In 2019 Lance Lynn finished with the 11th best WAR in the entire league according to FanGraphs. I don’t think anyone expected those kinds of results from Lynn going into the 2019 season. Lynn is currently 32 years old and is less than a month away from turning 33. So, as a pitcher past his physical prime, how did Lynn go from league average to one of the best pitchers in the league according to WAR? Is this success sustainable?
Prior to 2019 Lynn’s best season as far as WAR goes was in 2014 when he recorded a 3.6 WAR with the St. Louis Cardinals. Those were the days that I seemed to think was his prime. He was a part of that Cardinals team that used to dominate the NL Central. In 2011, his rookie year, he pitched out of the pen in the Carinal’s World Series title run. Then from 2013 to 2015 the Cardinals won the NL Central three years in a row. Lynn was a big part of that team and was a firm foundation in that rotation. From 2012 to 2017 Lynn started at least 30 games each year except in 2016 when Lynn missed the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. Well, in 2012 he only started 29 games put appeared in 35 games total so let’s not get lost in the technicalities.
Lynn’s time with the Cardinals seemed to be what would define his career. He wasn’t anything special as he was your average middle of the rotation starter on a team that was constantly seen in the playoffs. Following his time with the Cardinals he signed a deal with the Twins in 2018 but was then traded to the Yankees the same year. Nothing changed in Minnesota or New York as he recorded a 5.10 ERA in Minneapolis and a 4.14 ERA in the Bronx. Come the 2019 offseason Lynn was a free agent again and signed a three-year deal with the Rangers for $30 million. At the time, this wouldn’t have been a deal that I would have offered Lynn if I were the Rangers. Except he proved to already be worth the money in the first year of his contract alone. Come the trade deadline I wrote an article suggesting that the Rangers should flip Lynn for prospects as they were a team that seemed to be in the rebuilding process. However, they decided to keep Lynn and I’m excited to see him paired with Corey Kluber in 2020 on the Ranger’s staff in their new stadium. The question is though will Lynn continue his newfound success? In order to figure that out we first need to determine how he became so effective in the first place.
One change that he made was ramping up the usage of his fastball. You can take a look below at his pitch% chart from Baseball Savant.
As it turns out, Lynn’s fastball is pretty good. Even though he only throws in at an average of 94.6 MPH (which is still hard) he gets extremely good results on it. Hitters only recorded a .219 xBA and a .397 xSLG on his fastball in 2019. So I can see why he threw it more than 50% of the time.
It’s hard to believe that Lynn can be so effective when he really doesn’t have a big offspeed pitch. In 2019 he his arsenal was distributed as follows:
He basically either throws his fastball, sinker, or cutter all of the time. This is just something you don’t see very often, especially in today’s game when so many pitchers focus on crafting a curveball or slider with a crazy spin rate. Lynn has the makeup of a pitcher that is past his time and belongs in the older days of baseball. He belongs in the days when pitchers could blow away hitters with a 95 MPH fastball and throw it time and time again. Yet, Lynn plays in today’s game and still finds a way to be successful.
What separated 2019 Lynn from previous years was the number of innings that he pitched. Yes, we saw an uptick in performance but the most notable one was the number of innings that he pitched. Lynn was a workhorse in 2019 and because of it racked up a sizable WAR.
If you look at the numbers from his FanGraph’s player page below you can see that huge uptick in innings pitched. Yes, we see an improvement in numbers like ERA, K/9, and FIP but it’s the innings pitched that allowed him to record a 6.8 WAR. It’s because he produced so often for the Rangers that he was seen as a valuable asset.
As far as 2020 and future years go for Lynn, I see no reason why he can’t mirror 2019 in some format. Is he going to top his 6.8 WAR? Probably not but it’s not out of the question. However, he can still be effective for the Rangers and record a 3.67 ERA with 200 innings on his ledger. It is a matter of time though until his xFIP catches up with him and we see some form of regression with age. I define Lance Lynn as a workhorse who will go out to the mound and give you quality innings. Is he an ace? No, he’s not an ace but that doesn’t mean he isn’t valuable. The Rangers made a smart decision to sign Lynn and even though he will soon be turning 33 I still believe he has plenty of gas left in the tank.