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The Pitching Joke

All it takes is one bad inning to reduce the most consistent pitcher alive to the loss column. That's how far a win is from where I am. Just one bad inning. You had a bad inning once. Am I right? I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad inning and ended up taking the loss.

Mike McGinnis

Lance Lynn is a very, very frustrating pitcher to follow.

I'm sure I don't have to tell all of you, of course; you're seeing the same thing I'm seeing. A guy who seemingly has plenty of stuff to handle his business on the mound, and a guy who generally, usually, mostly does. Lance Lynn is, for the most part, a quality pitcher. His FIP this season is 3.19; for reference, Zack Greinke's is 3.57. That Lynn's ERA is over half a run higher would seem to indicate some bad luck, and maybe some welcome regressing. Then again, his xFIP is 3.76, but I don't recall at the moment if xFIP adjusts for park factors when normalising home run rates; Busch Stadium's murderousness toward the long ball in 2013 may muddy the waters there.

Regardless, the fact is, Lance Lynn looks like he should be a really solid pitcher. Again, most of the time.

And then, every once in awhile....

Ask any broadcast personality around town, and they'll tell you: Lance Lynn is a victim of big innings. He'll be cruising along, doing his Lance Lynn thing, and then all of a sudden BOOM! a huge, crooked number just seems to pop up there on the scoreboard. Hell, you don't even have to consult a broadcaster; just ask me, and I'll tell you the same thing. Lance Lynn just has these innings where he just...self-destructs. Seemingly without warning. And what would otherwise be a brilliant outing goes into the loss column, as well as the 'providing fodder for conjecture about Lance Lynn's bad body language and lack of intestinal fortitude' column.

Here's the thing, though: me saying Lance Lynn is horribly susceptible to the big inning is based entirely on my own personal perceptions, along with a certain amount of echo chamber mentality from listening to other people who say much the same thing. In other words, anecdotal evidence exclusively. It's entirely possible he's not really in the habit of blowing up out of nowhere, and it just, you know, feels that way for some bizarre reason.

So, what is the reality of the situation? In order to find out, I thought I would go through the game logs for Lynn this season and see. Maybe Lance Lynn is still the guy we all thought he was coming up, a mature, polished pitcher with outstanding makeup who really comports himself well on the mound regardless of the situation. Or maybe, just maybe, he really does have a habit of going supernova every now and again.

3rd April, Cards at DBacks: First start of the year for Lynn; a game the Cardinals ultimately lost 10-9 in 16 innings. Lynn's final line: 4+ IP, 4 ER, 6 hits, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts. He threw 94 pitches, just 53 for strikes, so the command was obviously shaky.

Lynn allowed a solo home run in the first inning, to the first hitter he saw in 2013, in fact. Gerardo Parra took him deep leading off the game, after which Lynn muddled through the rest of the first inning, allowing a single and a walk before inducing a lineout to second off the bat of Jason Kubel. He walked another hitter in the second, but didn't give up a hit, then retired the side in order in the third. In the fourth, he allowed a single and a walk but again escaped without further incident. Not great pitching, inefficient to be sure, but holding things together. Maintaining, so to speak.

In the fifth, Lance faced three hitters, failing to record an out. Gerardo Parra burned him again with a triple leading off, then scored on a wild pitch. Martin Prado singled, and Aaron Hill connected on a ground-rule double. Three hitters, three very hard hit balls, and the manager had seen enough. Lynn was out, replaced by Randy Choate and then Joe Kelly, who combined to allow both inherited runners to score. So Lance was really only on the mound for two of the four runs his line showed; of course, he also was getting shelled before being taken out. Chalk one up for the big inning, though maybe with a caveat.

9th April, Cards at Reds: Six innings pitched, one run, four hits, one walk, ten strikeouts. Beautiful game, and no bad inning.

15th April, Cards at Pirates: 5 IP, 4 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 4 K

One run allowed in the first inning on a double by Starling Marte and an RBI single by Garrett Jones. The third inning was ugly, with three runs allowed on a single, a double, and a home run. To be fair, though (sort of), there were a lot of baserunners in the other innings, as well. So yes, there was a big inning, but I'm not sure Lynn wasn't just kind of bad in general.

20th April, Cards at Phillies: Seven innings, no runs, one hit. No big inning, obviously.

