Nothing seems to be finishing off the Cardinals, currently four games out of first place with a still-decent 20% chance of making the playoffs, per FanGraphs. Of course, nothing the Cardinals have done tends to show that the team still has a ton of life. At this point, nobody could blame the Cardinals front office for doing a bit of selling. The wins simply haven’t been there. Today’s scheduled starter is Lance Lynn. Will he make what could be his final home start tonight or might he get a few more chances here in St. Louis before heading off to free agency?
As for Lynn’s value, we appear to be in a relatively thin market for starting pitching, but Lynn’s status as a pending free agent tends to bring the cost down at the trading deadline. Lynn’s value is further complicated by the Cardinals ability to offer Lynn a qualifying offer at the end of the season.
At the end of the season, the Cardinals can offer Lynn a one-year deal, expected to be worth around $18 million. A one-year deal for a player of Lynn’s caliber is a bargain, which is why he would almost certainly decline that offer. If Lynn were to sign with another team, the Cardinals would then receive a draft pick next year. Because the Cardinals are not a team that pays the competitive balance tax for a high payroll and they are not a team that receives revenue sharing money, that pick will follow the second round with a bonus amount of around $750,000 to $1 million.
Whatever offers the Cardinals receive, it needs to be better than the value of that draft pick. Lynn is owed just $2.5 million the rest of the way, and that money either for the Cardinals or the team that receives him likely won’t play a major role in getting any deal done. Over his last five starts, he has pitched as well as anyone, with a 3.37 FIP and a 1.76 ERA.
Lynn has put up a very good 3.30 ERA this year, more than 20% better than league average, but his FIP this season is a not so good 4.97, leading to a wide contrast in his fWAR (0.6), which is based on FIP and his bWAR (2.2), which is based on runs allowed. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Lynn’s FIP is very high due in part to a large number of homers, which has been uncharacteristic for Lynn in his career, but his ERA is very low due to a .225 BABIP and a very high 82% left-on-base rate.
As for that low BABIP, we can take a look at Statcast a bit and see what Lynn’s contact has has actually deserved. Before we do that, let’s remember that Lynn’s homer rate is double his career rate. If half the homers turned into doubles, his BABIP would be .252, still very low, but not as low.
As for Statcast, we can go a bit further than just BABIP, which doesn’t factor in extra base hits, and look at Lynn’s wOBA (an all encompassing offensive stat which isn’t as good as wRC+ which is park adjusted, but should provide a good snapshot of Lynn this year). It looks at all of the plays, including strikeouts and walks, that weren’t homers and compares that to his xwOBA, essentially what is wOBA should be given the launch angle and exit velocity of Lynn’s batted balls if they were normally distributed.
Lynn’s xwOBA on non-homers is .267 and his wOBA on those plays is .221, indicating that yes, when the ball stays in the park, Lynn has been a bit fortunate. Now let’s take the same exercise and only look at home runs. When Lynn has given up a home run this year, the wOBA against is 2.000, which is the value when you hit a homer. However, Lynn’s xwOBA on those plays is way lower at 1.171. The difference of .829 is in the top 15% of all pitchers who have given up at least 10 homers (Carlos Martinez is even higher on the list). That means Lynn has gotten pretty unlucky on homers this season.
Let’s combine the luck on batted balls with the lack of luck on homers and see where Lynn lands. His xwOBA is .308 and his wOBA against is .301, pretty close to each other. For comparison’s sake, the starting pitchers with the closest xwOBA against to Lynn this season are Marco Estrada, Ariel Miranda, Kyle Freeland, Robbie Ray, Jaime Garcia, Jason Vargas, and Gio Gonzalez. Only Estrada has had a poor season preventing runs, and the average ERA for those 3.83, which is above average, and the average FIP is 4.37, roughly average.
Lynn is projected to have a roughly average FIP and ERA going forward and worth close to a win above replacement down the stretch. Acquiring a starter for most teams bumps a poor starter out of the way and is worth that full win down the stretch. For teams in tight races, that win is likely to matter, and for many teams, Lynn will move into the top-4 of the rotation if not higher, making him a playoff starter.
As for who might be interested, any team in the playoff hunt could probably use a starter. The Royals just made a big move, but they might not be done. The Yankees rotation could use some help. The Astros might need a starter. If the Rangers hold on to Yu Darvish, they are a team that could probably use help in the rotation. The Brewers might not be looking for a rental, but tonight’s opponent Colorado might.
Lynn’s destination is a bit murky because just about everybody could use a starter and the cost, both in money and prospects isn’t incredibly high. The Cardinals, while they should be talking to just about everyone, haven’t actually made a deal to indicate that they are in fact selling. Lance Lynn could be that deal. It could happen today. It might not happen at all, but Lynn is a good pitcher who has been a workhorse for the Cardinals. If the end of his Cardinals run is near, it’s been a very good career thus far in what should be one that continues well into the future.