Lance Lynn’s impressive New York Yankees debut doesn’t take away from any of his issues as a starter in 2018.
Lance Lynn will make his first start for the New York Yankees Monday night against the Chicago White Sox, but fans shouldn’t expect much from the veteran righty. Lynn, 31, was acquired from the Minnesota Twins at the July 31 trade deadline. He has since taken over the inconsistent Sonny Gray’s turn in the rotation.
Granted, Lynn did have a fine debut in pinstripes last Wednesday. Doing mop-up duty for Gray, he pitched 4.1 shutout innings out of the bullpen, scattering five hits with no walks and five strikeouts. Lynn also induced five groundball outs.
Despite that, all the numbers and metrics show Lynn being an absolute nightmare this season. This means when he takes the mound at Guaranteed Rate Field, fans should expect nothing from him.
First, before we get into why Yankee fans shouldn’t expect anything from Lance Lynn, a little backstory.
The 31-year-old starboard sider was a victim of last offseason’s molasses-slow free agency market and didn’t sign a one-year, $12 million deal with the Twins until March 12. In 2017, Lynn was 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.22 WHIP for the St. Louis Cardinals. This was also after missing all of 2016 with Tommy John surgery, so the lack of a market for him was puzzling.
Throw in that Lynn was 72-48 and posted a 3.38 ERA in a Cardinals uniform from 2011 to 2017, and his slow free agency looks all the more puzzling.
Lynn’s brief tenure in Minnesota, to put it bluntly, was a disaster. In 20 starts, he was 7-8 with a 5.10 ERA and 1.63 WHIP. He issued 62 walks in 102.1 innings and even though he didn’t allow one free pass in his New York debut, his BB/9 on the season still sits at an unacceptable 5.23.
His soft contact allowed also dropped to 19.5% from 21.1% last year, and his hard contact rate jumped from 29.2% to 37.4%. He also hasn’t been helped by his defense a majority of the season, with his FIP and xFIP sitting at 4.57 and 4.42 respectively.
And yet, amidst all of these negative statistics and metrics, there is a silver lining for Lynn. His groundball rate (GB%) this year increased to 50.5% from 44% in 2017, and his K/9 is 8.86 compared to last year’s mark of 7.39.
Just the same, the Yankees need to reestablish momentum in the AL pennant race starting with this three-game set in Chi-town. Substituting an inconsistent Sonny Gray with the equally touch-and-go Lance Lynn could wind up proving counterproductive.
Nobody really expected New York to land Lynn at the deadline. Former Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton was acquired for three prospects and added to an already stacked bullpen. Infielder Brandon Drury and outfield prospect Billy McKinney were sent to the Toronto Blue Jays for lefty starter J.A. Happ. On the whole, it seemed the team was done making moves.
Cashman once again proved he was full of surprises with a pair of small trades on July 31. Long reliever Adam Warren was sent to the Seattle Mariners for international bonus money, Tyler Austin and Luis Rijo were shipped to Minnesota for Lynn.
Given the addition of Happ and Gray being 3-0 with a 1.11 ERA in his last three starts ahead of last week’s meltdown, Lynn appeared set for a mop-up/long relief role.
Gray crumbled, Lynn pitched well in mop-up duty, and here we are today.
Look, I get it. Lance Lynn pitched well in his Yankees debut, so a change of scenery should mean he does fine against Chicago. After all, they’re 40-70 and the third-worst team in baseball, so it should be a walk, right?
Pump the brakes, baseball fans. That’s all true, but Lynn’s numbers against Chicago this year don’t exactly inspire hope. He has made two starts against the White Sox this season and went 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA, Chicago is batting .340 against him.
Granted, that’s a very small sample size and could be attributed to the Twins underachieving this year. Not only that, Lynn is 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA in five career starts against the White Sox. Even still, baseball is a results-based sport and Lynn’s results this season inspire anything but confidence.
Lynn has also had a literal roller coaster of a season and his monthly ERA marks show it. He went 0-3 with an 8.37 ERA in April, likely from not getting in a full Spring Training. A 3.76 May ERA and a 2.83 mark in June initially signaled a turnaround, but then Lynn posted a horrific 6.08 ERA in July. Minnesota, opting to cut its losses, then traded his expiring contract to New York.
Now, let’s talk about what Lynn’s original role with the Yankees was supposed to be. Based on the timing of the move, management probably expected him to be little more than bullpen depth. He’d be the main mop-up guy and maybe make a spot start here or there. At no point, at least in the immediate, was it thought he’d be needed in the rotation. He was going to be Adam Warren 2.0 in every sense of the word.
Cut to another Gray stinker and Lynn’s strong showing in his new role, and here he is taking the mound when Gray otherwise would. No disrespect to the man, but pitching in a low-pressure mop-up situation is not at all like taking the mound.
The pressure is also on for Lynn and the Yankees. A lot needs to go right for New York to even think about stealing the AL East from the red-hot Boston Red Sox. The focus now should be on the AL Wild Card Game and winning home-field advantage in it. This means the team putting the pedal to the metal and both establishing and maintaining strong momentum. This focus has to start now and last until the end of the season.
If Lynn can step his game up and prove a reliable arm in a banged up Yankees rotation, more power to him. He’ll have made this writer eat their words.
However, the numbers show Lynn’s performance as a starter could be a crapshoot for the Yankees, so don’t expect much.