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How did Lance Lynn's 2014 performance compare to preseason projections?

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A look at how VEB and some projection systems fared in forecasting Lance Lynn's 2014.

Dilip Vishwanat

You know that stupid car commercial with Matthew McConaughey where he mumbles something or other about how "they say you can never go back but I think you can blah, blah blah"? Well, he's right. You can go back, because on the internet, nothing ever dies.

Let's step into late February and early March of this year to take a look at VEB's community projection series. Over the coming weeks we'll see how we did with most players on the squad and compare how we did to Steamer, PECOTA, Oliver and ZiPS. Since Craig wrote about the possibility and cost of a Lance Lynn extension yesterday, let's start with him.

Lance Lynn entered the 2014 season with two straight years of a significantly worse ERA than his FIP suggested, leading to some optimism that he would have a better ERA going forward, but there were also concerns about Lynn's problems handling lefty batters. Every projection system predicted Lynn to best his 3.97 ERA from 2013, and boy howdy, did he ever.

Lance Lynn 2014 projections and results

 

Overall, projections were fairly tightly bunched. VEB was the most consistently optimistic, and probably looks best overall with the caveat that we didn't see the drop in K's coming at all. ZiPS could make a good argument for best of the projections as well, but none of the systems missed too badly. PECOTA looks worst, but they were closest on the K and BB rates as a group.

The big failing for everyone of course is the ERA. The 2.74 came out of the blue, and I expect the same people who thought his 3.97 last year was due to come down will expect the 2.74 to regress up a bit next season. If I had to wager a guess, I would bet that next March VEB will predict him for something in the 3.25-3.40 range for 2015. What do you think?

I want to look a little bit at where Lynn improved this season, but before we leave the projections behind, I'll tip my cap to Cardsray, who submitted 201 IP, 3.18 ERA, 8.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, and a 16-7 record. Looks like the best overall user among the 60 of us who participated in the Lynn projections. Cheers, Cardsray!

There's a lot to wade through to draw conclusions about why Lance Lynn's ERA improved so much and to make claims about how much of that jump is sustainable. This isn't the post for that, but let me highlight a few things that stood out to me while I was poking around Brooksbaseball and Fangraphs.

 

2013 LOB%: 71.8 (73.5 league average)

2014 LOB%: 78.1 (73.0 league average)

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2013 BABIP: .314 (.294 league average)

2014 BABIP: .290 (.295 league average)

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LHB wOBA against

2012: .366

2013: .340

2014: .314

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FIP vs LHB

2012: 5.30

2013: 4.21

2014: 3.97

 

Lynn saw some expected regression in areas where he possibly received some poor fortune in 2013. An improved Cardinals defense also likely helped, as did Lynn's better performance against lefties. While Lynn has been close to elite against RHB since he became a permanent part of the rotation in 2012, he was a liability for the Cardinals when facing lefties. He's still not great against them, but he has made significant improvement each season.

He didn't change his pitch usage against lefties too drastically in 2014. He dropped a few percentage points of use off his curve and change to bring his sinker up to a healthy 32% while his fourseam held steady at 47%. The biggest clue might be overall improved command.

Here are some zone charts showing how he was able to work away more while getting more swings against pitches that batters aren't going to do anything special with.

lynn 1

 

lynn 2

Lynn 3

 

Lynn 4

I think his increased use of fastballs off the plate to lefties while inducing more swings on them is likely one of the keys to his better numbers, as is the reduction in pitches in the inside to middle and down to middle area. Remember, these charts just represent his sinker and fourseam use to lefties, so this is just a start.

And this is a small number of pitches, but it's fun:

"Grooved Pitches" to LHB via brooksbaseball.

2013:

Fourseam: 7.90%

Sinker: 2.54%

2014:

Fourseam: 6.45%

Sinker: 0.98%

 

What do you think he'll do next year? You have four months to figure it out.

morning edit: check out this piece from ESPN's sweetspot blog about Lynn's improved performance against LHB. Make sure to scroll down for the heatmaps.