Lance Lynn turned heads on Tuesday when he spoke out about how he was approaching the competition to make the Cardinals starting rotation this spring.
Before Chris Carpenter announced that he was having yet more health problems in his beleaguered throwing arm, the Cardinals' announced their plans for a quadruple-threat showdown between young pitchers Lynn, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, and Trevor Rosenthal for the starting rotation's fifth and final spot. After Carpenter's apparent season-ending health condition was announced, most observers have written Lynn's name in the starting five with ink while re-booking the showdown for the No. 5 spot a competition of the triple-threat variety between Kelly, Miller, and Rosenthal. Lynn spoke to the media on Tuesday and said this is how it should be. Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com quotes him:
"The way I approach it is it's my spot," Lynn said. "That's just the way it is. It's my spot to lose. I was an 18-game winner last year with an All-Star appearance. I have to do a lot of things to lose a spot, in my opinion."
Lynn is correct in saying that a rotation spot should be his to lose and that a lot has to go wrong for him to lose that spot. However, he's wrong on the reasons why.
Making the roster of an All-Star exhibition doesn't mean what it once did. In 1963, when Stan Musial was named to his final All-Star roster, the National League had eight pitchers on the roster with him. In 2012, there were 13 pitchers on the NL roster. While the 2012 All-Star NL pitchers were an impressive group who will all enter spring training this year without competition for their spot, that isn't always the case. In 2011, Ryan Vogelsong, Jair Jurrjens, Kevin Correia, Tyler Clippard, and Heath Bell were amongst the NL All-Star hurlers. Amongst the 2011 American League pitchers were CJ.. Wilson, Ricky Romero, Jose Valverde, Brandon League, and Jordan Walden. Simply put, being named to the All-Star team doesn't mean what it once did and shouldn't assure a player of much of anything as he enters the following spring camp.
Lynn also cites his 18 pitching "wins" as the basis for his entitlement to a spot in the rotation. By now, you've probably discovered that I don't pay much mind to this stat because of its arcane arbitrariness. A pitching "win" has as much to do with a pitcher's run support and the performance of that day's relievers as anything the pitcher does on the mound.
A starting pitcher can surrender six runs in 5 1/3 innings and still manage a "no decision" if his offense hits enough. This was Lynn's fate on June 24 against the Royals when the Cards lost 11-8. A starter can also give up six runs in five innings pitched and earn a pitching "win" if his offense plates nine runs that day. Lynn notched a pitching "win" doing just this on July 27 against the Cubs when the Redbirds won by a score of 9-6. A reliever can be credited with a pitching "win" by throwing a single inning and having his offense score the game-winning run the next half-inning. Lynn earned a pitching "win" in this manner on September 9 against Milwaukee.
A starting rotation spot should be Lynn's to lose because he pitched well over the entirety of the 2012 season. He threw 176 innings in 2012, which was good for third on the team behind Kyle Lohse (211.0) and Adam Wainwright (198.2). Of the returning potential starters for 2013, only Wainwright tallied more innings than Lynn. Over those 176 innings, Lynn was pretty good.
Lynn posted a 9.20 K/9, which was fifth in all of baseball behind only Max Scherzer (11.08), Yu Darvish (10.40), Gio Gonzalez (9.35), and Jeff Samardzija (9.27). Lynn K'd more batters per nine innings pitched than Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels, Justin Verlander, CC Sabathia, R.A. Dickey, Cliff Lee, James Shields, David Price, Edinson Volquez, Zack Greinke, and Wainwright.
Lynn posted a solid ERA of 3.78. We've discussed ERA+ on VEB before, but there is also a stat called ERA- on Fangraphs. I like to use it because it operates on the premise that, for hitters, more is better, so we ought to gauge them by "plus" stats where the higher their league- and park-adjusted stat is, the better. However, pitching "minus" stats are calculated so that less is more, as is the case in ERA. Like OPS+ or wRC+, ERA- is calculated so that 100 is league-average when adjusting for league and park effects. However, unlike OPS+ or wRC+, the further below 100 a player's ERA-, the better. In 2012, Lynn's ERA- was 98, which was slightly better than average when accounting for park and league effects.
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) operates on the premise that a pitcher has the most control over strikeouts and walks. It is calculated using only strikeouts, hit by pitches, walks, and homers. A primer on FIP can be found here in the Fangraphs Glossary. FIP typically has a higher correlation to a pitcher's next year's ERA than his ERA. Thus, Lynn's 2012 FIP is likely going to be closer to his 2013 ERA than his 2012 ERA.
Lynn posted a 3.49 FIP in 2012, which was good for 21st in all of MLB, and was two points behind James Shields and the top 20. It was also two points lower than Lohse's. Lynn's FIP- was 92, which is quite good. By FIP, Lynn's 2012 was impressive. In the areas over which pitchers have the most control, Lynn was a top 30 pitcher. That bodes well for Lynn and the Cardinals in 2013.