Lance Lynn signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Twins Saturday. The innings-eater goes to the Twins, where an effective mid-rotation starter can have more impact in a presumably Cleveland, Minnesota and the morass AL Central.
Meanwhile, many fans and followers of the Milwaukee Brewers were apoplectic, as Lynn and the Brewers were connected all offseason as a potential match, and starting pitching has been a perceived need for the fashionably-early Brew Crew. Since the long-shot Brewers were rebuffed by Shohei Ohtani, then were never really in on Yu Darvish, the rumors floating around Chris Archer never found grounding in reality, one-time Brewers prospect Jake Odorizzi ended up in Minnesota and Alex Cobb and Jake Arrieta are still on the open market, those who have bought into the line of thinking that the Brewers are somehow unserious contenders without spending serious money have grown increasingly discontented with the current state of affairs.
First, let’s look at Lance Lynn, ‘innings-eater’. Yes, in the five full seasons in which Lynn has pitched, he has thrown at least 175 innings. Yes, his career ERA is under 4. No, he is not a “very fine” pitcher as Deadspin’s Chris Thompson editorialized Saturday.
An idealized Lynn is exactly what you want from a mid-rotation starter: dependable, effective, keeps teams in games. The statistical trends are harrowing, though: his WHIP has never been under 1.22, his home run totals spiked from 13 in both 2014 and 2015 to 27 in 2017 alone, his K/BB ratio has tumbled since entering the league (2.81 in 2012 to 1.96 last season) and FIP has followed suit, underperforming ERA every season since 2014 and jumping to an alarming 4.82 last season.
And let us not ignore the fact that Lance Lynn was a part of the St. Louis Cardinals organization, those pitcher-whispering Merlins who resurrected Chris Carpenter from baseball death, made Adam Wainwright into an ace, developed an actually effective version of Lynn in Michael Wacha and even managed to make Shelby Miller look good.
St. Louis wanted nothing to do with retaining Lynn’s services: why should the Brewers bring in a guy with a checkered injury history and whose repertoire their entire division knows? (This same rationale extends to a certain free agent formerly of the north side of Chicago whose name rhymes with Cake Barrieta.)
Going into the hot stove, Brewers fans wanted a stopper, an ace. With Jimmy Nelson sidelined for a chunk of 2018 and Chase Anderson unlikely to be more dominant than he was in ’17, they clamored for Darvish (who brings his own set of question marks to the aforementioned north side) and all of everything mentioned at the top of this post; now they’re wanting to settle for Lance Lynn? What? Don’t the Brewers already have enough innings-eating, mid-rotation types like Zach Davies or Jhoulys Chacin? Aren’t they taking a calculated gamble with Junior Guerra in the back-end? This isn’t Thirsty Thursday, and you go back to your dorm with whoever’s left at last call.
Lance Lynn is a bad fit for Milwaukee for all the reasons mentioned above. In going to the AL Central, he is home in Target Field (pitcher’s park) and regularly sees Comerica Park (pitcher’s park),
Royals Kauffman Stadium (pitcher’s park), Jacobs Progressive Field (neutral, but with high fences) and New Comiskey US Cellular Guaranteed Rate Field (neutral). Lynn has a better chance to succeed in the AL Central than he ever would with the neutral-to-band-boxes that play host to the NL Central. (For the record, while PNC is a pitcher’s park, Lynn got hit hard there, too.)
And if he works out, good for him and good for Minnesota. That’s money well spent. If not, it’s only a one-year deal: Lynn gets a good payday and determines where to go from there.
By way of contrast, in football, a team addresses deficiencies straightaway and immediately in the offseason with free agency or through the draft. By not using salary cap space, teams don’t maximize investment in the on-field product and set themselves up to fail. In the free-spending baseball past, this was how the Yankees and Red Sox did their business, though without the burden of a hard cap.
The economic landscape changed, Moneyball first and then the current CBA allowed teams to place maximum value on controllable talent (and the players association leadership freely let them seize control this way, as Jeff Passan pointed out in his outstanding and provocative column from January.) It does not necessarily take the biggest payroll to play winning, competitive and/or championship-contending baseball, as the Brewers demonstrated last season and the Kansas City Royals proved only two autumns ago. The best baseball is played by the best teams, and the best teams are cultivated and then added on to, not wholly bought and paid for.
And, as we’ve mentioned on this site time and again in the hot stove, the Brewers don’t need to be spendy. If anything, they’ll add an arm when they know what they have in May or June, and they’ll do it from a position of strength. David Stearns knows exactly what he’s doing.
The Brewers aren’t any worse in any facet of the game right now than they were last season, when they were one game away from playing blessed, beautiful October Baseball. Lance Lynn wasn’t going to be a difference maker for your team, Brewers fans. He may or may not be a difference maker in Minnesota.
Regardless of outcome, Lynn isn’t going to be your problem, so why worry about it?
Brent Sirvio is co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.