For LA Angels, It’s Time to Call Lance Lynn
The LA Angels have had a great winter, but the clock is winding down towards the February reporting date for pitchers and catchers. There are questions in the rotation, and with free agent talent beginning to sign elsewhere, it’s time to to finish strong. It’s time to call Lance Lynn.
LA Angels General Manager Billy Eppler has had a startling past two months. He has put on the board Justin Upton, Shohei Ohtani, Ian Kinsler, and Zack Cozart to bolster the Angels’ everyday lineup, but the starting rotation remands as fragile as a Fabergé egg. Beyond the usage restrictions that come along with Ohtani’s two-way usage, Mike Scioscia and pitching coach Chuck Nagy are going to have to find a way to juggle the health and innings of a spectacularly grisly crew:
- Garrett Richards: Recovering from an irritated nerve in his right bicep, this coming on top of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in 2016 (for which opted to try an experimental cocktail of stem cells and platelet rich plasma (PRP) rather than Tommy John surgery).
- Matt Shoemaker: Recovering from surgery on the radial nerve in his right arm.
- Tyler Skaggs: Threw 85 innings last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
- Andrew Heaney: Threw 21.2 innings last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
- J.C. Ramírez: Recovering from a ulnar collateral ligament, which he chose to go the stem cell and PRP route instead of Tommy John surgery.
- Nick Tropeano: Recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Do you sense a theme? Parker Bridwell is the only returning starter who hasn’t doubled as a medical science experiment over the last six months. Even if the Angels employed the six-man rotation they’re rumored to be considering, it’s impossible to point to any of the projected rotation arms and expect 180 good innings.
And that’s why they should call Lance Lynn. The 30-year-old right-hander came back last year after missing the entire 2016 season recovering from his own Tommy John surgery and posted a strong line, a 3.43 ERA (7th best in the National League) over 186.1 innings and, most importantly to a team like the Angels, made 33 starts, tied for most in the league. If you’re a team that needs to count on someone to show up every five days and give you six innings, you could do a lot worse than Lance Lynn.
Next: LA Angels 2018 Starting Rotation Questions
You could also do a lot better. While other teams are taking longing looks at Alex Cobb and Jake Arrieta, the rumor mill’s been quiet around Lynn. There are reasons for that. While his ERA was impressive, his peripherals were not. Lynn’s Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP) was a brutal 4.82, nearly a run and a half higher than his ERA, which makes sense because Lynn allowed 27 homers, tied for 6th most in the NL. He was never a guy who kept the bases clean, and his 2017 WHIP was a not-special 1.23. Oh, by the way, his walk rate went up a tick over his career averages, and his strikeout rate dropped nearly 10% from 2015. None of those indicators bode well for a pitcher entering his 30s, especially if they’re going to be switching to the DH league.
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And yet… it’s time to call Lance Lynn. If you’re unsure, look back up at the list of Angel starters: would you put down real money that any of those guys will notch 150 innings or 25 starts? The only Angel starter to do that last year was Ricky Nolasco, and nobody wants a repeat of the Ricky Nolasco Experience. Even if Ohtani is as good as advertised, the Angels still need a strong second starter. Garrett Richards ought to be that guy, but Richards has managed but a measly 35 and 28 innings in his last two seasons, and it’s an open question as to how much his arm can give the Angels in 2018. As good as Heaney looked in 2016, he can’t be expected to show that same effectiveness in his first full season back from TJ surgery. The same can be said for Shoemaker, and doubly so for Ramírez — no one can say just how effectively Ramírez’s stem cell procedure will turn out. Even if the Angels run a six-man rotation out on the field, we have no idea how well any of these arms will hold up.
Moreover, carrying six starters doesn’t mean the Angels can carry fewer relievers; nearly every single starter will be looking at pitch count caps early on, which means there’s going to be a heavy burden on a bullpen that, as of this moment, doesn’t look particularly good. Even if the Angels simply decide to throw them out there and hope for the best, this isn’t a group of superstar arms even on their best days. Only Richards has shown himself to be exceptional when he’s healthy, and he can’t stay healthy. Everyone else might reasonably be expected to be, at best, league average in 2017.
