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Cardinals counting on Lance Lynn in 2015

The Cardinals rotation is full of question marks related to health, age, and inexperience. Lance Lynn brings none of those issues into 2015.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

With all the talk about trades, free agents, and potential injuries, the one player left out of the discussion is Lance Lynn. He is seen as a workhorse, a constant, and the Cardinals are counting on him heavily for innings and a solid performance in 2015. Lance Lynn has made 95 starts over the past three seasons, including 33 in each of the past two years. He has gone over 200 innings in both 2013 and 2014 and put up a good performance in both years. His ERA the past two years at 3.35 matches up with his FIP of 3.31 (funny how that works out), and he has put up an fWAR exceeding three in both seasons. The Cardinals will need more of the same this season.

Lynn's performance has been solid, but what was apparent last year, and perhaps even more important going into 2015, are the innings Lance Lynn provides. Yesterday, Ben discussed the Cardinals current innings predicament, and the team's projected innings lacking in predictability.

But, even viewing 2015 in the hue of rose, Wacha and Martinez are crapshoots. Wacha's projected 137 IP seems like a great over/under number. It's hard to imagine Martinez totaling more than 150-which is fine for a No. 5 starter, but worrisome if Wainwright, Lynn, Lackey, or Wacha hit the DL. That could realistically give back the 55 IP we added by nudging upward the projections for Wainwright, Lynn, and Lackey.

When I wrote about the number of starters the Cardinals will need in 2015, I closed with the following:

The Cardinals are wise to hold on to the depth they have and to bring as much extra help as they can get. The season is long, and the more pitching the Cardinals have, the better positioned they will be to weather a storm of injuries and ineffectiveness that is almost inevitable with a modern rotation.

The two posts from above tend to take Lynn as a given. He is almost an afterthought, not because he is not important, but because his pitching has been so consistent and so reliable over the past few years, it is difficult to believe he will not do it again in 2015. The projections agree. ZiPS has Lynn projected for 31 starts, 193 innings, a 3.27 ERA and 3.36 FIP. Steamer is not as optimistic with a 3.72 ERA and 3.77 FIP, but the starts and innings are there. Lynn is very valuable to the Cardinals, although we have yet to hear any more news on a potential Lynn extension. The team and Lynn will exchange arbitration figures on Friday, which should move along any negotiations.

Lynn has a proven track record, and he has the build of a workhorse, but pitchers get injured, and no track record or body-type is immune. Throwing a baseball with incredible velocity over and over again seems not to be good for the overall health of the arm. However, Lynn looks to be in good shape heading to 2015, relative to most pitchers.

Taking the entire universe of starters from 1999 to 2013, then narrowing down to 25-27 year-olds can give us a decent idea of how pitchers like Lynn have fared. Given that I am mainly interested in innings and health, I will narrow the situation down accordingly. Lynn has made 95 starts over his 25-27 seasons from 2012-2014, made 33 starts last season and had an fWAR of 3.1. To find similar pitchers, I looked at those who had made at least 90 starts over the previous three seasons, and at least 30 starts in the Age-27 season. While I am not overly interested in performance at this point, ineffectiveness could be a sign of injury, and it could also indicate that a player's rotation spot is tenuous, causing the player to lose his spot in the following year for reasons other than injury. As a result, I took only pitchers that were at least average in their Age-27 season, using an fWAR of 2.0 as the barometer.

After winnowing down to similar pitchers using Fangraphs Leaderboards, there were 42 comparable players. These players were all good pitchers, like Lynn, although some of them were great. At Age-27, the players averaged more than 210 innings with a 3.67 ERA, 3.63 FIP, and 4.1 fWAR. The following season, the Age-28 season, the group as a whole again pitched very well. The group averaged roughly 192 innings pitched with a 3.92 ERA, 3.85 FIP, and 3.4 fWAR. The drop in numbers is not surprising given that the previous year's group were all selected specifically in a year when they were completely healthy and completed a full season. Still, the average innings stayed high, and the performance remained easily above average.

Averages can be deceiving and could mask a big drop or injuries in the group at large. However, looking individually at the Age-28 season provides optimism. Of the 42 pitchers, roughly three quarters (31) made 30 starts. Eighty-six percent (36) of the group made at least 27 starts. Twenty-two pitchers threw over 200 innings. Thirty-two threw at least 180 innings, and 36 pitchers were above 150. Twenty-nine of the pitchers were above average (2 fWAR) and just six pitchers had seasons worth less than a win.

There are no guarantees when it comes to pitcher health and effectiveness, but Lance Lynn has put himself among a good group of pitchers. Injuries have become commonplace to the point we expect them to happen. There have been fewer feelings expressed that way about Lance Lynn, and for good reason. While it would not be shocking, Lance Lynn getting injured or completely losing his effectiveness would be a surprise rather than the norm. With the current state of the Cardinals' rotation, the team is counting on that track record to continue next season.