When Texas signed Lance Lynn in December 2018, Jon Daniels and company definitely didn’t know they were bringing aboard the fifth-place finisher in 2019 American League Cy Young voting.
At the end of the year, it seemed the Rangers actually got value out of the three-year, $30 million dollar contract he signed after splitting 2018 between the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees. Lynn stitched together a fantastic 16-11 record to go with a sparkling 3.67 earned run average and 246 strikeouts over 208 innings-plus.
He truly was the anchor of Texas’ rotation along with All-Star ace Mike Minor, and even took the ball for the Rangers in their last game at Globe Life Park in a win over his former Yankees. Even with the clean numbers, a few questions and notes surround his game entering when the 2020 season starts- whenever that may be.
Can he reel in the command?
Lynn led Major League Baseball last year with 18 wild pitches. When spread out over his 33 starts, that’s nearly two per contest. An average Rangers team defensively can’t afford giving up those extra 180 feet to baserunners consistently.
This trend virtually came out of nowhere- Lynn’s previous career high in wild pitches was five the year prior. Even with that staggering number, he was still able to keep the number of walks surrendered extremely low, boasting a fantastic 4.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and only allowing 3.5 free passes per nine innings.
As far as his improved metrics, one reason for the overhaul could be that, in his time in Texas, Lynn has also been able to oust some personal demons. In his time in St. Louis from 2011-17, they reportedly worked with Lynn to regulate his diet and maintain a steady weight. In 2014, he acknowledged that his emotions often overcame him when he pitched himself into tough spots with runners on base in late-game situations. Neither one of these were problems for him in 2018.
After work with St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina, Cardinals brass acknowledged he seemed to trust his catchers’ in-game calling ability, and in a game moving to a virtual dependence on defensive shifts, said Lynn is more open-minded to different defensive alignments.
Jeff Mathis: The wild card the MLB doesn’t know about
If Lynn struggled to trust Molina early on in St. Louis, perhaps he trusted Texas catcher Jeff Mathis too much- which could certainly explain the spike in wild pitches.
Texas made news this offseason when, at a press conference re-introducing catcher Robinson Chirinos, general manager Jon Daniels said that the team plans to keep Mathis aboard as his backup.
Rangers fans understandably might only remember groaning each time Mathis and his career-worst .158/.209/.224 slash line came to the dish in 2020, but there’s a real reason why that in an age of analytics, Texas endured one of the league’s worst offensive players.
Mathis is widely respected as one of baseball’s best game-callers, and he proved it in games started by Minor and Lynn. He caught a whopping 50 of their 65 combined starts in 2019. In 23 games with Mathis behind the plate, Lynn stitched together a 3.50 ERA. In 10 games with Jose Trevino or Isiah Kiner-Falefa behind the dish, Lynn recorded a still-respectable 4.09 ERA.
Catcher ERA isn’t exactly the most sure-fire metric, but the numbers here are clear: Lance Lynn is better with Jeff Mathis behind the plate.
Both Lynn and Mathis are back for the Rangers in 2020, and because of that, Rangers fans can expect another season of solid starts out of the team’s number three pitcher.
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