Is Lance Lynn Ready to Step Into the St. Louis Cardinals Rotation?

JUPITER, FL - MARCH 14: Lance Lynn #31 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches during a game against the Houston Astros at Roger Dean Stadium on March 14, 2012 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)

When Chris Carpenter's nerve irritation cast his availability to open the season into doubt, the St. Louis Cardinals took the precautionary measure of stretching Lance Lynn out as the insurance starter. The wisdom of the Cardinals' decision was shown on Friday when the club announced that Carpenter would be unavailable for an indefinite amount of time due to nerve irritation in his right shoulder. With Lynn officially moving from the sixth slot to the rotation, I thought we might take a look at how the hefty righty has pitched in his professional baseball career.

The Cardinals drafted the 6'5", 250-pounder with the 39th overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft. Lynn pitched 26.2 innings between the Quad Cities and Batavia that season and, in 2009, spent the vast majority of the season with AA Springfield in the Texas League where he posted a line of: 126.1, 6.98 K/9, 3.63 BB/9, 2.92 ERA, and 3.47 FIP. To put Lynn's AA stats into some context, they equal a 3.89 tERA* according to Statcorner. The Texas League's tERA in 2009 was 5.00, which gives Lynn a 122 tERA+ for the season. While I can't tell you the average age of a Texas League pitcher in 2009, the average age was 23.7 in 2011 and 24 in 2010. Thus, Lynn's 122 tERA+ at age 22 was quite good.

*A primer on tERA can be found on Statcorner.com here.

After his stellar season for Springfield the Cardinals moved Lynn to AAA Memphis of the Pacific Coast League to start the next season. While working with pitching coach Derek Lilliquist in 2010, Lynn made 29 starts for the Redbirds, totaling 164 IP, with the following stats: 7.74 K/9, 3.40 BB/9, 4.77 ERA, and 4.43 FIP. The ERA and FIP look high, but they're not bad at all for a 23 year old pitching in the hitter's Shangri-La that is the PCL. His 5.27 tERA was better than the 5.50 tERA for the league that year but not much better as it equates to a 105 tERA+ according to Statcorner. Yet again, I'm unable to tell you the average age of a pitcher in Lynn's league for the year being discussed, but I can tell you that, in 2011, the average age of a PCL pitcher was 27.1 years old. At age 23, Lynn was young for his league and pitched better than average. Diamond Futures, a blog dedicated to prospects, ranked Lynn's the seventh-best pitching performance in the PCL for 2010.

Last season, Lynn made 12 starts for Memphis and tallied only 75 IP. His line was an improved one: 7.68 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 3.84 ERA, and 2.92 FIP. Statcorner has Lynn's tERA while with Memphis at 4.13. Compared to the 6.01 tERA for the PCL as a whole, Lynn was excellent, which is reflected in his 131 tERA+. At age 24, Lynn was three years younger than the average PCL pitcher, making his performance all the more impressive. But Lynn didn't spend all of 2011 in Memphis. As you know, he spent a good chunk of time with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lynn was called up in June of last season to fill in for the injured Kyle McClellan. Lynn made two starts, allowing 5 runs in 5.1 IP against the Giants and 1 run in 5.0 IP in Houston. His starting ERA over 10.1 IP with St. Louis was 5.23 with a 3.90 FIP, 6.97 K/9, and 2.61 BB/9. Lynn then shifted to the big-league bullpen where he again worked with Lilliquist and experienced success over 24.1 innings: 11.84 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, a 2.22 ERA, and a 2.45 FIP.

Lynn's low innings-pitched total doesn't give us much to go on, but it gives us an idea of how he deployed his repertoire of pitches as a starter and reliever.

The move to the bullpen allowed Lynn to let loose with his fastball while widdling down his pitch selection to his best pitches. According to Texas Leaguers, Lynn's four-seam fastball velocity jumped from 91.4 MPH as a starter to 93.7 MPH as a reliever. As a starter, Lynn threw a four-seam fastball (FF), sinker (FT), curveball (CU), changeup (CH), cutter (FC), and slider (SL). Working out of the bullpen, he threw almost exclusively four-seamers, sinkers, and curveballs. The following graph demonstrates Lynn's different approach as a starter versus as a reliever.

Role

FF

FF%

FT

FT%

CU

CU%

CH

CH%

FC

FC%

SL

SL%

SP

76

48.72%

7

4.49%

26

16.67%

14

8.97%

25

16.03%

8

5.13%

RP

369

65.78%

33

5.88%

158

28.16%

1

0.18%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

According to the Pitch F/X databases as Brooks Baseball (where VEBer Brian_K sponsors Lynn's card) and Texas Leaguers, Lynn went from throwing six pitches (perhaps five, if his sliders are really just misclassified cutters) as a starter to throwing his four-seam fastball and curve nearly 95 percent of the time as a reliever. What I found most interesting was how Lynn deployed his full arsenal against left-handed and right-handed batters respectively as a starter. The following graph illustrates Lynn's pitch selection as a starter by handedness of the opposing batman.

VS.

FF

FF%

FT

FT%

CU

CU%

CH

CH%

FC

FC%

SL

SL%

LHB

37

50.68%

5

6.85%

5

6.85%

13

17.81%

12

16.44%

1

1.37%

RHB

39

46.99%

2

2.41%

21

25.30%

1

1.20%

13

15.66%

7

8.43%

Lynn relied most heavily on his four-seamer against both lefties and righties. He also deployed his curve a quarter of the time against right-handed batters and seems to have used his change against left-handed batters instead of his curve. Lynn sprinkled in his cutter about 15 percent of the time against both left-handers and right-handers when starting. Against right-handed batters, he also threw his slider on occasion.

This graph shows Lynn's pitch selection as a reliever based on whether he was facing a left-handed hitter or a right-handed hitter.

VS.

FF

FF%

FT

FT%

CU

CU%

CH

CH%

FC

FC%

SL

SL%

LHB

137

69.19%

17

8.59%

43

21.72%

1

0.51%

12

16.44%

1

1.37%

RHB

232

63.91%

16

4.41%

115

31.68%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

As you can see, Lynn significantly pared down his repertoire when pitching in relief. His four-seam fastball was by far his most-used pitch, followed by his curve (even against LHB, against whom he seems to have ditched the changeup), and his sinker. Lynn continued to use his cutter about 16 percent of the time against left-handed batters but didn't throw it once against a right-handed batter. His slider and change were all but unused by Lynn when he came out of the bullpen.

Star-divide

With Lynn stepping into the rotation, the Cardinals are in pretty good shape to weather the Carpenter injury storm. A former first-round pick who has experienced success at every stop in his climb up the Cardinals organizational ladder, Lynn has the pedigree of a pitcher who can achieve success in the big leagues. Lynn has a starter's repertoire and his success in the major-league rotation will likely depend on his ability to be effective with the pitches he used infrequently out of the bullpen: his cutter and changeup. Helping him to transition to big-league starter will be his 2010 Memphis pitching coach and 2011 St. Louis bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist. While Lynn starting may be a year sooner than anticipated, the 25 year-old has nothing left to prove in the minors and little to gain from another year in the bullpen. Lynn's time is now and the Cardinals need him to take the next step.

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