The Best Deadline Trade of the American League

When the New York Yankees grew concerned about their rotation for the rest of the season, they made a pretty big move to get J.A. Happ from the Blue Jays. In Brandon Drury, they traded a young player with success at the major-league level. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel ranked Drury the fifth-best minor leaguer traded at the deadline. The club also gave up Billy McKinney, who ended up 19th on the same list. It wasn’t an inconsequential deal.

Happ has been everything the team could’ve hoped for. He’s recorded a 3.95 FIP and 2.37 ERA since joining the Yankees. He’s been worthy roughly half a win. He looks like he’ll be an asset for a team that’s bound for some kind of postseason play. He’s also not even the top-performing pitcher his own club acquired at the deadline.

Rather it’s Lance Lynn who has put up the best park-adjusted FIP of any pitcher acquired at the trade deadline — including Cole Hamels — as the following table indicates.

Notable Starter Trade-Deadline Acquisitions
Name Team IP WAR K% BB% ERA- FIP-
Lance Lynn Yankees 31.2 1.2 27.7 % 6.6 % 92 47
Cole Hamels Cubs 39.0 1.4 25.7 % 7.4 % 17 55
Kevin Gausman Braves 32.0 0.8 18.0 % 5.7 % 42 72
J.A. Happ Yankees 24.1 0.6 30.3 % 7.1 % 60 81
Nathan Eovaldi Red Sox 25.0 0.6 13.7 % 3.4 % 114 82
Chris Archer Pirates 22.1 0.2 22.4 % 8.4 % 162 116
Numbers as of August 30.

Cole Hamels has been fantastic, but when you factor in both Yankee Stadium and the American League, he’s produced the better fielding-independent numbers. (With his edge in innings, Hamels’ has recorded a higher WAR.) Nor is it just against trade acquisitions that Lynn fares well. Here are the top pitchers by WAR this month.

Best MLB Pitchers in August
Jacob deGrom Mets 43.2 1.24 1.33 2.2
Carlos Carrasco Indians 39.0 1.85 1.72 1.7
Patrick Corbin D-backs 33.1 2.70 1.36 1.6
German Marquez Rockies 34.0 2.12 2.07 1.4
Cole Hamels Cubs 39.0 0.69 2.29 1.4
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 35.0 2.06 2.27 1.2
Lance Lynn Yankees 31.2 3.98 2.02 1.2
Gerrit Cole Astros 29.1 4.30 1.93 1.2
Aaron Nola Phillies 34.0 1.06 2.45 1.2
Zack Wheeler Mets 33.0 1.09 2.40 1.1
Numbers as of August 30.

What you find here is a bunch of aces, plus German Marquez, Zack Wheeler, and Lynn. It’s hard not to notice the disconnect between Lynn’s FIP and ERA. Consider his start on August 22, where Lynn was cruising through five shutout innings before giving up five runs in the sixth. The Yankees bullpen had gone long the night before in a 12-inning game. If that hadn’t happened, Lynn might not have been asked to pitch the sixth inning, an inning in which two of the five runners who scored had reached base via infield hits, another runner scored after Lynn’s departure, and a fly ball left the yard that — by launch angle and exit velocity — has done so on 12% of occasions. This is not to make excuses for Lynn failing to last beyond the fifth inning, but to point out how easily a 2.59 ERA can turn into a 3.98 ERA with a bit of bad luck.

Lynn has a .371 BABIP in his time with the Yankees, but this seems to be a product of bad luck, too. Baseball Savant’s xwOBA metric indicates that Lynn has been one of the better pitchers in baseball over the past month after accounting for quality of contact.

Best MLB Pitchers
by xwOBA, August
Player xwOBA
Max Scherzer .223
Jacob deGrom .236
Jack Flaherty .239
Zack Wheeler .245
Blake Snell .245
Lance Lynn .245
Clayton Kershaw .247
Kyle Hendricks .252
CC Sabathia .253
Carlos Carrasco .256
Numbers as of August 30.

What the FIP, xwOBA, strikeouts, walks –and even the ERA is above average — all seem to say is that Lance Lynn has been pitching pretty well for the Yankees. The question that arises is what Lynn might doing differently to get these better results. His velocity isn’t any different. His pitch types are the same:

Lance Lynn Pitch Usage
Team FA% FC% SI% CH% SL% CU%
Twins 43.8 % 10.6 % 33.2 % 2.5 % 0.7 % 9.1 %
Yankees 45.6 % 9.5 % 32.7 % 1.2 % 2.5 % 8.5 %

His plate discipline and first strike numbers aren’t too far off, either.

Lance Lynn Pitch Info Plate Discipline
Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% First Stk %
Twins 27.7 % 67.8 % 45.4 % 63.2 % 85.3 % 77.8 % 44.1 % 54.4 %
Yankees 28.2 % 70.6 % 49.2 % 60.7 % 87.4 % 79.7 % 49.5 % 51.8 %

It does look like Lynn is pitching more in the zone, which would help explain how he cut his walks in half from 13.2% with Minnesota to 6.6% with the Yankees. One might think that a reduction in walks might not also coincide with an increase in strikeouts and decreased home runs, but that is what has happened.

