
First Inning: Lynn’s first pitch to leadoff hitter Alex Presley is 92 MPH fastball at the knees for strike one. I have yet to watch any of Lynn’s starts this year, but have seen him multiple times out of the bullpen in previous years, and know Lynn has some plus and power stuff. On the next pitch, Presley ground out to third, two pitches, one out. Next is Nate McLouth who works the count to 3-1, but Lynn fights back to a full count and McLouth pops out to shallow left. In the third spot is Jose Tabata, and with no McCutchen tonight, I would argue the Pirates lineup in this game is the worst the majors has seen thus far. Tabata pokes a soft grounder to third and is thrown out. Very efficient inning from Lynn.
Second Inning: After a long, long time in the dugout after a 4-run first inning off of opposing pitcher A.J. Burnett, Lynn is finally back on the bump with a fastball taken for a strike to Neil Walker. After falling behind 3-1, Lynn gets Walker to look at two straight strikes for his first K on the day. Lynn gets ahead of Pedro Alvarez as well 0-1, but a fairly weak grounder to third is flubbed by Freese and he reaches on the error… Well, it’s actually scored a hit, horrible luck there for Lynn. On 2-1 to Garrett Jones, Jones flares one to left that carries to the front of the warning track, two down. After getting up on Clint Barmes, Lynn is worked to a full count and Barmes hits a liner into the gap that scores Alvarez. Since what should have been a reached-on-error by Alvarez is indeed kept a hit, that’s a really tough earned run for Lynn. Rod Barajas is up next and works it full, but flies out to right to end the inning. Lynn has had a lot of full counts early, and while he’s been pretty solid, he’s already at 38 pitches.
Third Inning: With yet another long break between innings, Lynn now finds himself up 7-1. Lynn gets Burnett swinging on 2-2, then a first pitch ground out for Alex Presley, and it’s two down. And just like that McLouth grounds out right to Lynn, and it’s just what the doctor ordered, a 9-pitch inning. So much for the high pitch count concerns.
Fourth Inning: The Cardinals offense is just unfair… Lynn gets spotted 5 more runs and enters the fifth up 12-1. On 3-2 to Tabata, it appeared Tabata held up and was a good few inches from the ball, but the ump calls a foul tip into the mitt for a strikeout… Questionable call, maybe the ump’s knees are tired already in this blowout… 1-1 to Neil Walker and Lynn induces a weak grounder to second, two down. Again on 1-1, Lynn goes with a nice change-up to get Neil Walker to ground out softly to first… Another great inning from Lynn, coasting with a double-digit lead.
Fifth Inning: Lynn’s first inning back out to the mound without more run support, and on 2-2 to Jones, he induces yet another ground ball out to third. Lynn goes up 0-2 on Barmes and induces a second weak grounder to third, two down. Lynn then shows us some power stuff, going with three straight fastballs to Rod Barajas that he swings and misses on each time, the last one at 95 MPH and his fourth strikeout… There’s some of that power stuff I remember from last year.
Sixth Inning: Back on the mound, Lynn gets up 1-2 to pinch-hitter Yamaico Navarro and strikes out the young shortstop swinging on a nasty breaking pitch, one down. On 1-2 to Presley, Lynn gets a very lazy pop up to left for two down. Lynn falls behind 2-0 for the first time in a while to McClouth, then 3-0. On 3-1, Lynn gets another weakly hit grounder to second for another 1-2-3 inning.
Seventh Inning: On 1-1, Tabata crushes one to third, but Matt Carpenter, who moved to third in a substitution, smothers it and throws him out. 1-2 to Neil Walker and Lynn dials up 94 MPH high heat that Walker can’t hold his swing on, and it’s two down on Lynn’s 6th strikeout. On 2-0 to Alvarez, Lynn misses way outside to fall behind 3-0, and Lynn might be laboring. On the next pitch, Lynn loses him on four straight pitches for his first walk. The bullpen is churning. On the 1-2 to Jones, Lynn gives up only his third hit on a ground ball that barely finds the gap. And here comes Matheny and Lynn is pulled to a standing ovation. Alvarez would come around to score, giving Lynn two tough earned runs, one that should’ve been unearned due to an error and the second given up by the bullpen.
Final Line: 6.2 Innings W 3 Hits 1 Walk 2 Earned Runs 6 Ks
Final Analysis: It was yet another impressive performance from Lance Lynn, but I’m still not ready to anoint him a set-it and forget-it starter. His low arm slot keeps the ball down and he’s able to have consistent control, but his stuff isn’t consistently explosive. Sure he’s dialing it down a tad, his average fastball velocity is down a MPH from last year, but that’s what you’d expect transitioning to starter. Even though he got through 6 and two-thirds, it took him 100 pitches with only 5 base runners. That’s not really a red flag, but it did seem Lynn had a lot of full counts to work through.
As you would expect from a new starter with a 1.60 ERA and 0.77 WHIP through five starts are some very skewed peripherals like his .198 BABIP and a 91.7% left-on-base percentage. It’s no question he’s going to regress, but the question is how much. Let’s not forget this was the woeful Pirates without their best hitter, and with an early double-digit lead, it’s easy to have a little extra confidence. Lynn has now faced Pittsburgh twice and the Cubs twice in his five starts… Pretty much the dregs of the NL on offense.
Lynn indeed has some nice stuff, with the ability for control and able to hit 95 on the gun. The RBI double by Barmes was the only well hit ball he gave up all night, and it shouldn’t have even yielded an earned run. But even so, I think Lynn is a sell-high if anyone is biting in deeper leagues and a spot starter in shallower leagues, however he should be rostered. He is surely going to regress once he faces some better offenses and when he gets further scouting reports and film on him. At less than 70 total innings in the Majors, he’s still fairly new to big league hitters.