This is why it’s time to call Lance Lynn. When pitchers and catchers report in a few weeks, it will have been nearly two years and three months since Lynn had his own TJ surgery. Whereas many of the Angel starters are going into their first season back from rehab, Lynn’s already gone through it, and put up a solid season for the Cardinals. While his peripherals, as mentioned previously, weren’t good, Lynn’s track record of consistency suggests that it was a consolidation year — it was a year for him to get back onto the field and refining his game.
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For example: as the year went on, Lynn made a series of small adjustments to his approach. Percentage-wise Lynn throws more fastballs any other pitcher in baseball. He throws three different fastballs — a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball, and a cut fastball — and those three variants comprise over 90 percent of his pitch selection. Reminiscent of former Angel Jarrod Washburn, Lynn will vary the speed and location of his fastballs, using different fastballs the way other pitchers might use breaking pitches and off-speed stuff.
Early in the 2017 season, he was giving up more homers than at any other point in his career. Lynn doesn’t have the gas to blow people away, and in a record-setting season for homers, he gave up a staggering 20 homers in his first 92 innings. Before his injury, he threw his four seam fastball over half the time, and it was getting crushed. In the second half of 2017, for the first time in his career, Lynn switched to his sinking two-seamer as his go-to pitch, throwing it almost 50 percent of the time.
In his last 17 starts, Lynn reeled off 12 Quality Starts (minimum six innings pitched allowing three runs or less), and in those 96.1 innings he sported a sterling 2.99 ERA while allowing just 8 home runs and inducing 20 GIDPs. Among these starts was one of those inexplicable disasters, two-thirds of an inning, eight runs allowed. Take that out, and Lynn’s post-All-Star ERA was 2.26.
Admit it. He’s better than you thought he was.
Having Lynn solidify the middle of the pitching rotation would allow the Angels to be judicious in selecting the #4, #5, and #6 pitchers in the rotation. Assuming it’s some mix of Bridwell, Shoemaker, Heaney and Skaggs, it allows the Angels to move the odd man out and Ramírez back into the bullpen. At the moment, the Angels have Blake Parker, Cam Bedrosian, Kenyan Middleton, and a bunch of question marks. Having six starters means the Angels will likely carry just five relievers, and that puts a lot of pressure on the long men in the pen. Having dependable arms that can give you multiple innings twice a week will mean the difference between making and breaking the pen. Rotating starters out of the rotation and into the pen would also give guys a chance to recover if they run into arm fatigue issues.
Eppler has already made it clear that, having already written the big check for Upton, he has no intention of allowing the Angel payroll to explode again. That means the Angels won’t be making a run at Yu Darvish, Cobb, or Arrieta. Cobb is reportedly asking for $20 million per, and someone — probably the Cubs — will probably give it to him. Lynn won’t be as expensive as the other top starters on the market. MLB Trade Rumors estimates Lynn would cost someone four years and $60 million; for the Angels, it might actually be a bit of a bargain. With any farm talent still years away, the only way for the Angels to gather more new talent is to buy it. For a middle-rotation starting pitcher, $15 million per season is money well worth spending.
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And they should. The American League is in a state of flux at the moment. Between super teams and total rebuilds, only five teams in the American League finished above .500. Tampa, Kansas City, Seattle and Texas are all looking at long rebuilds, Toronto’s staring up at the Yankees and Boston, and Detroit and Baltimore are early turkeys. Of the up-and-coming teams, Oakland and Chicago are still a few years away. That means the only two non-division winners who are in a position to win are Minnesota and the Angels, and the Angels’ acquisitions this winter have pushed them ahead of the Twins.
The ground beneath the Angels’ feet has shifted in their favor. For the first time since 2015, they appear to be legitimate contenders for a playoff spot, thanks to the Wild Card structure. With so much uncertainty in the rotation, they should spend the money to solidify their position. Now, while Mike Trout is still locked into his contract, it’s time for the Angels to finally position themselves as an annual post-season threat. It’s time to call Lance Lynn.