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With less than a month remaining in the 2014 season, we begin to shift our gaze toward the 2015 fantasy campaign. That’s not only because many leagues have moved beyond their trade deadlines, but also because it’s too difficult to project performance over a two- or three-week period of time. Too much fluctuation exists. Thus, the buy, hold, or sell discussion at the end of the piece will be geared toward the 2015 campaign while still providing some analysis in regards to the remaining three weeks.

September and October is when fantasy owners begin to reflect on the entire year and dish out accolades. While we’ll be talking about Fantasy MVPs and Fantasy Busts soon enough, the Most Underappreciated Player is regularly one of the more interesting distinctions discussed each autumn. In that vein, it seems right-hander Lance Lynn is deservedly getting some love as of late. He’s been overshadowed by Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha this year—and even Shelby Miller more recently, to some extent—but he owns a sterling 2.80 ERA and has easily been a top-30 fantasy starter.

Moreover, the 27-year-old hurler has pressed the gas pedal to the floorboards in the second half, which is championship season for fantasy owners. His 2.18 ERA since the All-Star break ranks 13th among qualifying starters. For perspective, he’s sandwiched between Felix Hernandez and Madison Bumgarner in those rankings, so he’s very much been a fantasy stud down the stretch, while he’s been above average all year.

Should his dominant performance over the past couple months inspire confidence for the 2015 season? Should dynasty league owners look to pursue him on the trading block this winter in hopes of acquiring a rising star, or should others seek to sell high while the fire is burning bright? And for those looking to get a jump-start on their 2015 draft board, should he be comfortably valued as a top-30 starter, or is he likely due for a decline in performance?

It’s been a couple weeks since we’ve engaged in this exercise—thanks, Labor Day—but stretch out your hamstrings and join me on the winding path toward fantasy baseball enlightenment. Let’s do this.

*****

Out of 78 pitchers who have thrown at least 300 innings in the past two seasons, Lance Lynn has the 27th-best ERA (3.43) and the 20th-best FIP (3.24). His FIP in that time is almost identical to that of Cole Hamels, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Jon Lester. In many ways, he’s been a solid number-two fantasy starter over the past couple years—with admittedly much of his value coming this season.

There, that’s out of the way. I wanted to acknowledge his successful 2014 campaign and where he ranks in relation to his peers. That’s important when attempting to paint a comprehensive picture; however, not everything is rosy when it comes to Lance Lynn and his future projection. He has significant red flags that lead me to believe he will not be able to replicate his performance, which means he’ll likely be severely overrated during the offseason and into next year.

Much of my concern stems from his repertoire, which is fastball-heavy and lacks any pitch that can consistently retire left-handed hitting. He’ll throw each of his cutter, curveball, and changeup anywhere between 7-9 percent of the time, but he doesn’t have a go-to offspeed pitch to put away lefties, which leads to fewer strikeouts and more walks against them. Some people want to point to the fact that lefties are hitting .232 on the season, while righties are hitting .244. While that is important to understand what has happened on the mound this season, the underlying numbers tell a different story in terms of his core skills.

K%

BB%

K/BB

WHIP

Whiff%

vs. LHH

17.7%

11.4%

1.55

1.43

8.02%

vs. RHH

22.7%

6.8%

3.34

1.22

11.30%

The numbers suggest Lance Lynn should struggle against lefties more than he has, and we’ve seen that in the past. We saw it in 2013 when lefties hit .252/.361/.404 against him. We saw it in 2012 when they hit .268/.384/.456. Those are the types of numbers one would expect when one digests the chart shown above. Lefties may not crush him, but they’re going to get on base a lot and find much more success than righties. Part of this is due to arm slot and part of this is also due to repertoire, as mentioned in the previous paragraph.

On a very basic level, I’d expect Lynn to surrender more runs because he still hasn’t figured out how to consistently retire left-handed hitters. Consider this: there’s another right-hander who has a 16.3 percent strikeout rate against lefties this year, a 11.5 percent walk rate, and a 1.42 K:BB. That’s strikingly similar to Lynn’s profile against lefties. I’m talking about Edwin Jackson, who has allowed lefties to hit .337/.413/.520.

I’m not suggesting Lynn will become Edwin Jackson next season. Lynn’s fastball is better than Jackson’s and induces more weak contact. However, the peripheral numbers suggest that everything isn’t sunny in St. Louis. Lynn has some threatening storm clouds hovering over his head, and eventually, the skies will open up and dump rain on the right-hander. And in truth, it shouldn’t be surprising. We already witnessed the deluge in 2012 and 2013.

It’s not just the platoon split that is concerning. The overall profile isn’t appealing to me. Since 2012, his strikeout rate has declined from 9.20 K/9 to 8.84 to 7.95, respectively. Furthermore, he hasn’t cut his walk rate. It’s hovered from 8.6 percent to 8.9 percent in that same timeframe. The home-run rate has dropped to an impressive 0.41 HR/9, but the decline hasn’t been paired with a significant increase in ground-ball rate. In fact, Lynn’s 44.2 percent ground-ball rate is still below the league-average mark for starters (44.9 percent). It doesn’t seem reasonable to expect his home run to fly ball percentage of 4.3 percent to remain consistent.

Perhaps this is oversimplifying the issue a bit, but Lance Lynn is a pitcher with platoon issues, league-average strikeout and ground-ball rates, and a high walk rate. That’s not something in which I want to heavily invest. Having Yadier Molina behind the dish certainly helps, but Molina was injured for an extended period this year and was also catching Lynn in 2012 and 2013. To me, that doesn’t mitigate the concerns.

Unless he rebounds and suddenly starts striking out more batters or somehow rectifies his platoon issues, I see no reason to expect Lance Lynn to replicate his 2014 performance next season. I think he’ll be a mid-rotation starter like he was in 2012 and 2013, where he posted a 3.70-3.90 ERA and was just outside the top-50 starters. In support of that, PECOTA projects Lynn to compile a 3.81 ERA through the rest of the season. That’s plenty good and certainly rosterable—but considering his current value, that’s a significant step backward.

Buyer Advice: SELL
Dynasty owners should cash in the chips and walk away with a healthy profit. He’s being discussed as a potential top-20 or top-25 starter, and that’s not reasonable given his underlying performance. I’d be selling high all day. On the other hand, fantasy owners who are already preparing for their 2015 drafts, I’d recommend sliding Lynn down the draft board and valuing him for his projected numbers, rather than his past performance. Perhaps he’s a guy who is able to outpitch his peripherals and hide his weaknesses against lefties. That occasionally happens. If I’m a fantasy owner, though, that’s not something on which to bet. That’s just hope.

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