Lance Lynn: A Strong Season, But What’s Next?

Plenty of pitchers go through an early season manic phase before crashing back to earth in the second half, but few who pitched as well as Lance Lynn did after being thrust into the rotation find their jobs as unsecure the next season as he does going into 2013.

Lynn was given his shot at starting late in camp last year, less than a month before his regular season debut, and only because it appeared as though Chris Carpenter wouldn’t be healthy in time to break camp with the team. Lynn adapted to the role well and went 8-1 in his first 10 starts with a 2.54 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. His next 10 starts were less encouraging as he went 5-3 with a 4.40 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP.Still, even after he made the start that finally pushed him out of the rotation on August 24, Lynn’s overall line wasn’t horrific by any stretch of the imagination. A 13-5 record with a 3.93 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP, and 9.0 K/9 is certainly workable, even if he was in the midst of something of a swoon at the time.

Nevertheless, he was inserted into the rotation because of a missing Carpenter and Carp’s return was what ushered him into the bullpen for a while. Lynn did make his way back into the rotation for four strong starts at the end of the season, but with half of those starts coming against the Astros, I’m unwilling to argue that all he needed as a mental break and that he’s definitely primed to win 20 next year.

Going into next season, the Cardinals will – they hope – have a healthy Carpenter and Adam Wainwright for the first time since 2010, plus Jake Westbrook and Jaime Garcia, meaning there would seem to be just one spot available for Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Joe Kelly to fight over. There’s little doubt that Miller was the best prospect of the trio, but that may or may not give him the inside track if he struggles in camp. I still have doubts about Garcia’s shoulder health, which could mean an extra spot in the rotation at some point during the year.

It’s hard to ignore a good season from Lynn as a starter, but there’s definitely an argument to be made that he should be the one – or one of the two – that ends up in the bullpen for the Cardinals going forward. He held opposing righties to a .624 OPS, while striking out nearly 30 percent of them; lefties touched him for an .841 OPS, including 11 of the 16 home runs he allowed, and he struck out just 19 percent of them. This isn’t to say that Lynn should be left as a ROOGY, but he breezed through right-handed hitters and had his lunch handed to him by their sinister counterparts.

If one of the Cards’ current crop of starters goes down, Lynn has proven that he can hold his own in the majors despite his issues with the more Flanders-esque hitters. However, if Garcia and Westbrook remain healthy and there is just the one spot available, allowing Lynn to be more of a targeted weapon rather than swinging between dominant and dominated will maximize his value for the team, even as it renders him almost entirely useless in all but holds leagues.

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Dan enjoys black tea, imperial IPAs, and any competition that can be loosely judged a sport. Follow him on Twitter.

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