According to the data, Lynn is throwing his cutter a bit more to lefties, and he’s now locating it more often down and in — as opposed to the middle of the plate like he was in Minnesota. That’s not going to amount to much, necessarily — we are talking about a pitch to one side that’s only been thrown 56 times all year — but it’s something. It does also look as though he’s elevating his fastball a bit more against righties, as seen by the heat maps below (from the pitcher’s view).

He’s also not challenging lefties with his fastball as much, either (also from pitcher’s view).

How much of an impact the changes have made is hard to tell, but he is throwing the pitch for more strikes, inducing more swings. At the same time, the slugging percentage against the pitch has dropped from .510 with the Twins — including nine of his 12 homers allowed — to just .352 with the Yankees, per Brooks Baseball. Better location with his fastball is probably helping some to limit damage — and maybe leading to fewer walks, too, through increased swings.

There’s one other thing that might be helping, and that’s his competition. Lynn hasn’t faced many tough offenses since joining the Yankees. Here are his opponents, both with what they’ve done so far this season and their current projections.

Lance Lynn Yankees’ Opponents
Team wRC+ Rank Projected wOBA Projection Rank
Orioles 88 27 .304 27
White Sox 94 22 .308 25
Rangers 96 21 .324 15
Blue Jays 101 15 .322 17
Marlins 88 28 .297 30
White Sox 94 22 .308 25
AVERAGE 94 23 .311 23

Lynn has pitched very well against this slate, and for that, he deserves credit. We don’t know how Lynn would have fared against a better offense. He had his worst outing against the Blue Jays, who have the best offense among the clubs he’s faced. The most reasonable conclusion is that Lance Lynn has resumed his status as an average to above-average pitcher. From 2012 to -15 with Sty. Louis, Lynn put up FIPs between 3.50 and 4.00 every year, which was roughly 10% better than average. After missing the 2016 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Lynn had a rough 2017 and had to settle for a one-year contract with the Twins. Lynn’s struggles continued into the early part of this season, but since the beginning of May, his 3.53 FIP is nearly 20% better than average. Lance Lynn is an above-average pitcher in the middle of a good run. Those who wrote him off last season or in the early part of this season probably made a mistake. Lynn hasn’t changed much, but it does look like he’s recovered some of what made him a successful pitcher before he got hurt.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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4 years ago

I cringed when I saw how much he gave up to get Happ, but every day Cashman gives the world public lessons on how to be a truly great GM. It’s either a shame or a Yankee blessing that other teams never seem to pay attention. The best example in the world to the poor stupid LOLMets of what they should be doing is right next door, but they nonetheless somehow manage to see nothing and learn even less.

4 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

His teams really do a lot of damage. You have to wonder what the record of other teams would be if they didn’t have to face the Yankees.

4 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

The Yankees financial situation gives Cashman a bigger safety net than any GM in North American pro sports. Only the Dodgers, Red Sox, and (soon to be) Cubs are even in the same ballpark.

Cool Lester Smooth
4 years ago
Reply to  Sleepy

That really hasn’t been true with the luxury cap plan, over the last several years.

The Yankees’ ownership has sacrificed the biggest competitive advantage they have over the rest of the league.

4 years ago

Not really true at all. Still had the highest (or 2nd highest) payroll every season in the last 5 years with the exception being this year when they are doing everything possible to get back under the luxury tax cap to reset for the $400 million they are going to offer to Harper. They have been able to accomplish being competitive because they finally developed quality players again. Didi, Severino, Judge, Sanchez is a pretty elite core to build around. and 2 of those guys were signed as IFA where they were able to use their #1 asset (cash) to acquire talent.

baltic wolfmember
4 years ago
Reply to  Johnston

Why so many down votes for what’s clearly the truth? Cashman was one of the primary architects of the great Yankee teams of the late ’90s and now he’s doing it again. The Chapman trade to the Cubs was just another indication of what a savvy GM he is.
I’m not a Yankees fan, but clearly Cashman is one of the best GMs around, especially now that old man Steinbrenner isn’t around to meddle in personnel decisions anymore.

4 years ago
Reply to  baltic wolf

I down voted that comment because it’s just a wee bit over the top:

“…every day Cashman gives the world public lessons on how to be a truly great GM. It’s either a shame or a Yankee blessing that other teams never seem to pay attention.”

Plus, it doesn’t reflect the reality of the numerous advantages the Yankees have relative to other teams. What lessons are the numerous small market teams supposed to learn from Cashman?

4 years ago
Reply to  emh1969

Buy low and sell high on every item not named Ellsbury?

4 years ago
Reply to  emh1969

Obviously that domestic violence and anger management issues are irrelevant to throwing a baseball really hard as long as you didn’t kill anyone.

4 years ago
Reply to  baltic wolf

I agree that Cashman has been a good GM, but the OP’s take was pretty obnoxious and lacked substance. It sounded like Cashman pulling a Bryan Colangelo.