It’s no secret that starting pitching is in high demand for the Texas Rangers. Coming out of 2017 with only Cole Hamels and Martin Perez holding guaranteed rotation spots, much of the discussion surrounding Texas’ starting five included re-signing Yu Darvish and bringing aboard two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani.
Ohtani, who many see as the first domino that needs to fall in the big-name starting pitching market, is undergoing a painstakingly methodical process to find his MLB home.
Jon Daniels, with three spots to fill, realizes that, as amazing an athlete that Ohtani may be, he can’t wait around for one pitcher. Coming out of the Thanksgiving weekend, he signed Doug Fister to an extremely low-risk deal. Daniels is now linked to two other pitchers, one of whom we’ll look at today.
Would You or Wouldn’t You: Sign Starting Pitcher Lance Lynn?
Lance Lynn, a St. Louis Cardinal for the last six years, is entering his age 31-season and this will be his first foray into Free Agency. The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2015 season, subsequently missing all of 2016, but before that was the model of consistency for St. Louis.
From 2013-2015, he made more than 30 starts for the Cards, compiling a 42-31 record and a 3.25 ERA with a 1.312 WHIP. Even upon coming back from Tommy John surgery last year, Lynn made 33 starts, put up an 11-8 record and held a 3.43 ERA, pitching in 186.1 innings.
Now going into his second season post-Tommy John, Lynn looks to capitalize on a light second tier of Free Agent starting pitching for his first huge contract.
Why You Would:
As mentioned, Lynn has been a consistent starting pitcher. Even in 2012, Lynn made 29 starts, having been relegated to bullpen duty in August. The reason for the move was cited as due to the then-25-year old struggling. Lynn had come off of a six-game stretch where he put up a 7.31 ERA and averaged just under 5 innings per start.
Yes, he was struggling at the time, but ended up rebounding down the stretch to put up a 2.19 ERA, getting his line for that year closer to his career average. Since becoming a full-time starter, Lynn hasn’t pitched below 175 innings, and that mark was only reached because of his issues leading to Tommy John surgery.
History has shown that a pitcher is better in his second season back from Tommy John surgery. If so, improving on the solid 2017 would mean a fantastic chance for a team looking to contend in 2018. At the best, Lynn can slot in as a No. 2 starter. It looks like he could be relied upon for at least 180 innings, regardless of what Baseball Reference’s projections say (153 innings). Even then, those projections say that Lynn’s good for a 3.65 ERA, 1.301 WHIP and 2.14 strikeout to walk ratio.
Velocity wise, in his first year after Tommy John surgery, Lynn saw his four-seam hold steady at just around 92. While this is a dip from his career average (93-94), Lynn has shown that he can still touch those numbers and might pick up more velocity in his second year. He held steady on his other pitches – a sinker, change, cutter and curve.
More importantly, Lynn, according to Brooks Baseball, strayed away from using his four-seam as his primary pitch as 2017 went along. He started off using his four-seam 47% of the time, compared to 29% on his sinker, but ended up with a 38%-53% split as the season concluded, showing a willingness to adapt to some lost velocity.
Lynn’s a consistent pitcher with a reputation for making all of his starts. Making a career-high-tying 33 starts and throwing in 186.1 innings after Tommy John surgery is a good sign for continued consistency going forward.
Why You Wouldn’t:
Even thought the decrease in velocity was slight, it was a decrease. Lynn may have held steady on his career averages in the traditional stats, but the peripherals don’t look as strong as they did.
Despite a career low in WHIP at 1.229 and hits per 9 at 7.3, Lynn saw a career low in strikeouts (153), a career worst in walks per 9 (3.8), strikeouts per 9 (7.4), home runs per 9 (1.3), and strikeouts to walk ratio (1.96).
Lynn also saw a decrease in swings and misses outside of the zone. This contributed to the increase in walks (a 10.1% walk rate) and decrease in strikeouts (19.7%). Admittedly, there was an increase in swings and misses IN the zone, but that also contributed to the increase in homers (a huge jump to 3.5%). In a park like Globe Life, as we’ve seen with other fly ball pitchers, that might not bode well.
There’s also the small issue of money. Despite the peripherals, which could regress to a more manageable number in his second year returning from Tommy John surgery, Lance Lynn’s durability and consistency are going to fetch a great price for him once Darvish, Ohtani and Jake Arrieta find homes.
For a 31-year old with the track record that Lynn has, you’re looking at a hefty commitment of both years and dollars. It was reported that the righty was looking for at least a five-year/$100 million commitment, which is about an average starting asking price for a starting pitcher in his prime.
That number may come down as the Winter progresses, and MLB Trade Rumors has him going to the Rangers at four-years/$56 million (an AAV of just $14 million). The Rangers, however, should Darvish, Ohtani and Arrieta find different homes besides Texas, may find themselves desperate for a starter that can anchor the rotation.
I think $56 million is a little low for Lynn and I find myself thinking that the righty is more likely to earn $75 million over four years with an option or two.
Additionally, if Texas finds itself conceding defeat in 2018 and starts selling off pieces, Lynn wouldn’t be a worthwhile investment of money. Early reports, however, would not suggest that that’s the case.
What would I do? I WOULD sign Lance Lynn – at the MLB Trade Rumors price. Lynn’s peripherals may not be pretty, but it was also his first season back from Tommy John surgery. His primary stats were decent for his first year back, and if he can continue to build strength and regain velocity, he may continue to be a 30+ start pitcher with postseason experience that could slot in behind Cole Hamels and ahead of Martin Perez and Doug Fister. That would be a welcome addition to the Rangers rotation.
So what would you do? Share your Lance Lynn signing takes with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.