Since becoming a member of the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation in 2012 (four seasons), Lance Lynn has produced 13.0 fWAR—20th best among MLB pitchers. With 756.2 innings logged during this time period (~189 per season), Lynn has proven that he is capable of filling an "innings eater" role. It does not stop there, though, because when you couple his workload with the statistics he has been able to produce, you find yourself with a really good starting pitcher, one that is desirable by realistically every single team in baseball.
Yet, according to some Cardinals fans, this does not seem to be the case, for whatever reason. Some have gone as far as believing it is best for the team to cut ties with him via trade. Now, I am fully aware that Lynn had a rough second half (there is no sugarcoating it), but recency bias is definitely at play here, and fans having a negative outlook toward Lynn has been something that has unfairly followed him throughout his career in St. Louis. One of the biggest complaints I see is that he throws "too many" fastballs. As a result, there is no way he can have "sustained success" with such an elementary repertoire.
First and foremost, the belief that Lynn cannot have sustained success with his current repertoire is utterly wrong. Why? Because he has already shown to be a ~3.0 fWAR pitcher over four full big league seasons. Yes, it would be nice if Lynn could develop into a pitcher like Clayton Kershaw or Jacob deGrom, but let's not get unreasonably selfish here.
Second, what is understated here is that no two Lynn fastballs are alike. That statement sounds cliche, but it really is true. I have written at least three articles dedicated solely to Lynn's fastball in my time with Viva El Birdos, and long story short, he alters his arm slot, dials velocity up and down, and utilizes effective velocity on a consistent basis. Thus, what may be termed as one pitch (a "fastball") is really three, four, or even five, depending on the start.
All that being said, this brings us to Mike Matheny's much too early end-of-season postseason press conference with John Mozeliak:
One of offseason goals for Lynn will be to improve his secondary pitches, Matheny says. #STLCards— Stan McNeal (@stanmcneal) October 15, 2015
It doesn't require complex thinking to know that 2016 and beyond Lance Lynn would absolutely benefit from improvement of his secondary pitches. Then again, such an offseason goal is not unique as it probably applies to nearly every single MLB pitcher. Either way, let's take a look at Lynn's repertoire since 2012 and set a baseline for what we can expect in the 2016 season.
Pitch Usage as a Starting Pitcher (Since 2012)
If you group fourseamer, sinker, and cutter together as "fastball," then absolutely, Lynn throws a ton of fastballs: 85.3% of the time, to be exact. There is no denying that. However, as you can see in the table below, each pitch has a unique horizontal movement, with each offering a different look to an opposing hitter.
Dragless Horizontal Movement (inches)
Reminder: Negative number = arm side movement, Positive number = glove side movement
The main reason I included this table was to show the stark difference in horizontal movements of Lynn's fastballs (as discussed above), but another reason was to show that Lynn's secondary offerings already have desirable movement on them. What this means is that he doesn't need to completely revamp them, but rather just fine-tune them.
And if you have read me long enough, you should know by now that I do not like making bold claims in articles (Twitter is another story), but here is one: the first step for Lynn to scrap the cutter completely. And no, this is not based on poor results against the pitch (as I have not even looked at them), but given the state of his current repertoire and where I think the Cardinals want him to be, it just does not belong. When Matheny talks of "secondary offerings," I think of pitches that are considerably slower than the fastball, something a cutter is not. I think of high 70's/low 80's pitches like a curve, change, or slider.
Well, what we know already is that Lynn is supremely comfortable throwing fastballs. The second step in the process in "improving his secondary pitches" is developing a pitch that can work off his fastballs and/or make his fastballs even better. The pitch we are looking for is not a breaking ball (even though Lynn gets good movement on his curveball), but rather the ole trusty changeup. Why was Michael Wacha so successful in 2013 despite having only two pitches (fastball, changeup) he was comfortable throwing? The obvious answer is that hitters didn't have a "book" on the rookie just yet, but a contributing factor was that the two pitches Wacha threw complemented each other perfectly, which helped lead the righty to an NLCS MVP selection.
As you may remember, the changeup is a pitch Lynn teased us with last offseason, but it never became a real weapon for him. He threw a grand total of 95 changeups in 2015, and possible reason why was because hitters mashed the pitch (in a very small sample: 15 at bats). If Lynn wants to remain a fastball-heavy pitcher going forward (he does, and he will), it is in his best interest to figure out a way to develop (and gain comfort with) a more effective changeup. Fortunately for him, he has a good place to start by talking with Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal about pitch grips (who, in my opinion, have the two best changeups on staff, and two of the very best in baseball).
For the TL;DR Crowd
1. Keep throwing fastballs
2. Scrap the cutter
3. Develop and subsequently throw more changeups
4. Trust the curveball (throw it ~12-15% of the time)