A Look At Lance Lynn's Debut Season As A Major League Starter

Jamie Squire

Lance Lynn had a strong inaugural season a big-league starting pitcher in ways fans might not expect.

The St. Louis Cardinals lost Chris Carpenter, ace of the 2011 World Series championship club, to injury early in spring training. Rookie manager Mike Matheny wasted little in naming righty Lance Lynn as the young pitcher charged with filling the 237-inning, 5.0-fWAR hole left by Carpenter in the Cardinals' rotation. Even though Lynn did not succeed in the tall task of wholly replacing the injured Carpenter, his debut season as a big-league starter was still a very good one even if its trajectory has made it more difficult to appreciate.

The husky hurler burst out of the gates in the season's beginnings with six straight starts in which he allowed two runs or fewer. After five shutout innings in Arizona on May 7, Lynn's ERA stood at a shiny 1.40. Even though his 2.90 FIP, 2.92 xFIP, and .209 BABIP against suggested his current runs-allowed pace was unsustainable, it was still an incredible start, so impressive that Al Hrabosky began describing Lynn over and over again as "unflappable," even as regression began to take its inevitable toll.

After his hot beginning to the season, Lynn turned in five quality starts in his next seven starts and his ERA climbed to the mid-2.00's. After striking out 11 Astros and 12 White Sox in back-to-back starts on June 7 and 13, Lynn encountered a brutal stretch. In starts, against the Tigers, Royals, and Pirates, Lynn allowed five, six, and five runs. This rough patch grew Lynn's ERA from 2.42 to 3.62. Three straight quality starts cut Lynn's ERA back down to 3.10 before a rough patch again saw it grow. After allowing three runs on 86 pitches in 4 1/3 innings against the Pirates, Matheny moved Lynn to the bullpen.

Lynn's time in the bullpen served neither him nor the club well. His ERA ballooned to 4.08 after he allowed two runs on four hits in one inning of work during that nightmarish series in Washington. By the time Lynn re-joined the rotation on September 13, his ERA was 4.04. Lynn finished the season with a solid four starts, throwing 24 1/3 innings, allowing six earning runs combined, and striking out 30 to seven walks. Lynn's strong finish to the regular season helped the Redbirds to secure the National League's second Wild Card berth and made his final stat line much more pleasing to the eye.

LANCE LYNN STATS (2012)

Split

G

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

LOB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

fWAR

As SP

29

169.0

9.27

3.30

0.80

.316

76.4%

3.67

3.47

3.57

-

Overall

35

176.0

9.20

3.27

0.82

.321

75.6%

3.78

3.49

3.60

2.9

As RP

6

7.0

7.71

2.57

1.29

.400

60.3%

6.43

4.09

4.13

-

A starting pitcher posting 2.9 Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement in his first full season as a starter is a valuable player for a team to have. The metrics of FIP- and ERA- help give us perspective on Lynn's 2012 performance. The metrics make adjustments for park factors and scale a player's FIP and ERA to 100. The further below 100, the more above average a player's ERA or FIP. The further above 100, the more below average a player's FIP or ERA. Lynn's 3.78 ERA was slightly better than league average when adjusted for park effects, equalling a 98 ERA-. Lynn's 3.49 FIP is more impressive, equalling a 92 FIP-.

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)isolates those things over which a pitcher has control independent of defense. Looking at Lynn's stats compared to the league average, it is easy to see how his FIP (and FIP-) is lower than his ERA (and ERA-). The follow chart, which I made using Fangraphs, does just that.

LANCE LYNN VS. MLB AVERAGE (2012)

2012

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

LOB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

MLB Avg.

7.56

3.05

1.02

.293

72.5%

4.01

4.01

4.01

Lynn

9.20

3.27

0.82

.321

75.6%

3.78

3.49

3.60

Difference

+1.64

+0.22

-0.20

+.028

+3.1%

-0.23

-0.52

-0.51

A few stats stick out on this chart. One is how many more opposing batters Lynn struck out per nine innings than the MLB average. His healthy strikeout rate is part of the reason that Lynn posted an ERA, FIP, and xFIP that were below league average despite having opposing batsmen hit for a BABIP nearly 30 points higher than league average and a slightly above-average walk rate.

