Earlier, the Cardinals signed Lance Lynn to a three-year contract, buying out his three years of arbitration eligibility. There’s nothing too remarkable about the deal — it’s good for the team and it’s good for the player, and Lynn’s still all lined up for free agency at the same time if that’s what he wants. Over the past three years, Lynn has been about a nine-win pitcher by actual runs allowed, and he’s been about a nine-win pitcher by his peripherals. He’s thrown more than 600 innings if you include his work in the playoffs. He’s been pretty good, basically, so the Cardinals figure he’ll remain pretty good, and that’s as much as there is to say about that.
The interesting thing about Lynn isn’t his newest contract, or any of his previous contracts. Rather, it’s about his pitching style, and, beyond that, how his pitching style lets him fit in his own particular situation. The stars have aligned for Lynn in the recent past, and based on current indications, 2015 is also going to be favorable. There might not be a better place for Lynn to be pitching than St. Louis.
Many of you might already know about Lynn’s platoon splits, but just in case you don’t, or in case you need a refresher, let’s cover the past five years, and look for pitchers who’ve thrown at least 150 innings against both righties and lefties. Do this and you get a sample of 168 names. Lynn is a right-handed pitcher, who’s been far better against right-handed hitters. By how much? His wOBA has been 58 points better against righties than lefties, ranking 11th in the sample. His FIP has been 1.94 points better, ranking second in the sample. And his xFIP has been 1.83 points better, ranking first in the sample, and ranking first by a lot — second place is at 1.33. The conclusion is obvious: Lynn has an extreme split, for a starter. You always have to regress platoon splits, but regression doesn’t completely erase Lynn’s track record.
So this is a guy who can be exposed against lefties. That much isn’t a mystery. The Cardinals know it, and the Cardinals’ opponents, presumably, have known it. And yet, Lynn has been somewhat protected. A couple years ago, Lynn faced 56% righties. This ranked second-highest among righties with at least 100 innings. Last year, Lynn again faced 56% righties. Compare that to, say, Yu Darvish, who faced 36% righties. The average was 49%. Even though Lynn has shown big platoon splits, teams haven’t been able to stack the lineups against him. Not like they have with Darvish, or Jered Weaver, or Kevin Gausman.
A big factor here is that Lynn’s division has been light on quality left-handed hitting. Last year’s Brewers basically had just Scooter Gennett and Lyle Overbay. The Reds had Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Billy Hamilton, but two struggled due to injury and one struggled not due to injury. On the Pirates, Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, and Russell Martin were right-handed. And though the Cubs had Anthony Rizzo, the other lefties didn’t exactly strike much fear. The NL Central, lately, has been good for Lance Lynn.
But how about the season ahead? What I can’t do easily is project how teams will structure their lineups on a day-to-day basis. Yet here’s what I could do: go through the team depth charts, and calculate percentages of projected plate appearances going to righties, lefties, and switch-hitters. This will function as a proxy for strength against various pitcher types. And while I know the depth charts aren’t perfect, and the offseason isn’t over, I don’t think too much is going to change between now and the start of the regular season. For the most part, teams are set. There aren’t many remaining starter vacancies.
Here’s the breakdown, and this should be sortable:
Now, because I’m writing about Lance Lynn, let’s focus on lefties plus switch-hitters. Those are the guys Lynn would like to avoid. This table isn’t sortable, because, what else would you sort?
|Team||LH + SH%|
In the NL Central, Lynn’s own team projects to give the most playing time to lefties and switch-hitters, and if all goes according to plan Lynn won’t have to pitch against them. Right behind the Cardinals, we find the Cubs, but then there’s a drop-off until you get to the Reds. Then there’s another big drop-off until you get to the Pirates and Brewers. Once again, it looks like the division will be relatively kind to Lynn and his splits.
But this actually gets even bigger. Take a look at the full divisional breakdown:
- AL East: 49% lefties + switch-hitters
- AL Central: 54%
- AL West: 50%
- NL East: 47%
- NL Central: 43% (41% without Cardinals)
- NL West: 41%
- American League: 51% lefties + switch-hitters
- National League: 44% (43% without Cardinals)
The National League, overall, is considerably more Lynn-friendly than the American League. While this talks only about plate appearances, and not about the quality of the guys taking those plate appearances, I’m assuming that’s a pretty negligible factor. And adjusting things further, by far the biggest rates in the NL of left- or switch-hitting plate appearances belong to the Phillies and Braves, who suck. They’re probably the two worst teams in baseball, and what’s most interesting about them are some of the pitchers. The Braves do have Freddie Freeman, and the Phillies do have Chase Utley, but, then what? Nick Markakis? Domonic Brown? If you wanted to, you could pitch around Freeman and Utley, and you’d probably be just fine.
None of this is nearly as important as Lance Lynn’s actual pitches. Good pitchers should be good regardless of the context, and Lynn’s situation isn’t the only reason why he’s been pretty effective. But Lynn’s in a really good situation, for what he is. There’s absolutely no secret about his weakness, but his opponents can do only so much to try to take advantage. Eventually the National League and the NL Central might become a bit more lefty-heavy, but, eventually, Lance Lynn will be doing something else.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.