Is Lance Lynn an alternative to Jeff Samardzija?

Rob Carr

Jeff Samardzija is being mentioned in a lot of trade rumors However, there may be a more easily attainable alternative who looks pretty similar to the Shark. Lance Lynn is his name, and the Cardinals righthander might be getting overlooked.

Chicago Cubs hurler Jeff Samardzija is being mentioned in plenty of hot stove rumors this offseason. The Cubs hurler has two years of team control left, and the two sides are having trouble working out a contract extension. Samardzija, a former standout football player at Notre Dame and a fifth-round draft pick back in 2006, seems to have reined in the control issues that plagued him early on in his career. After four mediocre years in relief he has made a successful transition to the rotation. Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein are reportedly looking for three good prospects in exchange for Samardzija. While Samardzija might well be worth it, that's a pretty hefty asking price.

However, there might be a more easily attainable pitcher whose numbers look pretty similar to Samardzija's. In addition, he has two more seasons of team control and is two years younger, though given Samardzija's football background, he's a "young 29." Readers, I introduce to you Lance Lynn. Here's a table comparing his 2012-13 stats with those of Samardzija.

Player ERA- FIP- xFIP- fWAR
Samardzija 103 93 89 5.8
Lynn 103 91 95 6.0

Both pitchers have underperformed their FIP- and xFIP-. Samardzija has a high HR/FB ratio, and both have elevated BABIP. As Bryan can tell you, HR/FB rates have a very low year-to-year correlation. Based on just two seasons of data, there's no reason to think that Samardzija and Lynn will have a history of underachieving their peripherals.

Still, that comparison doesn't tell the full story. The Shark pretty clearly has better stuff than Lynn, which gives him more upside. Over the last two years, only Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez can top his fastball velocity, and he has the fourth best swinging strike rate in baseball.

Player K% BB% SwStr% Fbv
Samardzija 24.1 8.2 11.2 94.7
Lynn 23.8 8.8 9.6 92.6

In addition to his blazing fastball (though Lynn is no slouch either), Samardzija has a devastating splitter and a good slider. He also mixes in a cutter. Overall, he throws his fastball on 54 percent of his pitches, allowing him to feature three secondary pitches each at least 10 percent of the time. On the other hand, Lynn hurls his fastball on 72 percent of his pitches. His slider and curveball are decent pitches, but he rarely throws a changeup. Lynn's secondary mix is far less fearsome than Samardzija's.

Also, his more limited repertoire and low arm slot have given Lynn trouble against lefties. Compare their platoon splits. Lynn wreaks havoc on righties, but in the past two years Joe Blanton has been more effective against lefties.

Pitcher v. RHB K% BB% GB% xFIP
Samardzija 25.3 6.8 48.8 3.07
Lynn 28.0 4.5 46.0 2.64
Pitcher v. LHB K% BB% GB% xFIP
Samardzija 22.8 9.6 44.3 3.80
Lynn 18.7 13.6 40.5 4.91

The number that really jumps out is Lynn's walk rate against lefties, which is three times his walk rate against righties. Platoon splits are part of the game for the majority of pitchers, but Lynn has the most drastic splits of any starting pitcher in the last two seasons.

Also, the limited repertoire hinders Lynn's ability to work through a lineup a second and third time.

Pitcher 1st PA K% 1st PA BB% 2nd PA K% 2nd PA BB% 3rd PA K% 3rd PA BB%
Samardzija 23.3 7.2 26.0 8.0 20.1 10.0
Lynn 27.8 7.9 22.9 9.1 19.6 9.6

Lynn starts out like a racehorse, but by the second time around, he's slowed down significantly. Sure, this is only a two-year sample, but MGL has done some very good research showing how pitchers with limited repertoire's tend to perform worse as the game progresses compared to their counterparts.

It seems preposterous to say a 26-year-old pitcher with a 91 FIP- through his first two seasons as a starter is bullpen material, but these flaws might hinder Lynn in the future. Still, he's faced more right-handed hitters than lef-thanded hitters, so his prowess against righties might overcome his platoon issues.

On the surface, Lance Lynn and Jeff Samardzija look like nearly identical pitchers. However, a deeper look reveals that teams might be right to avoid the Cardinals right-hander. Maybe some team thinks the platoon issues are fixable, and if so they could get four cheap years of a good pitcher. Considering the return that the Cubs are asking for Samardzija, it might be worth a try if Lynn doesn't command too high a price.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Chris Moran is a former college baseball player and current law student at Washington University in St. Louis. He's also an assistant baseball coach on the baseball team at Wash U. In addition to Beyond The Box Score, he contributes at Prospect Insider and DRaysBay. He went to his first baseball game at age two. Follow him on Twitter @hangingslurves

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