Left On Base Percentage (LOB%) or "strand rate" is aptly named. It is a stat that shows what share of runners a pitcher strands on the bases. In a given year, the league-average LOB% is typically around 75 percent. In 2012, it was 72.5 percent.

During the 2012 regular season and postseason, as Lynn allowed more runs and his ERA rose, some began to label him a head case who struggled in tight spots. To put it another way, Lynn lost his cool when men reached base against him. Lynn having an above-average LOB% seems to disprove this theory. I found this stat interesting, so I decided to look more closely at Lynn's situational splits. The following chart shows how Lynn pitched and batters hit against him in the following situations: with the bases empty (Empty), with men on (MOB), and with runners in scoring position (RISP).

LANCE LYNN'S STATS WITH BASES EMPTY, MOB, & RISP (2012)

Split

PA

K%

BB%

XBH%

HR%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

wOBA

Empty

418

23.2%

7.2%

8.6%

2.6%

.336

.270

.328

.431

.759

.331

MOB

326

25.5%

10.4%

7.1%

1.5%

.300

.225

.326

.360

.686

.303

RISP

193

25.9%

11.9%

7.3%

1.6%

.293

.219

.318

.358

.676

.294

As you can see, opposing batters actually hit worse against Lynn when men were on the bases and those men were in scoring position when compared to how they hit with the bases were empty. Against Lynn, opponents hit for a batting average with men on that was 45 points lower than with the bases empty. With runners in scoring position, opponents' posted a batting average 51 points lower than with the bases empty. By OPS, it's the same reality when comparing opposing batters' performance with the bases empty to MOB (-71 points) and RISP (-81 points). This despite the fact that Lynn is more likely to walk opposing batters with men on.

When comparing Lynn's performance to that of the league average in these situations, Lynn's excellence with men on is even more striking. OPS+ is a stat that scales a player's OPS to 100, with a number greater than 100 being above average and a number lower than 100 being below average. The more above 100 a player's OPS+, the better. The further below 100 a player's OPS+, the worse.

Baseball-Reference provides offshoots of OPS+ with tOPS+ and sOPS+. tOPS+ compares how a player's stats in a certain split in a certain situation compares to his own overall performance. sOPS+ looks at how a player's stats in a certain split compare to the league's overall performance in that situation. The following chart contains the OPS, sOPS+ and tOPS+ against Lynn with the bases empty, men on, and runners in scoring position.

LANCE LYNN'S OPS, sOPS+, & tOPS+ WITH BASES EMPTY, MOB, & RISP (2012)

Split

OPS

sOPS+

tOPS+

Empty

.759

115

108

MOB

.686

85

90

RISP

.675

83

86

Opposing batters hit quite well against Lynn with no one on. In fact, their 115 sOPS+ is well above average. In 2012, Asdrubal Cabrera posted an OPS+ of 115, Mark Teixeira posted one of 116, and Derek Jeter posted a 114 OPS+. With the bases empty, opposing batters hit like Cabrera, Teixeira, and Jeter against Lynn, relative to the league average with the bases empty.

With men on, the sOPS+ for opposing batters against Lynn is 85. With runners in scoring position, it's 83. In 2012, Rafael Furcal and Colby Rasmus each posted an OPS+ of 85, Kelly Johnson hit for an 84 OPS+, and Eric Hosmer posted an 82 OPS+. Against Lynn with runners on the bases, opposing batters hit like Furcal, Rasmus, Hosmer, and Johnson against Lynn, relative to the league average in these situations.

Moving forward, the Cardinals are fortunate to have Lynn as a member of their starting rotation. If Lynn can cut down on his walks and have his BABIP luck even out a bit in 2013, he will be a formidable member of the 2013 rotation. If Lynn can ever figure out how to pitch with the bases empty, he might even become an ace.

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