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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Return of Lynnsanity

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 10:32 AM

I have to say, he looks a lot better rocking the Grizzly Adams thing, doesn't he? 
  • I have to say, he looks a lot better rocking the Grizzly Adams thing, doesn't he? 
I'll freely admit that I had little confidence in Lance Lynn's ability to get things turned around as a starter this season. I said as much when he was placed back into the rotation after his stint in the bullpen; I wanted to see more progress, more positive outings, before believing Lynn was going to be able to contribute. 

I was afraid the club was pushing him back into a role he was just going to struggle with, largely due to the fact I felt his downturn at midseason was more a result of fatigue than needing to correct or improve something. 

Well, guess what? It turns out I don't know nothing about nothing, and I'm plenty glad to admit it. Lance Lynn, since finding his way back into the rotation, has been nothing short of brilliant, almost as if he were pitching with a little extra fire in his belly (and that's a rather sizable fire, let's be honest), to prove some jerkass columnist wrong. 

In two starts back as a member of the starting rotation, Lance Lynn has thrown 12.1 innings, allowed 8 hits, 4 walks, struck out 12, and given up just a single run against the Dodgers. And as good as he was in the opener of the four game set the Cards split against Los Angeles, Lynn was even better last night against the Astros. Six and a third innings, three hits, no runs, two walks. Sure, it was the Astros (who, in case you haven't noticed, aren't a particularly good baseball team in 2012), but it's hard to get much better than that. 

For the season, last night's shutout effort lowered Lynn's overall ERA to 3.79, which isn't quite the sparkly brilliance of the early season, but is back to being better than league average. His FIP is even better, at 3.48, and he's been worth 2.8 WAR this year. 

What's kind of funny is this: most of us expected Lance Lynn, as he was coming up through the minors, to settle in to the middle-back portion (i.e. a number four-ish starter), of a major league rotation. He would be forever damned with that faint praise of 'innings eater'. Never mind that every team needs someone to chew up a bunch of innings; innings eater is a positive term, albeit one that indicates a particularly uninspiring kind of adequacy. In other words, most of us who pay attention to players as they come up through the system kind of thought Lance Lynn would put up at least a few seasons that looked roughly like, well, this season. 

He hasn't gotten to this point I think most of us expected, though; not by a long shot. Rather than a full season of munching up innings and achieving perfectly cromulent results time after time like some sort of burly, slightly grizzled Jeff Suppan 2005 clone, Lynn has essentially split the difference and achieved his slightly-better-than-league-average-innings-eater status by pitching at the two opposite ends of the spectrum. He's been an ace and he's been a can of gasoline; average it out and you get kind of what he looked like as a prospect. 

The real question, of course, is this: which is the real Lance Lynn going forward? Is it the borderline ace pitcher of the first half of the season, the one who made it to the middle of June with an ERA under two and a half? Or is he the borderline major leaguer who put up a 5.89 ERA over his next 12 starts to lose his job in the rotation? Or is he, after all, the guy we all kind of thought he was, the guy who will eat the innings that need to be eaten and generally give you a slightly above average season, albeit in an odd form? 

If I had to lay money on it, honestly, I would say Lynn is probably the first guy. The one you want to keep around at almost all costs, because he could very well be special. The Lance Lynn in the minors, consistency be damned, never showed the kind of stuff he has in the big leagues. He didn't strike hitters out with 95 mph heat over the plate that they just can't catch up to. Lance Lynn has been a slightly above average starter for the season in his first full year in the major leagues. He succeeded, then he struggled. He looks like a pretty good pitcher now. But he's also just 25 years old and putting up a significantly higher innings total than in 2011 while facing the best hitters on the planet, all of whom have had time to make their adjustments to facing Lynn. We should have expected a few bumps in the road here and there, honestly. 

Lance Lynn may not be the ace he appeared to be in April and May. But you know what? I certainly wouldn't bet against it. I'm done doubting him. 

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