Cardinals Find Lynn-chpin

Prior to the start of the National League Championship Series, the St. Louis Cardinals activated starter-turned-reliever Lance Lynn from the 60-day disabled list (strained left oblique) and added him to the active roster. The 24-year-old last appeared in a game on August 9th before taking the mound in game 1 of the NLCS. Since, he has faced nine batters in the series, allowing just one hit.

Lynn made his major-league debut as a starter in early June. He took two turns through the rotation before being returned to Triple-A. He was recalled later in the month and used as a relief pitcher. Over the next six weeks, he made 16 appearances out of the Cardinals’ pen before straining his oblique.

Working almost exclusively as a starter, Lynn struck out 7.8 batters per nine innings in his career as a minor leaguer. His K-rate spiked n middle relief as he struck out 34% of his opponents; a K/9 of 11.84. While striking out better than a batter per inning, he maintained a sub 3.0 BB/9 and manageable home run rate. In 24.2 innings of work as a reliever, he earned a 2.45 FIP with an even better 2.21 xFIP.

When Lynn was not racking up strikeouts, he was inducing groundballs. Getting great velocity separation from his fastball (93.2 mph) and his curveball (78.6), he generated a 57% groundball rate. The breaking ball in particular was an excellent source of grounders when put in play.

Because he missed time late in the season, Lynn’s arm should be fresher than most pitchers at this point of the year. He threw 164 innings in 2009, but just recently crossed the 110-inning threshold for 2011. Since he spent most of the season as a starter, his arm is also trained to go multiple innings at a time. He threw more than one inning in eight of his 16 regular-season appearances out of the bullpen.

Lynn has yet to register a strikeout in any of his three postseason appearances; however, his skill-set and lack of platoon split has allowed Tony LaRussa to use him as needed and not dictated strictly by individual matchup.

Although he threw just one pitch in game 2, Lynn walked away as the winning pitcher for St. Louis. Trailing 7-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Milwaukee Brewers loaded the bases for Rickie Weeks with one out. LaRussa summoned Lynn from the bullpen in hopes of killing Milwaukee’s momentum with a double play. Lynn’s only pitch of the game was an 80 mph curveball located low and away. Weeks rolled over on the breaking ball, starting an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

In game 3, Lynn was asked to do a little more work. With the Cardinals clutching to a 4-3 lead, he entered the game in the seventh inning. In a show of his platoon neutrality, he put down the left-handed Nyjer Morgan and the right-handed Corey Hart to begin the inning. He ended the frame by retiring lefty Mark Kotsay before making quick work of right-handed masher Ryan Braun to start the eighth inning.

In 2006, the Cardinals turned a young starter into a bullpen weapon en route to a World Series Championship. Lynn may not be the next Adam Wainwright, but he is doing his best to provide the same spark as a reliever. Although the process in which they are being used is different, everyone around the St. Louis organization hopes the result is the same.

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Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and Follow on twitter @TRancel

14 Responses to “Cardinals Find Lynn-chpin”

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  1. A Fangraphs Madlib says:

    All of these articles about middle relievers and role players make me feel __________.

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  2. buddy says:

    A pun worthy of a newspaper headline.

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  3. Dealer A says:

    I only came here because the title is amazing, or should I say Lance-tastic.

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  4. Bad Bill says:

    Hidden beneath all the ghastly (but appreciated…) puns is an important point. A lot of people thought the bullpen would be a soft spot for St. Louis heading into the playoffs. Certainly, at the beginning of the season, this was true. However, of the seven relief pitchers who went north with the team in March, only two, Jason Motte and Mitch Boggs, remain. Those who were discarded ranged anywhere from “fungible” to “completely awful.” Think about the then and now:
    Closer then: Ryan Franklin; now: Motte
    Top LOOGY then: Trever Miller; now: Marc Rzepczynski
    Second LOOGY then: Brian Tallet; now; Arthur Rhodes
    Eighth-inning guy then: Motte; now: Fernando Salas
    Stop-the-bleeding guy then: Boggs; now: Octavio Dotel
    Middle innings guy #1 then: Miguel Batista; now: Lance Lynn
    Middle innings guy #2 then: Bryan Augenstein; now: Boggs (and Kyle McClellan, since the pen is longer now than then)

    It can be reasonably argued that _every one_ of these changes represents an upgrade today compared to April, except eighth-inning guy, where it’s essentially a wash. (Remember too that Salas has also served as a closer, and a good one.) In my opinion TLR and Mozeliak should be given credit for recognizing a problem that threatened the success of the team, and going out and fixing the durn thing. That doesn’t happen very often in baseball.

