There was a time when Lance Lynn was boring. The St. Louis Cardinals selected the Ole Miss senior in the first round of the 2008 amateur draft. Scouting reports praised the collegian for his polish and sinker more than his velocity. A high floor combined with a low ceiling to project Lynn as an innings-eating fourth or fifth starter. Ho hum.
Lynn’s minor-league career didn’t do much to dispel the notion of his boring Duncanite pedigree. The righty posted good but not great strikeout rates and issued walks at a pace regular enough to cause some concern. Then someone changed Lynn’s mechanics. Late in 2010 while pitching for Triple-A Memphis, Lynn’s fastball velocity increased and he authored a 16-strikeout performance over seven innings against Round Rock. Suddenly, burly and boring was the new sexy among the hyperventilating prospect geeks.
The Cardinals called Lynn up in 2011. He was unimpressive as a starter, but found a home in the pen with a fastball that often reached the mid-90s and a 10.68 K/9 that equaled a K% just under 30. Even if Lynn was posting such numbers while in relief, this was not the pitcher of his college and minor-league scouting reports. The reliever of 2011 has ascended to the starting rotation in similar form.
Lynn is no longer boring, but fascinating. And Lynn fascination has become a regular pattern of promise butting up against frustration. Some fans have seized on the promise; others the frustration.
The mechanical adjustment has given birth to a creature altogether different than the plodding sinkerballer the Cardinals drafted. The pitchability isn’t gone, but lessened. The velocity isn’t middling, but high. The fastball is looser.
With Lynn’s arm action, he often loses his release point. The righty’s body language informs us that he is often as annoyed as we are while he searches for a release point that can’t be found on a map. Lynn’s flummoxing release point has given rise to the "Lynning," that crooked-number frame he tosses while struggling to control his pitches. But even with the Lynnings (however mythical they might be), Lynn has been a league-averageish starter for two years running making the league minimum—a valuable commodity in today’s MLB.
Last night’s 126-pitch shutout of the Yankees was perhaps the longest look we’ve had at the promise that Lynn could be so much more. But the righty wasn’t proven a good pitcher because of his first career shutout just as he isn’t a bad pitcher because of a start-derailing Lynning. Lynn’s still Lynn, the singular Cardinal cocktail of promise and frustration. Nonetheless, it’s heartening that Lynn’s ERA and FIP are in alignment this Wednesday in the wake of a start that suggests he might finally be harnessing his ability and becoming the pitcher his stuff suggests he can become.