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Lance Lynn is defying expectations

His ERA is inflated, but he’s been one of the best starters in the league by some metrics.

Seattle Mariners v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

On Monday, Craig Edwards of FanGraphs wrote about the surprise season that the Texas Rangers are having. Up and down the lineup, guys have surpassed their projections. Hunter Pence is suddenly an All-Star again. Logan Forsythe has been good. Elvis Andrus and Shin-Soo Choo have each had resurgent years. These stories are all unexpected, but the season that Lance Lynn is having has arguably been the strangest of them all. Somehow, Lance Lynn has worked his way into being a top ten starter, at least by fWAR.

At 2.6 wins above replacement, Lynn is tied for sixth among starters with Charlie Morton, and he’s right on the heels of Hyun-jin Ryu, Stephen Strasburg, and uh, Matthew Boyd. 2019 is weird, y’all.

Now, maybe you don’t agree with fWAR’s valuation of Lynn. After all, he has a 4.39 ERA. Even if he’s been unlucky, it’s fair to think that a stat like WAR shouldn’t credit him for what he should have done. Still, both WARP and bWAR put him at 2.2 and 2.0 wins respectively, and that’s still better than even his 90th percentile projections had him.

In his first 13 starts, Lynn has already been more valuable than PECOTA had him in a best-case scenario. Here’s what Lynn has done so far compared to his median and 90th percentile PECOTA projections.

Lance Lynn vs. PECOTA

Lance Lynn K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA DRA WARP
Lance Lynn K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA DRA WARP
50th Pecentile 8.19 3.96 1.17 4.48 4.68 0.9
90th Percentile 8.15 3.36 1 3.52 3.64 2.1
Actual 9.56 2.59 0.79 4.39 3.15 2.2

Even if Lynn was replacement level for the rest of the year, this season would still be a resounding success. His peripherals suggest that his ERA will only improve from here on out, though.

He’s currently sporting his best strikeout and walk rates in any season where he has thrown at least 50 innings. His swinging strike rate is a career-high 10.5 percent, and that’s a point higher than his career average. Over the last two years, his fastball velocity has been up, and that’s certainly helped him miss more bats.

Brooks Baseball

It’s not just that he’s throwing harder; he’s also throwing more pitches in the zone. Adding velocity beyond 30 is impressive enough but doing it with improved command is rather special. Lynn’s called strike probability of 50.3 percent is as high as it has ever been. It helps that he has had Jeff Mathis behind the plate for over half his starts, but Mathis hasn’t had quite the same framing numbers this year and Lynn has also had to throw to Isiah Kiner-Falefa who has been the worst framer according to FanGraphs and second-worst according to Baseball Prospectus.

Lynn has also gotten on the trend of relying less on the sinker. In his case, he’s replaced the sinker with more four seamers and cutters. Lynn has always primarily been a fastball pitcher, and the cutter gives him something like a quality secondary pitch. He’s been more confident in throwing the pitch to lefties this year, and it has finally given him another pitch that sort of works when he’s at platoon disadvantage.

Maybe Lynn hasn’t been a top-10 pitcher, but he’s having a better season than anyone would have imagined. If the Rangers are going to make a surprise run at a Wild Card, they’ll need Lynn to keep pitching like this.

Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.