Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Lance Lynn is having a rough go of things during the 2022 season. The big-right hander has struggled through seven starts since returning from the injured list in early June.
Lynn missed the beginning of the season after having surgery to repair a small tear in his left knee, the same one he had issues with at the end of 2021. He spent nearly a month rehabbing the knee in the offseason, most likely, to avoid surgery. However, he left his final Spring Training start with discomfort in his knee after allowing four earned runs in 3.1 innings, and surgery followed shortly after.
In Lynn’s absence, Vince Velasquez joined the White Sox rotation. The results were mixed, to say the least. It’s a tall task to replace Lynn’s 2.69 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 176 strikeouts in 157 innings. Those figures resulted in a third-place finish in 2021 AL Cy Young voting behind Robbie Ray and Gerrit Cole.
So, what’s wrong with Lynn this season? It’s time to take a deep dive into the numbers in search of some answers.
What’s Going On?
Is Lance Lynn washed up? I have seen this claim numerous times from White Sox fans on Twitter, especially during his last start against the Minnesota Twins. The eyeball test and the traditional numbers certainly point in that direction.
Lynn has pitched to a 7.50 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over his seven starts this season. Velocity is a good indicator to use to determine if a pitcher is washed up. But numbers tell us this isn’t entirely true when it comes to Lynn.
The veteran righty has seen a velocity decrease in a few of his pitches while others are on par with his 2021 numbers. The lion’s share of Lynn’s pitch mix entails his three variations of the fastball: the four-seam, cutter, and sinker. There are two other pitches he used a lot less frequently in 2021 than he has so far this year. Those offerings are his changeup and curveball, which he used 4.5% and 3% of the time in 2021, respectively. The four pitches account for 99.9% of his pitch mix.
Most notably, however, Lynn’s four-seam fastball has seen a downtick in velocity. While not a stark contrast, it’s worth recognizing as he utilizes the pitch roughly 40% of the time. A 1.4 MPH drop in his fastball is certainly enough to make a difference.
The cutter, his other offering that gets heavy usage, is on par with his 2021 numbers. It checks in at 88.7 MPH in 2021 vs. 88.8 MPH in 2022.
Lynn’s third most frequently used pitch, the sinker, has also experienced a downtick in velocity. It sat around 92.4 MPH in 2021 vs. 91.2 MPH this year, representing a 1.2 MPH drop.
The curveball checked in at 83 MPH and the changeup came in at 87.2 MPH last season. A stark contrast to 2022 where those pitches average 82.1 MPH and 85.6 MPH, respectively.
The tale of the tape here is that Lynn’s four-seam fastball and sinker are down while his cutter is on par in terms of velocity. The curveball is down by 0.9 MPH and his changeup has decreased by 1.6 MPH.
Lance Lynn has used a four-pitch mix consisting of a four-seam fastball, cutter, sinker, curveball, and changeup throughout his career. This is confirmed to be the case since 2015 (the Statcast Era). However, when calculating the use of those four pitches in his seven starts in 2022, something doesn’t add up.
- 39.3% 4-Seam Fastball
- 20.2% Cutter
- 18.2% Sinker
- 7% Curveball
- 6.3% Changeup
The above figures combine to total 91%.
You can probably tell where this is going. Lynn has added a fifth pitch into his repertoire during the 2022 season. That pitch is a slider, which he as used almost 9% of the time. This represents a big departure from his usual pitch mix. In fact, since 2015, he has simply not used that pitch at all.
The good news, in terms of his new pitch, is that the results have been positive. Opponents are hitting just .118 on Lance Lynn’s 61 sliders thrown this season. The four-seam fastball has seen a slight uptick in batting average against, though it’s still effective. Opponents are batting .205 against the pitch, which is a bit of a difference from .187 in 2021.
The real problems arise in the rest of his repertoire.
Specifically, Lynn’s cutter and sinker aren’t fooling many hitters. Opponents are currently batting .289 against the cutter and a whopping .441 against the sinker. The sinker isn’t sinking. Oddly, the spin rate on these pitches has remained virtually the same.
Lynn still gets a similar whiff rate on his cutter: 25.8% in 2022 vs. 24% in 2021. The sinker checks in at 17.8% this season vs 14.7% last year, and both pitches are getting crushed. The cutter, which he uses 20% of the time, is especially ineffective as hitters have a whopping .441 average and .706 SLG against the offering. The changeup and curveball show the same story when looking at the graph below.
During Lynn’s last start, Steve Stone mentioned on the broadcast that the righty isn’t getting enough movement on his pitches. That’s not entirely true, as we’re seeing more movement on some pitches and less on others. However, Lynn’s curveball has lost about three inches of vertical drop. Interestingly, his worst pitch thus far is seeing more movement than last year.
Examining pitch location is where the real problems arise. Lynn is simply all over the zone. While exhibiting more horizontal breaks, the sinker is getting left in the zone consistently. It’s a far cry from 2021 when was very precise with that pitch, getting in on lefties and away from righties. He was also extremely precise with his cutter.
In summary, the issues are a combination of decreased movement and pitch location. In some instances, the increase in movement may have caused many pitches to drift into the zone. We’ve seen changes in velocity and movement in both the negative and positive directions, while other pitches are mostly on par with last season.
Tale of the Tape
Lance Lynn’s core issues in 2022 stem from his curveball, changeup, and cutter.
The heat map of location and change in movement on the curveball shows too many pitches left in the zone. It shows more horizontal movement and drifts into righties with less vertical drop. His changeup has shown more movement in both directions and decreased velocity. It’s a different story with Lynn’s sinker, which remains mostly unchanged in terms of movement. However, there is a downtick in velocity. He’s simply not locating either pitch well.
His cut-fastball has a location issue as well. The statistics show an uptick in how it’s being hit, but with a slight change in its break and velocity. It’s another pitch he just isn’t locating. However, it’s not all bad. Lynn is featuring a slider 9% of the time and getting great results. His four-seam fastball is almost as effective as it was last year.
Lance Lynn needs to work on his command and control in the second half to turn around his season. The numbers tell us that is the obvious fix. However, with a different pitch mix and the proven effectiveness of the slider, perhaps Lynn and White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz are working on turning him into a new pitcher. Of course, we will never be able to confirm that unless either individual says so. It will be fascinating to watch this evolve.
Will Lynn simply refines his control or will these results encourage a change in his pitch mix? Only time will tell, but what we do know is that a second-half turnaround for Lynn is a key to the White Sox’s success in 2022.
I would bet on Lance turning it around. A savvy veteran knows what to do and how to get it done. I’m looking forward to him pitching like the Big Bastard of old, regardless if it takes him evolving completely or just making a few tweaks.
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