26th April, Pirates at Cardinals: Seven innings, one run, two hits. No big inning.

1st May, Reds at Cardinals: Seven innings, one run.

7th May, Cards at Cubs: Seven innings, two runs, took the loss. Both runs came in the fourth inning on a home run by Nate Schierholtz, but Lance still struck out the side. Homers happen, especially in Wrigley.

13th May, Mets at Cards: Seven innings, three runs on four hits and five walks. Another rough command day, but the runs came in two separate innings, and neither was a disaster.

18th May, Brewers at Cards: Five plus innings, four runs on eight hits.

This game does feature a big inning; Milwaukee plated three in the third inning on four hits, including a triple by Jean Segura. Lynn also allowed three baserunners in the fifth inning, his last, but cruised for the most part otherwise.

24th May, Cards at Dodgers: Six innings, no runs, two hits.

29th May, Royals at Cards: Seven innings, two runs, eight hits.

At this point, I feel like I should really define what I think of as a 'big inning'. I'm thinking an inning of at least three runs; two-run innings seem like they're relatively easy to come by. Purely subjective, of course, but there you are. Mostly what I'm looking for is one inning in which it seems like the pitcher in question -- in this case, Lance Lynn -- seems to perform substantially differently than in the rest of the game.

So far, I feel like the first start of the year for Lynn and the game against the Brewers fit that definition; the game against the Pirates in April had a three-run inning, but he wasn't really very good the whole game. One home run instead of wriggling out by the skin of one's teeth doesn't seem to fit the criteria to me.

3rd June, DBacks at Cards: Seven innings, one run.

9th June, Cards at Reds: Six innings, four runs on five hits and three walks. This game featured a pair of two-run innings by the Reds, so no single blowup frame here.

15th June, Cards at Marlins: Five innings, seven runs on nine hits and three walks.

This one...does feature a big inning. The first, in fact. Juan Pierre led off the game with a triple (this was after the Redbirds plated five of their own in the top of the first, by the by), and scored on an infield single. Lynn recorded two outs on a flyball to right and a strikeout, and it looked like he was going to escape. Then, disaster. A walk, a single, a hit by pitch, and another single, and suddenly the Marlins had scored four runs. That's just the sort of run I feel like we see a lot from Lynn; a run of several hitters where he just flat-out fails to retire anyone. But, looking at the box scores, I'm thinking it feels like we see it more often than we actually do.

20th June, Cubs at Cards: Six innings, one run.

26th June, Cards at Astros: Seven and two-thirds innings, four runs on five hits and four walks. A pattern I am noticing is that when Lynn struggles with his control, he really struggles.

All four runs came in the fourth inning. (Uh-oh.) The first four hitters of the frame reached, on two singles and two walks. Two more nonconsecutive singles in the inning plated runs, and the 'Stros had all the runs they would need, winning 4-3. In the fourth inning, Lynn allowed four hits (though all singles), and two walks. In the other 6.2 innings, one hit and two walks. Actually, interestingly enough, the other hit and one of the walks came in the fifth inning, so it kind of looks as if Lynn had a great outing other than mysteriously losing his shit right in the middle of the game for a couple innings. Definitely fits the hypothesis, no?

2nd July, Cards at Angels: Six innings, five runs, nine hits. Just one walk, though, so that's good.

The Angels scored all five of their runs in one inning; namely, the second. In said inning, Lynn allowed the first four batters to reach base, all via singles. A foulout by Chris Iannetta was followed by two more singles, then an error by Matt Carpenter. The miscue certainly didn't help matters, but still, six hits in one inning, three in the other five. Hmph.

7th July, Marlins at Cards: Seven innings, two runs. Solid outing.

13th July, Cardinals at Cubs: 4.1 innings, six runs, twelve(!) hits. Just one walk, but also just two strikeouts.

This was a weird one to try and parse. There was a big inning, but the Cubs also scored in three separate frames off Lynn. A solo homer in the third and a two-run blast in the fourth both contributed, but the second inning was the really ugly one.

Alfonso Soriano led off the frame with a double, then scored on a single. Lynn did get Brian Bogusevic to ground out, throwing a passed ball in the process, but then allowed four more singles, including three in a row, before he could escape the inning. He was just kind of bad overall on this day, but there does seem to be an odd pattern of giving up multiple hits, usually singles, all in a row. Oh, he also gave up another pair of singles in the fifth before being lifted for Keith Butler.

