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Lance Lynn toying with cutter so far in 2017

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A slight repertoire shift for Lynn could pay big dividends this season.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Lynn throws a whole lot of fastballs. He made this abundantly clear in a post-game interview aired on Fox Sports Midwest (please note, the embedded video auto-plays for some reason) back in 2015. To date (via BrooksBaseball.net), Lynn has thrown 14,757 pitches tracked by PitchF/x, and if you include the cutter — considering its full name is “cut fastball” — along with his fourseamer and sinker, 85.21% of these pitches have been fastballs. Through five starts this season, Lynn’s fastball percentage has climbed to 92.01% — just behind his 2015 mark of 92.07%. Yet, even with such a high fastball percentage, there exists a noticeable shift in Lynn’s repertoire, and it’s a welcome development — one called for by many over the years.

At 15.78%, Lynn is going to his cutter more frequently than he ever has. In fact, prior to this season, the cutter’s highest usage rate was back in 2013 at 12.13% before eventually tumbling all the way down to 7.90% in 2015 — the year in which we learned the 29-year-old righty required Tommy John surgery. There are two major differences between the cutter and Lynn’s two other fastballs: velocity and movement. While Lynn’s fourseamer and sinker possess considerable arm-side movement, his cutter slides to his glove side. From a velocity standpoint, the cutter’s readings average roughly five miles per hour slower than his fastballs.

Despite missing the entire 2016 season, Lynn has been one of the top-30 most valuable pitchers in baseball since he became a full-time rotation member in 2012. Think about that for a second. Even with this fact being publicly available, he remains wildly underrated, especially within the St. Louis Cardinals fan base. Frankly, I believe one of the main reasons why has been his inability to consistently throw a third pitch — one with a different movement profile than his top two pitches. Because there’s no chance a fastball-only pitcher can be successful over the long-haul, right? Wait, isn’t that exactly what Lynn has done since 2017. Moving on...

Before going any further, I must note that Statcast classifies the pitch in question as a slider, while BrooksBaseball calls it a cutter. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter what you call it considering both pitches possess the same style of movement (for right-handed pitchers, glove-side horizontally and down, slightly). I bring this up because in order to run a Statcast search on baseballsavant.com, I must use their classification of the pitch (slider), instead of BrooksBaseball’s (cutter). Not a big deal, really, but certainly a helpful hint in case readers ever choose to check my work. As with most pitches, let’s check in on what is widely considered the most important aspect:

Location, location, location

Lynn is locating the cutter perfectly thus far. As you can see from the pitch’s core (along with the visualization of the glove-side movement profile), the pitch rides in on the hands of lefties and dives away from righties — both desirable plans of attack. While the core could still shift one deviation to the right, the current core is more conducive to called strikes from umpires, and for a pitcher with a below league-average zone percentage, let’s not get too picky.

Further along in my Statcast research of the pitch, I learned that Lynn puts an above-average amount of spin on his cutter, possessing an average spin rate of 2,446 rpm. According to this Mike Petriello article, the MLB average spin rate for cutters was 2,185 rpm. For sliders (since that’s how Statcast classifies Lynn’s pitch), it was 2,090 rpm. Using either classification, Lynn’s spin rate is well above the MLB average. Thus far in 2017, the pitch has experienced an exit velocity of 81.7 MPH and launch angle of 7.3°. This means weak, on-the-ground contact is its specialty, and sure enough, when hitters aren’t swinging and missing — something they’re doing on 21.05% of swings — they aren’t experiencing much success as the pitch has allowed two hits all season, both being mere singles.

Bottom line, if you have read any of my work in the past, you know that I am generally not a big fan of the cutter. I don’t like the one thrown by Adam Wainwright, and I went as far as saying Michael Wacha should scrap his entirely. Well, put me on record for being a big fan of Lynn’s. As I shared on Twitter last night, I’ve reached the conclusion that I like cutters in pitchers that already possess good fastballs. I don’t like cutters in pitchers who struggle — one way or another — with their fastballs. Lynn clearly has a good grasp on his fastball, and he has shown he can be successful by throwing nothing other than fastballs. The addition of a pitch — breaking in the opposite direction — should only lead to even more success for the 6’5” righty.

Credit to BrooksBaseball.net and baseballsavant.com for data used in this post.