Lance Lynn Gets Back on Track

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That's Cy Young. But, if you were to put a beard on him and squint a little bit, I'll bet you couldn't tell he and Lance Lynn apart. 
For the first month of the season, Lance Lynn looked every inch a Cy Young award candidate. In winning his first six starts of the year, Lynn amassed a 1.40 ERA, a 3.36/1 K/BB ratio, and held opponents to a .507 OPS. He gave up two runs in exactly one start; the other five he gave up just one or zero. You keep that up for a full season, and you're going to win a whole shelf full of awards statues, not to mention a huge new contract. 

Of course, even when Lynn was pitching that well, the more rational among us could appreciate his performance while at the same time acknowledging it was unlikely to continue. An ERA below 1.50 just isn't sustainable very often, and while Lynn's component stats were very nice, they weren't even close to the kind of world-class numbers you need to go all Gibson '68 on people. 

And then, the demon called Regression came calling, and none of us were really surprised. He lost a game to the Atlanta Braves, allowing three runs in six innings, while walking three. He got knocked around out in Los Angeles, dinged for nine hits and four runs. He got a win against San Diego but didn't look all that good in doing it, allowing three runs in six innings -- which isn't terrible, just not special -- with a 3/3 K/BB that certainly wasn't inspiring in any way. 

Yesterday, though, taking on those same Atlanta Braves who handed Lance his only defeat of the season, he again looked like the Cy Young candidate from early in the season. In fact, he might have actually looked even better. 

The two runs in seven innings were wonderful to see, obviously, but it was the large number of strikeouts -- and the exceedingly small number of walks -- which really made the performance so impressive. It was the first time Lynn had surrendered just a single walk in an outing since May 2 at Pittsburgh, the start before his four-walk performance in Arizona which seemed to usher in his run of shaky pitching. 

On the season, Lynn's K/BB ratio stands at exactly 3/1. He's allowing just 6.8 hits per 9 innings. He's avoided the occasional bouts of homeritis which intermittently plagued him in the minor leagues. (Though, to be fair, he does look a little lucky in terms of his home run rate this season. His HR/FB percentage is likely going to come up a little bit, which will probably push his ERA up.) The ground ball rate is actually surprisingly mediocre, given what we all expected from Lynn on his way up through the system, but probably shouldn't be surprising. After all, we know for a fact Lynn has made a rather significant change to his pitching style over the last couple seasons, virtually abandoning his sinking two-seam fastball for a harder -- and so far, much more effective -- four-seam pitch. 

As for yesterday specifically, I have to say I was perhaps most encouraged not by the strikeouts, or even the combination of strikeouts and very few walks. The most encouraging sign of all to me may have been the way Lynn racked up his strikeouts. 

Of his eight strikeouts -- seven of which were of the swinging variety -- three came on fastballs (including the lone called third strike of the day), three came on changeups, and two came via the breaking ball. Five of the eight came against left-handed hitters. That's two of the bigger concerns with Lynn -- his heavy reliance on the fastball and an OPS against lefties that's almost 200 points higher than what he's done versus right-handed hitters -- both addressed in just one start. 

I don't have the numbers exactly, but it seemed all too often earlier this season that the vast majority of Lynn's strikeouts came on hitters swinging through his fastball. Now, that's not necessarily an issue; if you can consistently get hitters to swing and miss on your heater then fine. But, at least anecdotally, you have to feel like hitters are going to have more success against a given pitcher's fastball when they become a bit more familiar with him. I could be making a mistaken assumption here, but it feels true at least. 

Yesterday, though, Lynn was working his secondary pitches beautifully, particularly once he got ahead in the count. He was still attacking with the fastball in any and all situations, but the offspeed stuff was consistently better -- and he used it in a more efficacious way -- than what we've seen from him  all season. The fact he was able to deploy his changeup so consistently as a real weapon against left-handed hitters was a tremendous boon as well. 

We've already seen Lance Lynn pitch exceedingly well this season; he's gone above and beyond what I think really anyone could have reasonably hoped for in his first year in a major league rotation. Yesterday, though, we saw a performance from Lynn that was more rounded, more complete, than anything we had seen from him before. I'm not saying I expect him to be that on the rest of the season; no pitcher is that good every time out. What I am saying, though, is we saw the full breadth of Lynn's ability yesterday in a way we really hadn't before. 

I think there are big things in Lance Lynn's future, both the rest of this season and in the long term. We've seen just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he's capable of doing. Yesterday we got a glimpse of him at his best. And I, for one, couldn't be more excited about his future. 

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