Lance Lynn has Mastered the Multi-sided Fastball

A lot of player interviews are a waste of time. This one isn’t. This is Lance Lynn, being interviewed in early June, after shutting down the Brewers:

Lynn talks a lot about the fastball, which is appropriate, because Lynn threw 119 pitches in the game, and if his words are to be believed, exactly one of those wasn’t a heater. According to the numbers we have, it was more like three non-heaters, but there’s no point in getting too hung up on this; either way, Lynn threw a crap-ton of heaters. He used it almost exclusively to keep the Brewers quiet, and that was mostly in keeping with Lynn’s evolved pitcher profile. Earlier in the year, when Bartolo Colon was on his run, much attention was paid to his unusual and seemingly simple pitching style. Lynn has become the best Colon comparison we have. Only he’s younger, and stronger, and better. On the surface, Lynn has one of the most simple game plans imaginable. Which means he’s figured out a complicated way to make it work.

Lynn entered the Cardinals’ rotation on a regular basis in 2012. Here’s a quick glance at what he’s done differently since. You’ll see Lynn’s fastball rates, and you’ll see the league-average fastball rates for starting pitchers:

lynnfastballusage

Lynn has always been fastball-first. These days, he’s also fastball-second. And it’s possible his fastball rate has actually been under-reported, because sometimes his fastball looks like a fast changeup. Note, also, this doesn’t include cut fastballs, which tend to be classified as sliders. Lynn throws most of his pitches hard, is the point.

And that’s uncommon for a starting pitcher. It’s when you put Lynn in the context of other starters that you get to better appreciate his peculiarity. Here are the highest starter fastball rates, over the last calendar year:

  1. Bartolo Colon, 85%
  2. Lance Lynn, 84%
  3. Justin Masterson, 77%

Here are the highest starter fastball rates, this year:

  1. Lance Lynn, 86%
  2. Bartolo Colon, 85%
  3. Jarred Cosart, 79%

And here are the highest starter fastball rates, over the past month:

  1. Lance Lynn, 90%
  2. Bartolo Colon, 82%
  3. Jesse Hahn, 79%

Lynn’s in the lead, now. If anything, he’s only throwing the fastball more and more. He’s holding lefties to a career-low wOBA, with a career-high strikeout rate. Overall, Lynn has a sub-3 ERA, a career-best FIP, and a career-best xFIP. Colon got us used to this first — a pitcher succeeding by changing speeds and movements on his heater. Now there’s Lynn, who’s kind of like Colon’s heir. I don’t know how much longer Colon’s going to pitch, but Lynn is poised to keep the style alive.

Pretty obviously, Lynn isn’t just throwing 90% four-seam fastballs. His four-seamer isn’t Aroldis Chapman’s four-seamer, so that couldn’t work. Here’s Mike Matheny‘s quick explanation:

“He’s finding a great feel for just manipulating the fastball with cuts and sink and four-seam,” Matheny said. “Just not many guys who can get away with what he’s doing, but he’s locating it so well and taking off a little bit to put more run on, putting on a little. Pretty nice job.”

Matheny said Lynn’s fastball actually works out to about four different pitches, all ranging from about 87 mph to 93 mph with significantly distinct movement.

Lynn does know how to throw a cutter. Sometimes he brings it into a game. He also knows how to throw a curveball and a changeup. Those’ll show up in games, too. Lynn has said before it’s important to have those pitches around, just in case you need them. And Lynn might find that he needs them as he gets older, and his top velocity slows down. Yet at the present point in time, Lynn is succeeding through fastball manipulation. Matheny explained it, and with some help from Baseball Savant, here you might be able to visualize it. Lynn’s fastball locations over the last three years:

This year, you can see some separation, as Lynn has worked predominantly in two areas. He’s hung around the edges, avoiding the middle, and with a straighter fastball, Lynn has worked mostly up, and to his glove-side. But he’s also demonstrated an improved ability to put run on the fastball and have it tail down and arm-side. Those fastballs will come out of the same spot, and they’ll pass through the same areas, but they’ll separate on the way to the plate, meaning a hitter doesn’t know which it is out of the hand. Then you also have a cut version of the fastball, which Lynn keeps low and glove-side. That’s not in the .gif. Nor do you get the velocity variation. Lynn does throw almost all of his pitches hard. But for a hitter, a separation of a few miles per hour, or a few inches, is everything.

It’s time for the cherry-picked Allegedly Representative At-Bat. Here, we’ve got Lance Lynn striking out Joc Pederson on five pitches. All of them were technically fastballs.

Perfectly located, down and away.

Missed, off the edge. You can see with your own eyes that Lynn took a bit off this pitch.

There’s the straighter, harder fastball, hugging the inner edge.

Just about the ideal pitch. Didn’t get the call, but, could’ve. Perfect at 1-and-2.

The harder fastball, up and inside. Borderline strike call, but then, the previous pitch got a borderline ball call, so the probability was that Lynn would get at least one of the calls in his favor.

The first fastball had some run. The second had run and drop. The third was straighter, and the fourth was more like the second. The fifth was the straightest fastball yet. Lynn worked around the edges, he varied his speeds by five miles per hour, he varied his horizontal movements by five inches, and he varied his vertical movements by seven inches. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Lynn struck Pederson out throwing one pitch, but Pederson probably felt like it was three or four pitches, and he didn’t even see anything cut. Lynn carved him up, changing only his grips. The throwing motions were identical.

Lynn’s throwing some sort of heater more than ever before. He’s also sacrificed a little bit of velocity, and probably not coincidentally, the evidence suggests he’s improved his command, such that he can live around the edges. Because he can live around the edges, he’s used this fastball-heavy approach to have greater success against lefties, which used to be his only real problem. Now, it still might not be a strength, but it’s far less of a weakness, as Lynn has taken the Colon approach and made it his own. Maybe, at some point, Lynn will need those other pitches. There are reasons he continues to work on them. At this point? At this point, Lynn essentially throws one pitch. Except for the fact that he doesn’t, at all.

We hoped you liked reading Lance Lynn has Mastered the Multi-sided Fastball by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Gin and Bourjos
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Gin and Bourjos

Another Jeff Sullivan Cardinals puff piece.

Jim S.
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Jim S.

Another excellent Sullivan piece. Period.

JackieChin
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JackieChin

The Cardinals are a great team so yeah.
Not a Cards fan, btw.