Due to the uncertainty of the health of the Mets’ starting pitchers, most fans would prefer if the team added a starter who could give the team, at the very least, 30 starts and 180 or so innings. Because of the team’s limited financial ability, most have turned away from the very top of the free agent market to focus on Lance Lynn. In five of the past six years, he’s made at least 29 starts and thrown at least 175.1 IP. The only year he didn’t he missed because of TJ surgery. But after sitting out the 2016 campaign, Lynn came back last season to make 33 starts and toss 186.1 IP.
A supplemental first-round pick back in 2008 after playing three years collegiately at Mississippi, Lynn made his major league debut at the end of 2011 and became a rotation fixture for the Cardinals in 2012. In the ’12-’13 seasons, he combined for 33 Wins despite an ERA approaching four in both years. However, his peripherals showed a better tale and in the four years before getting hurt, Lynn posted a 13.0 fWAR.
He did not quite enjoy the same success – peripheral-wise – in his first year back from surgery. While the traditional stats of an 11-8 record and a 3.43 ERA look just fine, he recorded a 4.82 FIP. In a year when he saw a dip in his K rate and an increase in both his BB rate and HR/FB numbers, Lynn survived thanks to a .244 BABIP and a 79.0 LOB%. He didn’t allow a ton of hits and when runners did get on base, they were stranded at a higher than normal rate.
He had good fortune.
Lynn had a 12-start stretch last year when everything was going right. From July 9 to September 7, he went at least six innings each time out and posted 11 Quality Starts. He had a 1.77 ERA in this span and allowed just 4 HR in 76.1 IP. Before that stretch he had a 3.87 ERA and afterwards, in four starts, he had a 9.20 ERA, although one bad outing is skewing the numbers a bit.
Did it take a while to kick off the rust from the missed year and then he simply tired down the stretch? Sure, that’s a realistic possibility.
However, we should note that in that 12-start stretch, Lynn had a 3.96 FIP and a 4.93 xFIP, with an 84.3 LOB%. The NL average strand rate last year was 72.7 percent. Of course the danger is in chasing your tail around with these smaller samples. You would expect a pitcher to allow fewer baserunners and a higher strand rate when the results are good. The questions become: How does what he did in the good stretch compare to his career rate and how much of his value is tied up in the same good stretch?
For his career, Lynn has a 76.5 LOB% and a .297 BABIP. The strand rate was definitely elevated but perhaps not outrageously so from his career norm. But his BABIP was 54 points lower, which is not so easily dismissed. And obviously there’s a compound relationship working here, too. It’s one thing when he’s stranding more runners than average but when he’s allowing significantly fewer baserunners on top of that, well the 1.77 ERA is the result.
Without that 12-start stretch, Lynn allowed 56 ER in 110 IP (4.58 ERA), with 47 BB and 105 Ks. For certain, no one is going to look good without their best stretch included. And it wasn’t three or four good starts, it was 12. Yet Lynn made 33 starts in 2017. So, in rough terms he was an ace for 1/3 of the year and a mid-level SP4 for 2/3 of the year.
Now that’s a lot better than what the Mets received from the overwhelming number of pitchers on their staff last year. But is the 4/$60 or whatever type of deal he’s going to end up getting a good deal? Maybe – I don’t pretend to know. But it doesn’t seem to be a slam dunk to me.
Lynn has the great fortune to be at or near the top of the second tier of starters available in free agency this season, in a year when the top tier has just two names. There’s going to be a lot of interested teams in him and the result is going to be a nice pay day. Good for him. But it’s worth questioning if the Mets should hitch their wagon to him for the next four years.
A strong pitcher before the surgery, Lynn was more lucky than good last year. After previously allowing no more than 16 HR in a season, he surrendered 27 last year. He also had a career-worst walk rate, with a 3.77 mark. Will being a year further out from the surgery result in a better season in 2018 and beyond? That’s certainly on the table. But, do you believe Lynn can continue to out-pitch his peripherals going forward? That’s the gamble some team will make this offseason.