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    • apack says:

      On the other hand, they should have been severely punished for planning to use Franklin, Bautista, Augenstein, and Tallet in the first place. Not to mention Theriot and Schumaker. In the end, the Cardinals got lucky that their early season gaffes in team construction and management didn’t completely derail their season.

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      • Felonius_Monk says:

        I agree up to a point, but there wasn’t any particular reason to expect Franklin to be QUITE as bad as he was (he’s obviously severely over-performed his peripherals for a few years and was due a regression, but 2010 was actually pretty much his best season and there was every reason to suspect he’d be a cromulent, if not particularly good, relief pitcher in 2011), and Trever Miller fell off a cliff very quickly. Tallet was basically just a cheap option, my only beef with that one was that he wasn’t ever a real “LOOGY” as he had a minimal split, but generally he didn’t seem a terrible pickup (Raul Valdes probably should’ve been given the second LOOGY job ahead of him).

        Batista was a pretty pointless pickup, though, and really hurt the club by getting lucky for a month or so and badly outstaying his welcome once all the line-drives stopped miraculously finding gloves. The continued obsession with playing marginal middle infielders is frustrating, too. This club has been crying out for an Orlando Hudson/Kelly Johnson-type acquisition for about four years now; I’m hoping that retaining Rafael Furcal next year will go at least some way to plugging that gap (and, FWIW, I’d probably let Pujols walk if he wants megabucks and spend a fraction of that money on acquiring a competent everyday 2B).

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      • Bad Bill says:

        Exactly, FM. Batista was a blunder, and most non-TLR people recognized that at the time. However, anyone who claims to have predicted the complete LOOGY meltdown is engaged in ferocious results mongering. It’s not like they had alternatives within the organization, either; Valdes was basically Tallet on a minor-league contract, and while they had, and have, abundant power arms in the minors, they’re all attached to right shoulders, not left.

        As for Franklin, most pre-2011 projections had him at a WHIP around 1.3-1.4 (he actually “achieved” a 1.86 WHIP) and a HR/9 rate around 1, rather than the obscene 2.93 he actually put up. If he’d reached those predictions, he’d probably still be pitching in St. Louis, although not as the closer. If TLR missed on that one, so did the prognosticators; don’t take my word for that, you can see it at the FanGraphs player page.

        I detect at FanGraphs a pronounced and long-standing tendency to dump on Tony La Russa, just about regardless of what is actually happening with his teams. He is certainly not my ideal of the perfect manager, but the persistent tendency here to find the TLR glass half empty, and filled with gross and objectionable stuff to the 50% mark, is getting contrived.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        As opposed to all the other teams that have their bullpens set in April?

        The cards had the 5th best record in the NL at the time of the Rasmus trade.

        StL was .5 GB of MIL. Wanna talk fortunate? StL’s Run Differential was +41. MIL’s was -6. MIL was 7 games over .500 with a negative run differential.

        StL was where they were because they outscored every other NL team at least 20 runs, and in most cases by 50+ up to that point.

        Yeah, the Cards should have been punished for not having a great, completely balanced team before July? Do we need to apply that same system or standard to the other 29 teams?

        StL went 35-21 after their acquisitions. Isn’t it how you finish?

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      • apack says:

        As a point of fact, it’s how you finish on the year. Wins and losses count equally no matter when they occur.

        It is perfectly reasonable to build your bullpen through the season. The problem is when intentionally going into the year with veteran players who project to be around replacement level and a manager who is known to over-use veterans. The choice to deploy very poor middle infield defense with a groundball-heavy staff was another major issue. These are not obscure or difficult issues, but rather obvious problems. It was especially grating when the Cardinals did have promising young players available for some of these positions (especially RH relief) and management refused to use them.

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  5. CircleChange11 says:

    As a point of fact, it’s how you finish on the year. Wins and losses count equally no matter when they occur.

    I mean how you finish in the standings, not whether you finish on a winning streak.

    The Cards bullpen gained strength and flexibility when the cardinals traded Rasmus for Jackson, Scrabble, and Dotel … also allowing Kyle to return to the pen.

    I don;t think StL was willing at the time to make that trade.

    We all know how bullpens can go, and how quickly their fates can change. See Sand Diego and Arizona, and even St. Louis for examples.

    The choice to deploy very poor middle infield defense with a groundball-heavy staff was another major issue.

    You’re preaching to the choir on that one. I’ve been all over letting Ryan go ever since it happened. Replacing him with Theriot was a horrible idea.

    St. Louis is probably never going to be one of those teams that is going to be solid at every position … and well there aren’t that many 2B or 3B that are all-around good. It makes ya miss Felipe Lopez, go figure.

    Basically I pretty much agree with you all the way around.

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