clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Yankees potential trade target: Lance Lynn

New, comments

Should the Yankees be in the market for a starting pitching rental to fill a need in their rotation?

St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Yankees made their big move on Tuesday. In one fell swoop, the team eased their corner infield concerns and significantly deepened a bullpen that wavered in recent weeks. Less than 12 months after a legitimate teardown, the club made its first real win-now trade in some time.

That doesn't mean they have to stop there. First base and relief pitching no longer profile as needs, but that doesn't mean the roster is completely bereft of holes. The last weakness the Yankees have now lies at the back of the rotation.

Michael Pineda was ever frustrating, but he provided slightly above average production overall with the Yankees, namely in the form of a 102 ERA+ across the past four seasons. With Pineda injured, the team has to give Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa turns in the rotation. Both are young arms with decent fastballs that have struggled to produce for the big league club: Cessa has a 4.57 ERA as a starter, while Mitchell has a 3.76 ERA as a starter that belies his meager underlying stats (a 4.9 K/9 and a 4.1 BB/9).

If the Yankees want to make a big splash and lock down a starter that can help long-term, Sonny Gray is the target. If they would rather make a lesser commitment and find a rental for the rest of 2017, they have a number of options. An interesting one is Lance Lynn, since the Cardinals remain on the periphery of the playoff race. St. Louis may not entertain Lynn in trade talks if they make a push in the coming weeks, but if they fall farther behind the Brewers and Cubs, he could make for an intriguing rental.

Lynn established himself as a highly dependable mid-rotation starter between 2012 and 2015 with the Cardinals. His ERA sat between 2.74 and 3.97 across each of those seasons. He averaged 189 innings and never dropped below 175 in a season. His FIP was extremely steady, ranging between 3.28 and 3.49 over the span.

Unfortunately, Lynn underwent Tommy John surgery in November of 2015 and missed the entire 2016 season. Even so, at first glance, it doesn't seem like Lynn has missed a beat in his return. At age-30, he has a 3.40 ERA in 108 innings, taking the ball every fifth day and returning consistent results.

His return from Tommy John, however, may not be going as smoothly as his run prevention figures would suggest. It often takes a whole season for a pitcher to get back to full strength and regain command of his stuff. That appears to be the case here, as Lynn's fastball velocity is at its lowest point ever:

Lynn's four-seamer has averaged 92.6 mph, down more than a half-mph from 2015. It appears that he isn't all the way back physically to where he was prior to surgery. Beyond his velocity, Lynn's numbers outside of his ERA have regressed. His 3.2 BB/9 rate is middling, and his 7.9 K/9 would be the lowest of his career. He's also yielding home runs at the highest rate of his career, meaning his FIP has ballooned to 5.00.

If the Yankees targeted Lynn, they'd likely have concluded his run prevention numbers reflect the pitcher he truly is, and that his lessened velocity and strikeout numbers are either aberrations or irrelevant. Is there reason to believe that Lynn is actually better than his peripherals? There might be. Lynn is essentially a three-fastball pitcher, using his four-seamer, two-seamer and cutter about 90% of the time, per Brooks Baseball. Here's each of those pitches’ whiffs per swing rate the past three years:

Lynn's hard pitches have managed better whiffs per swing rates this year. Consequently, the contact rate he's yielded (79% per FanGraphs) is a tad better than his career average. Based off of that, it wouldn’t be surprising if he managed to strikeout batters at a rate closer to his career norms going forward.

That said, Lynn is still only running a .230 BABIP, after entering 2017 with a career figure around .300. That's not entirely sustainable, though he has managed contact well this year. His average exit velocity of 86 mph, per Statcast, is below league average, and he's allowed batted balls of 95 mph or more just 29.8% of the time. That’s 12th lowest among 59 pitchers with as many batted ball events in 2017.

In sum, we have a pitcher who's probably not as good as he was prior to Tommy John surgery, nor as good as his ERA suggests, but one that also isn't as bad as his FIP would indicate. The projections seem to agree, as Steamer forecasts Lynn for a 4.26 ERA and 0.9 fWAR in 70 innings the rest of the way.

As a pure rental, the Yankees would have to determine how much they're willing to give up for about a one-win upgrade. One win can be tremendously important in a close playoff race, and the price for half a season of a decent starter has been modest enough the past few years. Ivan Nova fetched the Yankees two players to be named later last year, and the Blue Jays gave up only RHP Adrian Sampson for JA Happ in 2015. The trade that sent Adam Duvall from the Giants to the Reds in exchange for Mike Leake probably represents the most a team has paid for a recent starter rental.

If the price is agreeable, it would not be surprising for the Yankees to patch the rotation with a rental, Lynn or otherwise. They also have the ammo to make a big splash for a big name like Gray. Regardless, they will likely be in discussions all the way up to the deadline, and should not be considered done even after this week’s big activity.