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Where would the St. Louis Cardinals be without Lance Lynn?

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Lance Lynn has established himself as a rotation cornerstone when the Cardinals needed him most.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The St. Louis Cardinals were deep in starting pitching entering the 2014 season. But their collection of starters were accompanied by questions about age, injury, and workload. No matter the ultimate makeup of the opening-day rotation, the Cards faced an innings gap—one that could only be filled by their young or injured starters shouldering more innings.

Due to the question regarding innings pitched facing the starting staff, Lance Lynn was an important piece of the rotation entering the season. Lynn was the only pitcher not named Adam Wainwright who had tallied over 200 innings pitched during the 2013 season and made 29 or more starts in each of the last two seasons. Sure, one could projection Shelby Miller or Michael Wacha for 30+ starts and 200+ innings, but Wainwright and Lynn were the only two pitchers to have been there and done that.

Despite establishing himself as a 200-inning starter the year before, questions nonetheless dogged Lynn. In his first two seasons, the righty had been inconsistent—often with his release point. For an inning or so, watching Lynn pitch seemed to consist as much with him battling his own mechanics as the other team. And while Lynn battled in search of his release point, the walks and hits would mount, which in turn led to runs. The phenomenon even got its own name (complete with Twitter hashtag): the Lynning.

In addition to rough innings that led to poor starts, Lynn was also prone to poor stretches of starts. The first poor stretch hit in the second half of the 2012 season, which gave way to the deduction that Lynn tired down the stretch. The Ole Miss alum went through a similar rough patch during the dog days of last summer, which did nothing to quell the chattering that he was fatigued (no matter how much weight he lost during the previous offseason thanks to diet and workout). The notion that Lynn grows tired as the 162-game marathon progresses maintained even after Lynn posted the following September stats: 2.12 ERA, 3.15 FIP, and 3.12 xFIP.

Then there were Lynn's yawning lefty-righty platoon splits. Lynn's slight sling of a delivery is hell on righthanded batsmen. Against lefthanders, not so much. Last season is representative. In 2013, righthanded hitters posted a .242/.299/.353 (291 wOBA) against Lynn while lefthanders batted .252/.361/.404 (.340 wOBA).

Despite the questions, Lynn has emerged as one of the better pitchers in the National League and a godsend to a Cardinals rotation plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness.

Part of Lynn's excellent 2014 is due to an evening out of sorts between his peripherals (strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen, and homers allowed) and his runs allowed. That, and a bit of luck—though too terribly much. The following chart shows Lynn's 2012, 2013, and 2014 stats.

Year

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB

BABIP

LOB%

ERA

FIP

xFIP

E-F

2012

176.0

24.2%

8.6%

10.4%

.321

75.6%

3.78

3.49

3.60

0.29

2013

201.2

23.1%

8.9%

7.4%

.314

71.8%

3.97

3.28

3.66

0.69

2014

145.2

21.3%

8.6%

4.9%

.300

74.9%

2.97

3.15

3.74

-0.18

Lynn hasn't improved his strikeouts or walks. In fact, Lynn is actually striking out a lesser share of the opposition this season, which has hurt his strikeout-to-walk ratio. The difference in Lynn's FIP from years past is his HR/FB rate, which has continued a steady decline from roughly league-average to less to about half the league-average rate. As xFIP—an advanced stat that uses strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen, and the league-average HR rate—indicates, Lynn's low HR rate seems unsustainable even while playing home games the homer-suppressing environs of Busch Stadium.

Lynn's HR/FB rate has reversed his ERA-FIP gap (the "E-F" column). In years past, Lynn's peripherals have indicated he should have allowed fewer runs than he did. This season, Lynn is allowing fewer runs than his ERA-FIP gap suggests he should be. It's a small gap, due to a slightly above-average LOB%. Lynn's runs allowed ought to regress upward. The extent of that upward bend will depend largely on homers.

The other primary factor in Lynn's 2014 breakout is his ability to neutralize lefthanded batters. This season, Lynn has held lefties to a .231/.324/.341 (.302 wOBA) line. The walks are still there, as in years past, but Lynn has done a much better job of keeping lefthanded batsmen from batting for power. For comparison, righthanders are hitting .244/.302/.351 (.290 wOBA). Lynn has continued to be rough on righties while taking a step forward against lefties.

What's more, Lynn has done all of this while averaging over six innings per start.

In the preseason, I wrote about how advanced statistics indicated that Lynn was poised for a breakout 2014 campaign. The contours of that breakout are a bit different than one might have anticipated when pitchers and catchers were reporting to Jupiter. But it's nonetheless been good to see the third-year starter establish himself as a rotation stalwart. Lynn has been just what the Cardinals needed in the rotation this year. I don't know where the team would be without him.