When the Yankees added Lance Lynn in the midst of a short flurry of trade deadline pickups, it didn’t really inspire much fanfare. I myself wrote about how Lynn was an unexciting insurance policy; needed by the team, but not something to get excited about. Yankees fans, you still shouldn’t get too excited about Lance Lynn, but it’s okay to get just a little excited about Lance Lynn.
Lynn made his first appearance in pinstripes relieving Sonny Gray after a disastrous start against Baltimore. He pitched 4.1 innings of shutout ball, preserving the bullpen ahead of a then-crucial series against Boston. The series was a fiasco in and of itself, but that’s not Lynn’s fault. He did the job he was brought over to do.
After that, Lance took over Gray’s rotation spot, and he has not disappointed in his two subsequent starts. 7.1 shutout innings against Chicago and 5 innings of one-run ball against a white-hot Texas Rangers offense will do just fine for the Yankees. All of a sudden, Lynn went from a depth move to a legitimate boost in the beleaguered New York rotation. So how’d he do it?
To start with, he bucks the organization trend away from the fastball:
The Yankees have taken a balanced approach to pitching repertoire over the past few years, while Lynn has used the fastball to establish the strike zone, and his breaking/offspeed pitches to finish off hitters. The chief reason for the Yankees to work away from the fastball is to generate more strikeouts; we know that curveballs and sliders tend to induce more whiffs than fastballs. With Lynn’s command, though, you don’t need to deceive batters with movement, and Lynn’s K/9 with the Yankees is 11.88, two strikeouts more than his season mark.
That fastball command allows Lynn to locate where he wants and keep hitters off balance. Look at his fastball placement since joining the Yankees:
There’s a general pattern of Lynn working in on right-handed batters and away from left-handed batters, but other than that there’s no repeatable - and more importantly predictable - pitching pattern. He throws a ton of fastballs, and has a good enough feel for it that he can move it to three of the four quadrants of the zone. This makes a hitter’s job all the more difficult, since they can’t isolate a single area of the strike zone.
Finally, that fastball location keeps hitters off balance and allows Lynn to generate more favorable types of contact:
You can see how he’s gradually cut down on fly balls and line drives, while slightly upping the number of groundballs he induces. This is all a direct result of the above heatmap; if players can’t predict the pitch location, it forces them to adjust on the fly rather than focus on one spot and meet the ball. Hitters are off balance and that’s good news for the pitcher.
The one drawback to Lynn’s fastball reliance is the lack of a truly trustworthy secondary offering. He gets in trouble on days where his fastball command is off or hitters are seeing his pitches better. We’ve seen a pitcher like Aroldis Chapman struggle with fastball command, then fall back on his slider and still achieve good results. Masahiro Tanaka basically lives by that philosophy. Overall, I’d probably like to see more off-speed usage by Lynn, but down the stretch he should stick to the approach that’s already working.
Lynn still isn’t a very exciting pitcher, and I don’t imagine many kids are rushing out to buy his jersey. Still, he’s been a stabilizing influence in an unstable rotation, and gives us all a lot more confidence as we enter the final push of the regular season. To quote one of my favorite movies, he’s been a surprise to be sure, though a welcome one.