White Sox analysis: What’s wrong with Lance Lynn and potential fixes

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Photo: MLB.com

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Lance Lynn is having a tough time in the 2022 season. The big right-hander has had seven starts since returning from the injured list in early June.

Lynn missed the start of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a small tear in his left knee, the same one he was having trouble with at the end of 2021. He spent nearly a month rehabilitating the knee during the offseason, most likely, to avoid operation. However, he left his last start in spring training with knee discomfort after giving up four earned runs in 3.1 innings, and surgery followed soon after.

In Lynn’s absence, Vince Velasquez joined the White Sox rotation. The results have been mixed, to say the least. It’s a daunting task to replace Lynn’s 2.69 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 176 strikeouts in 157 innings. Those numbers culminated in a third-place 2021 AL Cy Young voting behind Robbie Ray and Gerrit Cole.

So what’s wrong with Lynn this season? It’s time to dive deep into the numbers in search of answers.

What’s going on?

Is Lance Lynn washed? I’ve seen this claim many times from White Sox fans on Twitter, especially during his last start against the Minnesota Twins. The eyeball test and traditional numbers certainly point in that direction.

Lynn has thrown a 7.50 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP in his seven starts this season. Velocity is a good indicator to use when determining if a pitcher is washed out. But the numbers tell us that’s not quite true when it comes to Lynn.

The veteran right-hander has seen a decrease in velocity in a few of his pitches while others are on par with his 2021 numbers. The lion’s share of Lynn’s pitch mix involves his three variants of the fastball: the four seams, the cutter and the sinker. There are two other pitches he has used far less frequently in 2021 than he has so far this year. Those offerings are his shift and curve, which he used 4.5% and 3% of the time respectively in 2021. The four heights make up 99.9% of his height mix.

Speed

Most notably, however, Lynn’s four-seam fastball experienced a drop in speed. While not a stark contrast, it’s worth acknowledging that he uses the pitch roughly 40% of the time. A 1.4 MPH drop in his fastball is certainly enough to make a difference.

The Cutter, its other offering that is heavily used, is on par with its 2021 numbers. It clocks in at 88.7 MPH in 2021 versus 88.8 MPH in 2022.

Lynn’s third most frequently used pitch, sinker, also saw a drop in speed. It was around 92.4 MPH in 2021 compared to 91.2 MPH this year, which is a drop of 1.2 MPH.

The curveball registered at 83 MPH and the change came at 87.2 MPH last season. A stark contrast to 2022 where those pitches average 82.1 MPH and 85.6 MPH, respectively.

The story of the tape here is that Lynn’s fastball and four-seam sinker are down while her cutter is tied for speed. The curveball is down 0.9 MPH and its change down 1.6 MPH.

Height mix

Lance Lynn has used a four-pitch mix of four-seam fastball, cutter, sinker, curveball and changeout throughout his career. This is confirmed to be the case since 2015 (the Statcast era). However, when calculating the use of these four pitches in his seven starts in 2022, something does not add up.

  • 39.3% 4-seam fastball
  • 20.2% Cutter
  • 18.2% Lead
  • 7% Curve Ball
  • 6.3% change

The numbers above combine to total 91%.

You can probably tell where this leads. Lynn added a fifth pitch to his repertoire during the 2022 season. That pitch is a slider, which he used nearly 9% of the time. This is a big departure from his usual height mix. In fact, since 2015, he simply hasn’t used this land.

The results

The good news, when it comes to his new pitch, is that the results have been positive. Opponents are hitting just .118 of Lance Lynn’s 61 sliders thrown this season. The four-seam fastball saw a slight increase in batting average against, though it was still effective. Opponents are batting .205 against the field, which is a bit different from .187 in 2021.

The real problems arise in the rest of his repertoire.

Specifically, Lynn’s cutter and lead don’t fool many hitters. Opponents are currently batting .289 against the cutter and a whopping .441 against the lead. The ballast does not sink. Curiously, the turnover rate on these locations has remained virtually the same.

Lynn still gets a similar smell rate on her cutter: 25.8% in 2022 versus 24% in 2021. The lead is recording at 17.8% this season versus 14.7% last year, and both casts are crushed. The cutter, which he uses 20% of the time, is particularly inefficient as the batters average a whopping .441 and .706 SLG against the offer. The change and the curveball show the same story when looking at the chart below.

During Lynn’s last start, Steve Stone mentioned on the show that the right-hander wasn’t moving enough on his throws. That’s not entirely true, as we see more movement in some terrains and less in others. However, Lynn’s curveball lost about three inches of vertical drop. Interestingly, his worst pitch so far sees more movement than last year.

Examining the location of the land is where the real problems arise. Lynn is just all over the zone. While exhibiting more horizontal breaks, the lead consistently stays in the zone. It’s a far cry from 2021 where he was very precise with this pitch, going left-handed and moving away from right-handed. He was also extremely precise with his cutter.

In summary, the problems are a combination of decreased movement and terrain location. In some cases, the increased movement may have caused many throws to drift into the zone. We saw changes in speed and movement in both negative and positive directions, while other terrains are mostly on par with last season.

Tale of the Band

Lance Lynn’s main problems in 2022 stem from his curve, his change and his cutter.

The heatmap of location and movement change on the curveball shows too many locations left in the area. It shows more horizontal motion and drifts to the right with less vertical droop. His change showed more movement in both directions and reduced speed. It’s a different story with Lynn’s lead, which remains virtually unchanged in terms of movement. However, there is a speed drop. It just doesn’t locate either terrain well.

His cut-fastball also has a whereabouts problem. Stats show a slight increase in how he gets hit, but with a slight change in his break and speed. It’s another ground he just can’t find. However, not everything is bad. Lynn presents a slider 9% of the time and achieves excellent results. His four-seam fastball is nearly as effective as last year.

Final Thoughts

Lance Lynn needs to work on his command and control in the second half to turn his season around. The numbers tell us this is the obvious solution. 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 can never confirm this unless one or the other says so. It will be fascinating to see this evolve.

Will Lynn simply refine his control or will these results encourage a shift in his pitch mix? Only time will tell, but what we do know is that a second-half turnover for Lynn is key to the White Sox’s success in 2022.

I’d bet Lance would turn it around. A wise veteran knows what to do and how to do it. I can’t wait for it to launch like the Big Bastard of old, whether it needs to fully evolve or just make a few tweaks.

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