It’s easier to make a defense for Lance Lynn staying in the rotation after he tossed 7 innings of 1-hit baseball opposite a guy who makes 50 times what he does in a year. But even without that game, his merits and performance stand on its own over the last season as to why he belongs in the rotation.
So why is this even worthy of discussion? In a radio interview recently John Mozeliak indicated that the Cardinals would consider Lynn at closer if nobody else settled into the role. “If things still aren’t worked out by, for example, June, we would look internally and consider Lance Lynn as closer.”
No one can forget what Lynn did for the Cardinals in 2011 season out of the bullpen. After a brief cup of coffee in the rotation, he returned out of the bullpen and quickly earned himself a spot at the back end of the rotation and became a go-to guy. He posted a 2.22 ERA over 16 relief appearances before he went down with an injury. He returned in the playoffs where he kept doing what he had been.
But can he jump back into the bullpen as good as ever? Pitching in the bullpen versus the rotation are two very different animals. In the rotation, you develop the conditioning to go multiple innings every several days. In the bullpen, you develop the conditioning to go just an inning every other day, or sooner. Back in 2011 before the Cardinals traded for Edwin Jackson, Kyle McClellan said that there was no guarantee he’d be effective in the bullpen because of the change in conditioning mid season.
McClellan went down with injury soon after and hasn’t pitched regularly in the major leagues since. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. I think it’s a bit naive to believe he’ll drop into the role with more success than anyone else.
However, that’s not my argument.
Something that I don’t think you can ignore is that Lynn has won 20 games in his last 33 starts. Oh I can hear the complaining already about how wins are a team stat. I agree, but I still feel that it means something about a pitcher’s skill level over a season long sample. After all, it is wins that get you into the postseason, not ERA (though yeah, ERA helps).
So what else has Lynn done in his last 33 starts? He has a 20-5 record, a 3.67 ERA, and a 1.29 WHIP. Only 33 pitchers in Major League Baseball had an ERA and WHIP as good or better than Lynn last season.
Add in his 199 strikeouts and you have just 10 pitchers who were better last year than Lynn has been over his last 33 starts.
Lance Lynn has the stuff to be in the rotation. He needs to stay there and the Cardinals are a better team with him there than they are with him in the bullpen. Even if you still don’t have a 9th inning answer in June or even October.