ST. LOUIS — Lance Lynn is a true workhorse.
No, this isn't a spring training line pull when an athlete proclaims they are in the best shape of their life; more like a declaration of fact.
The former Cardinal pitcher became a full-time starter in 2012, starting 29 games and winning 18 of them. Pitcher wins aren't a cool stat these days, so keep in mind his Fielding Independent Pitching/Earned Run Average that year was 3.49/3.78.
That's the kind of closeness you'd like those two valuable pitcher stats-FIP and ERA-to have with a top-notch producer. Lynn did just that for his five seasons as a starter for the Cardinals, as well as the three seasons following his departure from St. Louis. For his nine year career, Lynn's FIP/ERA was 3.62/3.57. From 2012-19, Lynn started at least 29 games and completed 156 innings each season. What about 2020? Lynn was tied for the league lead with 13 starts.
Boy, it was a mistake to let him leave town. Lynn may have struggled in his partial season in Minnesota, but he bounced back in New York with the Yankees, carrying a 2.17 FIP while wearing the pinstripes. However, it was with the Texas Rangers that Lynn not only got his career back on track, but he brushed shoulders with the elite. Lynn finished 5th and 6th in the Cy Young award rankings these past two years, respectively.
Near the end of his time in St. Louis, many fans and writers noted that Lynn's production couldn't hold up. He turned 30 years old in his final season as a Cardinal, and some figured his arm would simply fall off and stop producing zeros. This is where the narrator tells you those folks were very wrong. Lynn got better, and found a way to do it in the hard-hitting American League. The Indianapolis native made Arlington Field his own for two years.
Lynn doesn't exactly fool hitters at the plate, as much as he overpowers them. He mixes in a curveball to a wide variety of fastballs, each coming in high and tight, sinking, or cutting. A stat once showed that 68% of the pitches Lynn fired at the plate in a season with the Cardinals were fastballs of some kind. I personally found that stat to be too low. It's a "here you go, try and hit it" approach with Lynn, which is why he keeps his FIP and ERA close. The former stat covers the work Lynn gets done without the help of his defense. Lynn has struck out at least 160 batters in six seasons.
According to Jon Heyman (take it with a few grains of salt), Lynn is on the trade block as Texas cuts salary. He is a free agent after the 2021 season, and will only cost a team $9 million for his services. According to Fangraphs, Lynn offered the Rangers 1.5 Wins Above Replacement in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Lynn's WAR was 6.8 in 2019. Here's how he fared with St. Louis, WAR wise, over the five seasons: 2.6, 3.3, 3.6, 3.0, and 1.2.
Texas won't let him go without a decent package, but it's not an acquisition the Cardinals should just pass up. I'm not here to tell you that the Cardinals WILL go after Lynn; I'm just describing why it would be a swell idea. But why did they let him go in the first place? If there was a reason, we have to circle back to the big surgery.
Lynn's last season in St. Louis came after 2016, which he missed with Tommy John Surgery. 2017 could be regarded as his toughest year, but then again, look no further than most pitchers recovering from one of the toughest surgeries in sports for evidence of struggles the next season. If that was the reason they didn't pay up to bring him, it was a bad idea. Adam Wainwright didn't look marvelous in 2012 after Tommy John took its pound of flesh, did he?
What about velocity? Is it still firing on every cylinder? The answer is yes, but let me put a flat circle around it real quick. A guy who throws all cheddar needs to keep the baseball moving at a certain level to succeed. Lynn's four-seam fastball averaged right around 94-95 miles-per-hour in 2012. This year, he was averaging right around 95 mph. Zero speed lost, no problem getting outs.
Lynn will be 34 years old in May, but why would his arm suddenly break down now?
Some pitchers have been regarded as reborn after Tommy John surgery; sometimes it just takes a couple years to fully kick in. He could help a Cardinals team loaded with arms, but short on sure things. How will Miles Mikolas look next season? Is Wainwright coming back? Carlos Martinez may have burned that final bridge between him and the team, so where are all the sure things?
Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon still have nice upside, but they don't have Lynn's pedigree. Jack Flaherty is still a boss, but he can't clone himself or pitch every three days. Jake Woodford is intriguing, but is so raw and untested that placing a probability on his upcoming season would be harsh. Johan Oviedo had an impressive debut this year, but are you ready to ask for 180 innings and 30 starts from him just yet? The answer is no, you surely are not.
John Gant is serviceable as a starter, but doesn't really excite you in any way. Gant may have magnificent hair, but his postgame media game isn't as sharp as Lynn's rapport. The former Cardinal once took a line drive off his head during a game and spoke afterwards about it like I would a trip and fall on the way to the dumpster. He rarely offered long answers, but his dry wit cut the cynicism in half before it hit the reporter's pen or thumb. You can't find this stat on Baseball Reference, but I always find it appealing when players are colorful.
No one should ever ask Flaherty to be George Carlin in front of his locker, but a personality goes a long way. Look at Flaherty's voice away from the bump. 2020 passed many athletes by, but the young Cards ace took it as a chance for fans to get to know him. He stood firm and tall for Black Lives Matter during the country-wide social unrest following George Floyd's death. He wasn't afraid to add a quip to a writer on Twitter if it brought him closer to fans and his peers. Lynn is the same way and I think that pays dividends, especially for younger players. Lynn was his own person, and it helped him become a better pitcher.
If the Cardinals are intent on retaining the same offense as last year's paltry bunch, they will need all trustworthy pitching. Less question marks, and more quality starts. For just a shade over $9 million, Lynn could give Mike Shildt's team peace of mind in uncertain times.
Pandemic or not, that's a very fine bargain to acquire a workhorse for, even if it costs you a couple of could-be young talents.