Three weeks into spring training, St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Lance Lynn has pitched a grand total of one inning due to a left hip flexor strain suffered in his spring debut on March 8th. However, based on this Jenifer Langosch article from five days ago, there is at least one concrete reason to be excited about the 27-year-old right-hander as he prepares for his fourth full season with St. Louis. The fastball-dependent pitcher has retooled a pitch he threw less than 100 times (2.57%) last season—a reportedly much improved changeup.
While it has been over two weeks since we last saw Lynn in live game action, he is slated to start today's game against the Red Sox in Fort Myers after proving his health in a handful of bullpens and a three-inning simulated game last week. Regarding the simulated game, Lynn was able to face off against an also rehabbing Jon Jay, a contact-first lefty—the exact type of hitter who has given Lynn trouble in the past (LHBs have a career .253/.355/.409 slash against Lynn). It was after this experience that we learned about the progress of Lynn's expanding arsenal.
According to Jay (in Langosch's article), he "had never seen [Lynn's changeup] like that. Same thing with [Adam Wainwright] the other day. [Lynn's] changeup was filthy. It's just another weapon to his arsenal. Those guys are already good, and that's what makes them special. They keep on continuing to grow and get better. You see that with Lance now. He's taking that next step to try and solidify himself as that guy that everyone looks to."
As you can see in the table above (data from 2014 season, via BrooksBaseball), Lynn had more success against lefties last season than previous seasons, especially with fastballs, but the inclusion of an improved changeup he is comfortable throwing shows that he still has room to develop as pitcher before reaching peak performance. This is something the Cardinals' field staff and front office should be pleased with considering they just inked the righty to a pretty substantial contract extension two months ago.
While the pitch will likely have some growing pains throughout the season, it isn't necessarily something he should easily give up on because at present, his curveball (a pitch he doesn't throw very often) is the only pitch outside of his fastballs that can be considered an "out pitch" against lefties. As we all know by now, Lynn loves throwing his two fastballs (combined for 79% usage in 2014), so adding a pitch with a similar ball flight at a much slower velocity would be a welcome addition to his repertoire.
While we have learned a decent amount about the Cardinals so far this spring, I truly believe Lynn's repertoire addition should be a much bigger story, and to be honest, it probably will be after he shows it off in today's outing. While not desired, should Lynn experience even the slightest decline with fastball velocity in the coming years, an effective changeup will lead to prolonged success, as it will be a pitch utilized to keep hitters honest.
Previous posts I've written on changeups (clearly my favorite pitch):
- The return of Michael Wacha's changeup bodes well for the rotation of the St. Louis Cardinals (March 11, 2015)
- Trevor Rosenthal and a look at pitch usage, sequencing, and location (January 28, 2015)
- The best changeup on the St. Louis Cardinals, Carlos Martinez? (January 21, 2015)
- PITCHF/x: Just how good is the changeup of Marco Gonzales and just how good can it be? (September 17, 2014)
- The beauty of pitching: The changeups of Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha (July 30, 2014)