In a column posted last night, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch argues that Lance Lynn gets a bad rap from newer metrics. Relying heavily on his wins, and the Cardinals’ record in his starts, Strauss puts Lynn in the same conversation as teammate and 2013 NL Cy Young runner-up Adam Wainwright, and two-time NL Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw.
No National League pitcher has more than Lynn’s 33 wins the last two seasons. The church of advanced metrics maintains pitcher wins are a byproduct of luck more than a direct reflection of skill. Hence, Lynn may be more lucky than good.
Wainwright shares the league lead in victories with Lynn the last two years and finished as runner-up to Kershaw in balloting for the 2013 NL Cy Young Award. It was Waino’s third podium finish for the elusive honor.
The Cardinals were 19-14 in Lynn’s starts last season, 21-8 in 2012. By comparison, the Los Angeles Dodgers went 40-26 behind Kershaw as he won the last two Cy Young Awards.
Few argue against Kershaw as the league’s best pitcher or Wainwright as the Cardinals’ ace. For example, the Cardinals have scored nine or more runs in 14 of Lynn’s 64 career starts. They’ve done so in seven of Wainwright’s 66 starts the last two seasons. However, Lynn’s body of work deserves more than an asterisk because an alphabet soup of metrics fails to unconditionally embrace him.
“The church of advanced metrics” actually has good things to say about Lynn. Though, unfortunately, they don’t quite put him in the same echelon as Wainwright and Kershaw. According to xFIP, an ERA retrodictor that uses the league average home run rate, Lynn has finished at 3.60 and 3.66 in 2012 and ’13, respectively. Both marks fell below his ERA, 3.78 and 3.97, respectively.
FanGraphs puts Lynn at six WAR over the past two seasons, an average of three per season. Baseball Reference puts him at four WAR over the past two seasons, an average of two per season. An average pitcher comes in at exactly two WAR. So, depending on which version you use, Lynn is somewhere between average and above-average — hardly denigrating as Strauss would have you believe.
The biggest knocks against Lynn include his walk rate and his batting average on balls in play. Lynn has walked between eight and nine percent of batters over the last two seasons, slightly above the National League average of 7.4 percent. Lynn’s BABIP has finished at .321 and .314. As Strauss points out, Lynn strikes out a lot of batters — 23 to 24 percent — but should that ability ever waver, his propensity to allow hits on balls in play at a higher rate and his propensity to issue walks will become more of an issue. That, however, has not been the case in his two full seasons thus far. As a result, neither ZiPS nor PECOTA project Lynn to struggle in 2014. ZiPS pegs him at a 3.52 ERA while PECOTA puts him at 3.90.
This “Sabermetrics hate Lynn” angle Strauss is pushing isn’t backed up by the actual stats. He’s no Wainwright or Kershaw, but he is certainly a pitcher who can be expected to be a productive member of the Cardinals.