Last night, we witnessed yet another quality start from Lance Lynn as the Cardinals started their important western road trip by thumping the Rockies, 8-0. A few innings into the game, I tweeted that "Lynn throws one of the fastest 93 MPH fastballs in the game." Upon further review, I really do not like the way I worded the point I was trying to make. Considering all 93 MPH pitches are 93 MPH, "heaviest" or "filthiest" would have been better choices than "fastest." In short, the point I was trying to get across was that, based on the eye test alone, there appears to be something different about the results Lynn gets from his fourseam fastball when compared to those who throw with a similar velocity. The eye test is often incorrect, so I took a look at the PITCHF/x data on BrooksBaseball and Baseball Savant.
Per BrooksBaseball, Lynn's average velocity on his fourseam fastball is 93.62 MPH in 2014, almost identical to his 2013 velocity, but very slightly down from his career average. The average horizontal movement (tailing action) is -5.26 inches, and including gravity, the pitch averages a vertical movement of -15.40 inches. A 93 MPH fastball is nothing to sneeze at, but it is viewed differently on a pitching staff that has some pitchers capable of throwing 97.5+ on a consistent basis. As a 27-year-old starting pitcher, Lynn doesn't have that type of gas, but he has proven that he doesn't need it. When hitters are swinging at his fourseam fastball, they are missing an astonishing 25.81% of the time. For perspective, I created the following infographic to show how Lynn's percentage stacks up to other MLB pitchers known for their fourseam fastballs:
If you are on a mobile phone, follow this link to have a more compatible look at the infographic. Of the twelve starting pitchers included, Lynn is tied with Julio Teheran for the highest whiffs per swing percentage. The average for the eleven pitchers not named Lynn is 18.63%, a 7.18% decrease from Lynn. I cannot understate how impressive this is for Lynn.
At this point, you are probably wondering the reasoning behind my inclusion of some of the pitchers in the graph. Well, thanks to Daren Willman at Baseball Savant, I was able find the number of strikeouts a pitcher has had on fourseam fastballs ranging from 91-95 MPH so far in 2014. I chose two MPH below 93 and two MPH above 93 solely for the sake of creating a bigger pool of players. As you will see by following this link, I chose to include the top 12 starting pitchers that met the specifications of the filter. Off Lynn's 89 strikeouts in 2014, 55 of them have occurred on one of his fourseam fastballs ranging from 91-95 MPH. This is the most in the big leagues, and the pitcher with the second most, Tony Cingrani, is not even close to him with 39.
Lynn is having a fantastic 2014 and with injuries depleting a large portion of the starting staff, his value to the team is almost beyond measure. His standard statistics have caught up to his sabermetric peripherals, as his ERA (2.90) is now lower than his FIP (3.23). His future success will be largely dependent upon his fourseam fastball. For the sake of the Cardinals, let's hope it remains "heavy," especially as the grind of a long-season begins to take its toll.