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Lance Lynn: Workhorse Starter, but is he a Fantasy Ace?

Early in December 2020, the Rangers traded Lance Lynn to the White Sox for pitcher Dane Dunning and a prospect. Lynn bolsters a White Sox rotation with a mix of veterans and young starters. His stock rises from a team context and run-support perspective. Two words that come to mind with Lance Lynn – workhorse starter. Over the past seven seasons, not including 2020 and 2016, where he missed the entire season, Lynn averaged over 31 games started plus over 186 innings pitched. Outside of 2018, when he pitched for the Twins and Yankees, Lance Lynn never logged an ERA higher than 3.97. We haven’t included Lynn’s 2020 season yet, which we’ll dive into later.

As always, we’ll dig into the surface stats and advanced metrics for Lance Lynn. Can he sustain his success in 2021? What do we make of his fastball-heavy approach? We plan to answer all those questions and more as we dig into the profile of Lance Lynn.

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Lance Lynn’s 2020 Season

In the 2020 shortened season, Lance Lynn led the league with 84 innings pitched, with a 9.54 K/9, 2.68 BB/9, 3.32 ERA, and 1.06 WHIP. That’s a 25.9% strikeout rate and a 7.3% walk rate. Over his career, he holds a 23.4% strikeout rate and an 8.7% walk rate. In 13 starts, Lynn recorded ten quality starts, with eight of those quality starts where he allowed two or fewer runs. If we took out his final 2020 start, where he allowed nine earned runs with two talks plus five strikeouts in 5.2 innings pitched, Lynn’s line would look much better. When we remove the poor start, Lynn would’ve had a 2.53 ERA, 9.65 K/9, and 2.64 BB/9 across 78.1 innings. However, even with the poor start, Lynn’s final line fared well.

All of this came after his 2019 season, where he logged a career-high 208.1 innings with a career-best 10.63 K/9 and 2.55 BB/9. That ended up as a career-low 6.7% walk rate and near career-best 28.1% strikeout rate. Did we already call Lance Lynn a workhorse? This guy is unreal.

Over the past two seasons, Lynn ranks 1st in MLB with 292.1 innings pitched and 17th with a 3.57 ERA. He also ranks 16th with a 10.31 K/9 or 27.5% K%, 21st with a 2.59 BB/9, and 17th with a 1.17 WHIP. Even his xERA on Statcast finished relatively similar in 2019 and 2020. Lynn had a 3.67 ERA in 2019 and a 3.57 xERA (78th percentile) in 2019, and then a 3.32 ERA and a 3.26 xERA (80th percentile) in 2020. Overall, he sneakily or not so sneakily produced well in 2019 and 2020. With that said, let’s dive a little deeper.

Batted Ball Profile

Over Lance Lynn’s career, he gradually lowered his ground ball rate and increased his fly-ball rate. His ground ball rate typically hovered at 40.3% or above, with a career rate of 43.9%. On the flip side, he holds a career 34.7% fly-ball rate compared to 42.3% in 2020. Given his career trends, it’s likely that Lynn’s batted ball profile evens out over a full season. Later on, we’ll touch on the quality of contact via his Statcast data. The increasing fly ball rate is something to monitor moving forward.

Plate Discipline

First, let’s look at the plate discipline as a whole, then let’s dig into his plate discipline by pitch. Lance Lynn boasts a career 9.9% swinging-strike rate compared to 11.2% in 2020 and 12.5% in 2019, both of which finished near the league average. He typically hovers around league average in O-Swing% with a 31.4% in 2020, 29.9% in 2019, and a career 29.5% O-Swing%. Another notable plate discipline metric for Lynn – his O-Contact%, where he typically finished above the league average. Lynn finished with a 67.5% O-Contact% in 2020, 61.7% in 2019, and a career rate of 68.5%. Interestingly, Lynn hovers around league average in O-Swing% but gives up a higher O-Contact rate. With that said, let’s dig into his plate discipline by pitch.

Plate Discipline By Pitch

With the mediocre swinging-strike rate, it’s no surprise that most of Lance Lynn’s pitches don’t finish with high swinging-strike rates. Lynn typically uses a fastball-heavy approach with his four-seamers, cutter, and sinker dominating the usage. However, we’ll analyze that a little later. Outside of his zone rate, Lynn doesn’t meet any of the criteria for a Money Pitch. According to the Pitcher List glossary, Money Pitches include pitches with a 40% O-Swing%, 40% Zone Rate, and 15% swinging-strike rate.

