The more things change for the Cardinals, the more things stay the same for Lance Lynn. Last season, Lynn struck out 8.84 hitters per nine innings. This season it is 8.83. His walk rate (3.39 last season, 3.17 this season), FIP (3.30, 3.28), xFIP (3.66, 3.57), and HR/9 (0.62, 0.67) are nearly identical to last season. The same goes for BABIP (.314, .308), LOB% (71.8, 74.6), GB% (43.1, 44.5) and HR/FB% (7.4, 7.8). Even ERA, which is subject to a lot of volatility early in the season is very similar to last year (3.97, 3.67). As a result, it should come as no surprise that Lynn's stat line still comes with a huge platoon split. He continues to destroy righties while giving up damage against lefties.
Lynn has faced 137 right-handers this season and struck out 27% of them. He has walked just eight batters, and overall, righties are hitting .221/.283/.323 against Lynn. Against left-handed hitters for his career Lynn has allowed a .260/.369/.428 hitting line, walking lefties 13.3% of the time, 5.48 walks per nine innings. This season is no different. Lefties are hitting .279/.367/.430 against Lynn so far this year. He has issued walks 11.2% of the time for a rate of 4.95 free passes per nine innings.
Earlier in the season, I discussed approach regarding Lynn, indicating he should throw more strikes given the number of walks he was issuing, perhaps at the expense of more damage early in the count. Given that another month has passed, it is a good time to revisit Lynn's approach against lefties to see if he made any changes that were not showing up in his results. In the earlier post, I showed the zone map where Lynn was throwing to left-handed hitters on the first pitch in 2013. Here is that chart again from BrooksBaseball.net.
Not shown last time, but perhaps instructive for comparison's sake is the same chart against right-handed hitters on the first pitch.
Lynn still pitches to the edge of the strike zone, but he is not nibbling anywhere near the level he does against left-handed hitters compared to when he has the platoon advantage. Against lefties, he throws just 40% of the first pitches in the zone and almost no pitches go inside on the hitter. Against righties, he is above 45% on pitches in the zone and he pitches to both sides of the plate. So far this season, he has actually been even worse with the first pitches to lefties, throwing just 33.2% of the pitches in the zone. He throws more 0-2 strikes to righties than he does first-pitch strikes to lefties (36.8%).
Here is the map against lefties so far this season in all counts.
Here is the chart against lefties on the first pitch this season.
If hitters swung at the first pitch, Lynn could get the count in his favor, but left-handed hitters rarely swing at the first pitch against Lynn if it is not in the zone. On 65 first pitches to lefties out of the zone, hitters swung at just seven of those pitches (10.8%). For the most part, these are wasted pitches for Lynn. Of the 40 first-pitches to lefties that were in the zone, hitters swung at fifteen pitches. Of those fifteen pitches, just six were put in play for four hits (thee singles, one double). While four for six does not seem like a positive outcome, he began with 40 pitches. Assuming a good strike zone, Lynn would have started with an 0-1 count on 34 of those 40 at bats and already received an out on two of them.
Throwing every pitch right down the middle is likely a poor strategy, and even throwing a considerably larger amount of strikes will end up with scouting catching up with him, but if he continues to treat the first pitch against lefties the same as he would an 0-2 count, it will continue to result in wasted pitches. Getting ahead in the count against lefties could be the key to turning the tables in his direction. Lynn is off to a solid start again this season. Since my last post, Lynn has gotten good results against lefties, although given the sample, it is difficult to draw conclusions. They are hitting just .221/.321/.324. The 12.8% walk rate is still a trouble spot for Lynn.
Given his mastery against right-handed hitters, he has the potential to be an elite pitcher with just an average performance against lefties. So far this year he has continued the patterns that have left him vulnerable to left-handed hitters despite good results recently. Above-average is an enviable position for most pitchers, but, and perhaps this is where the unfair criticism of Lynn comes from, he is seemingly so close to being even better than his current level. Comparing any pitcher to what we want them to be will result in disappointment, but that does not prevent us from being hopeful that a breakout could be just a few starts away.