In 2013, Lance Lynn came in like a lion and out like a…well he actually his final four starts were rather lion-like. But throughout the middle of the season he definitely played the part of the lamb, much to the chagrin of his fantasy owners. Lynn did manage to provide over $6 of value according to Zach Sanders, mostly because he won 15 games and struck out 198 batters. His 3.97 ERA and 1.31 WHIP certainly weren’t helping anyone.
Last season was Lynn’s second as a regular member of the Cardinals’ rotation and overall it was a success. His 3.97 ERA left something to be desired, but it was accompanied by a 3.28 FIP and 3.66 xFIP. Even in the minors, Lynn’s ERA was higher than his FIP, so this discrepancy might just be part of the package. As a starter, he has allowed a slightly higher than normal rate of line drives, which could explain why his BABIP has also been a tad high in that role. That in turn would produce an ERA above his FIP.
Lynn features three different fastballs, a curve ball, and a change-up. He doesn’t throw his change-up to right-handed hitters. Otherwise, he’s uniform with his pitch usage, and he keeps the same approach regardless of count. His curve ball is his best pitch in terms of generating positive outcomes and producing outs. His sinker and cut-fastball have been the chief culprits behind his slightly high BABIP. With the sinker, he produces a very high ground ball rate, while his cutter is prone to allowing line drive contact. All of his non-sinkers are slightly line drive prone.
Lynn has shown a massive platoon split in the majors. Left-handed hitters have posted a combined .350 wOBA compared to a much more manageable .278 wOBA from right-handed hitters. The samples are small, but not tiny (177 innings against lefties compared to 235 against righties), so the platoon split is probably real although the scope might be fluky.
His strikeout, walk, and home run rates are all strongly affected by the split. His strikeout rate against righties is 9.98 K/9 compared to 7.98 K/9 against lefties. The discrepancy with walks is larger. He’s managed a stout 1.61 BB/9 against righties and a terrible 5.54 BB/9 against opposite-handed batters. His home run rate also nearly doubles when facing lefties. It’s unclear what, if anything, Lynn can do to improve this split, but it’s an important chink in his armor that makes him harder to own in fantasy leagues than his overall numbers suggest.
In both of his seasons as a starter, Lynn’s velocity has increased throughout the year. Owners may want to track his velocity in spring training to see if they should expect a change in this behavior.
Lynn is entering his age 27 season and third as a big league starter. Given the Cardinals deep reserve of pitchers, it’s possible that they will tire of his struggles against lefties and demote him to a ROOGY role in the bullpen. More likely, they continue managing him carefully against lefties. Based on his ERA, he’s a roughly league average starter, which is close to fantasy replacement level. Indeed, the 15 games he won seems a bit on the lucky side and accounts for a lot of the positive value he provided. Because he’s prone to lefties, he’ll also be prone to blow up outings – he had three starts in which he allowed an ERA over 12.00.
According to Fantasy Pros, Lynn cost an average of $6 last season. That’s right in line with the value he returned. Due to the known shortcomings of his profile, I would only target Lynn at a lesser price or if your roster is woefully short on innings and strikeouts. He’s best used as a fantasy spot starter against righty heavy lineups. I wonder if the Cardinals will use their depth to extend that strategy to the field…
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