Lynn pounds the zone with all of his fastballs. In 2020, he finished with a zone rate of 60.3% for four-seamers, 63.8% for cutters, and 41.9% for sinkers. Meanwhile, Lynn’s four-seamer held a 12.6% swinging-strike rate with a 10.4% swinging-strike rate on his cut fastball and a 9.6% swinging-strike rate with the sinker in 2020. He pounds the zone and records a decent swinging-strike rate, but nothing overwhelming. We’ll also note his zone rate on the cut fastball looks like an outlier with a career zone rate of 41.6%. It’s something to monitor and see how the cutter zone rate shakes out in 2021 and whether it’s intentional or not. The table below shows his plate discipline metrics by pitch. Then next up, we’ll dive into pitch usage and results via Statcast data.

Lance Lynn
Lance Lynn Plate Discipline By Pitch

Statcast Data

Lance Lynn ranked above average in several Statcast metrics, including expected stats, strikeout, and walk rates. He ranked slightly below league average in the quality of contact allowed in 2020. However, he ranked in the 70th-percentile or above in the hard-hit rate, exit velocity, and barrel rate in 2019. Over the past couple of seasons, Lynn boasts similar expected stats allowed. Interestingly, Lynn had expected stats slightly lower than his career levels, which tells us that these likely even out over a full season. The table below shows Lynn’s expected stats over the past two seasons with the Statcast history (2015-2020) and league averages for comparison. As we can see, Lynn typically performs better than the league average across the board.

Lance Lynn
Lance Lynn xStats

Lance Lynn’s Fastball Heavy Arsenal

Sometimes, we want pitchers to decrease their fastball usage with an increase to their offspeed or breaking pitches. However, with Lance Lynn, he bucks the trend. In 2020, Lynn used his four-seamer 50.2%, cutter 22.2%, and sinker 18.1% of the time. That’s over 90% of his pitches on different types of fastballs. He minimally uses a curveball at 8.4% and changeup 1.1% of the time, which is slightly less than the usage in 2019. We have a similar trend over the previous three seasons (2017-2019), where Lynn used those three fastballs for 87.5%, 89%, and 90.1% of the time in each of those seasons. That’s unheard of for a starter to have an arsenal of ten percent or lower on offspeed or breaking pitches while having success in doing so.

Lance Lynn’s Four-Seamer

With that said, let’s dig into Lynn’s trio of fastballs. Since we already looked at his plate discipline by pitch, we’ll look at other notable pitch stats. The following data comes from Alex Chamberlain’s Pitch Leaderboard. In 2020, Lynn threw the most four-seamers with a K-BB% of 20.8%. Amongst starters with over 400 four-seamers thrown, Lynn ranked 6th with his K-BB% and 5th with a .381 xwOBA allowed. In 2019 and 2020, amongst starters with 1,000 four-seamers thrown, Lance Lynn ranked 2nd with a 59.9% zone%, 5th with a 15.4% swinging-strike rate, and 6th with a 33.3% called strike plus whiff rate (CSW%). Lynn pounds the zone with his four-seamer and performs well.

Lance Lynn’s Cutter & Sinker

With his cutter (minimum 150 cutters), Lynn ranked 13th with a 27.2% called strike plus whiff rate (CSW%). Although Lynn uses his sinker the third most, it still performed decently in 2020 in terms of expected stats. When comparing 2019, hitters crushed Lynn’s sinker, so his 2020 sinker stats likely would even out over a full season. Even when we dive into his xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA by pitch, he dominated in 2020, but he struggled with his sinker in 2019. As mentioned earlier, Lynn surprisingly uses a fastball-heavy approach that works for him even if it’s unconventional.

As we dig into Lynn’s cutter, we have similar results over the past two seasons, with a 50.1% zone% (No. 10), 12.2% swinging-strike rate (No. 8), and 25.8% CSW% (No. 12). We’ll note that the cutter rankings came with a minimum of just under 500 cutters thrown. Lynn effectively used both his four-seamer and cut fastball. Even though the data looks different on Fangraphs and Chamberlain’s Pitch Leaderboard, we come to similar conclusions. How does the saying go – if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Lynn isn’t a thrower, but a crafty pitcher.