20th July, Padres at Cards: Five innings, four runs, three walks, six hits.

No big inning here, however; Lance did allow three singles and a walk in the two-run third, but really, he just gave up a bunch of baserunners all day.

25th July, Philles at Cardinals: Seven innings, one run. Four walks, though, continuing the other leitmotif of Lynn's season, that of remarkably high walk totals in just a handful of games.

30th July, Cards at Pirates: Six innings, one run, seven strikeouts. An heroic effort, but the Cards still dropped the first game of that nightmarish doubleheader. Grr.

4th August, Cardinals at Reds: Eight innings, two runs, four hits, eleven strikeouts. Beautiful game.

9th August, Cubs at Cards: 6.2 innings, three runs on three hits and five walks. Again with the elevated walk total.

And, unfortunately, again with the big inning. Well, sort of, anyway. Through the first six innings, Lynn had allowed just a pair of hits and had the Cubbies shut out, though he had been wild most of the evening even so. To begin the seventh, he walked two batters, sandwiching a bunt groundout between them. He struck out Logan Watkins for the second out, and it looked like he would escape unscathed. Unfortunately, he then gave up an RBI single and hit a batter, and his night was over. Randy Choate came in and gave up a two-run single of his own, then struck out David DeJesus to end the inning.

This is another tough one to categorise, as Lynn was really let down by his bullpen more than he himself blew up. I think this is much more a matter of a pitcher running on fumes and just not being able to finish the job (he was at 115 pitches when he came out), than a mysterious blowup from a clear blue sky.

15th August, Pirates at Cardinals: 5.1 innings, four runs, eight hits.

All four runs Lynn allowed in this one came in a single inning, the fifth. Through the first four innings, Lance had allowed four hits and a walk; he wasn't dominating, exactly, but he was pitching solidly. Maybe a touch better than that. Oh, and then in the fifth, the Pirates hit for the cycle, going single-double-home run-strikeout-triple; a sac fly scored the fourth run of the inning. Perfectly clear day, fucking lightning bolt.

20th August, Cards at Brewers: Six innings, six runs, nine hits, three walks.

I'm sure we all remember what happened less than 24 hours ago, but still: no runs in the first three innings, then BOOM! The fourth inning opened with two singles, an error by Lynn himself, and then three more singles, plating four runs. The Brew Crew handed Lance an out with a sac bunt, then a sacrifice fly finished the frame's scoring. First three innings: one walk, one hit. Fourth inning: five hits, all singles, five runs.

So...yeah. What can we conclude from all this? Well, I think we can safely say that it is not our collective imagination; there does seem to be a definite pattern here of Lance Lynn getting blown out of the water in one big inning a pretty high percentage of the time he has a bad game. By my count, Lynn has had ten poor outings this season; in eight of those ten, the vast majority of the runs he allowed came all in a single inning. A seemingly strange large percentage of those innings were based on runs of singles, three, four, five in a row, rather than giving up a ton of extra-base hits. (Pittsburgh's cycle notwithstanding.)

On the other hand, I don't know really what else we can say at this point. I feel confident in saying Lance Lynn does give up a lot of runs in bunches, oftentimes single innings in otherwise solid outings. The problem is, I have no idea how common that is for other pitchers. It could very well be that's just kind of the way baseball works; it doesn't really feel that way to me, but I don't honestly know how to go about researching the idea beyond simply poring over boxscores endlessly, and that's just a bit too tedious for me. Maybe one of you has a better grasp of whether this sort of thing is common for pitchers who are not, in fact, Lance Lynn.

In the end, though, I'm somewhat gladdened -- but also disheartened -- to see this isn't a case of anecdotal evidence making us believe something that just isn't true at all. Gladdened because I like it when my perceptions prove out; I like to occasionally feel as if I'm capable of seeing the world for what it really is, rather than what I wish it to be, or what I've been told it is by someone else. Disheartened, of course, because Lance Lynn really does seem prone to getting cluster-bombed from out of nowhere, and I don't understand why. I wish I could put my finger on something, anything, that would explain it. But I can't. And that's all kinds of frustrating.

A lot like Lance Lynn, come to think of it.

Shit. Day game today, huh? It appears my 2500 word epic is rather ill-timed. Sigh.