ADP Comparison

In 2020, Lance Lynn had a 113 NFBC ADP and a 107 Fantrax ADP. However, Lynn finished as the 58th overall player and 11th starting pitcher, according to the Razzball Player Rater. With the early 2021 drafts, Lynn currently holds a 59.74 ADP on NFBC and a 44.7 ADP on Fantrax. That puts Lynn as the 21st pitcher off the board in NFBC drafts and only one reliever in Josh Hader that goes inside the top-20 pitchers. Meanwhile, Lynn ranks as the 14th starting pitcher drafted between Brandon Woodruff and Zac Gallen on Fantrax. Overall, Lynn’s ADP jumped in the early 2021 drafts compared to 2020. However, it appears for good reasons.

Reasons for Optimism & Concern

Reasons for optimism include Lance Lynn’s workhorse track record and a consistent ERA below 4.00 except for one season. Even his ERA estimators fall in line with his actual ERA. Over the past two seasons, amongst qualified starters, Lynn ranks 13th with a 20.6% K-BB% above guys like Zack Greinke, Luis Castillo, and Aaron Nola. Heading to the AL Central, Lynn will have opportunities to face a couple of weaker offenses. As a veteran and consistent pitcher, he pounds the zone with all of his fastballs and typically performs well. Lynn’s a workhorse that pitches a ton of innings with consistency and reliability.

One concern involves moving from the Rangers to White Sox, as it appears as a slight home ballpark downgrade, especially in home runs. Another reason for concern is Lynn’s increased fly ball rate over the past two seasons that typically hovered around his career average of 34.7%. Even his 13.8% HR/FB rate in 2020 raised eyebrows compared to his 9.8% career HR/FB rate that possibly evens out over a full season. A third concern involves a slightly high 79.4% LOB% in 2020 compared to his career LOB% of 75.5%. An additional red flag is Lynn’s low .242 BABIP in 2020 compared to a career .302 BABIP. Although it feels nitpicky here, we need to consider the whole picture as much as possible.

Lance Lynn’s 2021 Outlook

Lance Lynn feels like a safe and boring pitcher but provides innings with consistent and healthy ratios. Although he’s creeping up into his mid-30s, Lynn has shown few signs of decline. His Steamer Projections have him projected for 191 innings pitched, 9.65 K/9 (25.1% K%), 3.09 BB/9 (8% BB%), 1.44 HR/9, and a 4.28 ERA. Outside of his HR/9, it looks like Steamer expects Lynn to regress in the BABIP and LOB% department, which makes sense seeing the ERA projected above 4.00. Overall, I’m digging Lance Lynn as the 20th pitcher off the board heading into 2021. According to the FantraxHQ Staff Consensus Starting Pitcher Rankings, Lynn ranks as the 18th best starting pitcher between Sonny Gray and Max Fried. I’d love to pair Lynn with Jack Flaherty, Zac Gallen, or Clayton Kershaw, who all go about 20 picks earlier in ADP.

For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2021 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!

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1 Comment
  1. Sid from Texas says

    You should not include 2018 either. He signed very late and it clearly affected his season. Not only was he traded, but also bumped from the rotation a bit. My point is that it should not be considered part of his track record. It is interesting to see this overly complex analysis. Over the past two years Lynn has upped his Ks and lowered his BBs. That is what the development of an ace looks like. It doesn’t mean it lasts forever, but you don’t need any batted ball metrics to understand that he has improved dramatically in the last few years. Lynn in a pitcher in a league full of throwers and batted ball data will always undervalue that. Contemporary analysis is completely lost on the art of the FB and the finer points of pitching and Lynn is the posterboy at the moment. There is certainly BABIP regression on tap, but Lynn also has the skills to suppress that as he has done it for long stretched many times. While not generating the most exciting pitch data, he is one of the best bets for a good 2021. Almost everyone has a bunch of question marks heading into 2021 but I think Lynn has a reasonable argument to be close to the top of that group but he feels like he is at the end of it. Its good to see him getting respect but I think we have missed his brilliance by obsessing over batted balls and pitchfx. Hopefully there is some more left.

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