It has been a long time since the Milwaukee Brewers have signed an ex-Cardinal starter to a deal to bolster the club’s rotation - March, 2013, to be exact, when the Crew signed righty Kyle Lohse to a three-year deal. Before that, they had signed Jeff Suppan to a deal in December of 2006 that ran for four years.
Suppan never approached the hopes that Milwaukee had during his tenure, but Lohse was quite effective until his final season with the club. The really important thing to know, though, is that these two moves have absolutely nothing to do with a potential signing of Lance Lynn. He needs to be evaluated on his own merits, and on his own potential to help a team that hopes to contend next year but has holes in its starting rotation.
The loss of workhorse Jimmy Nelson in September of last season could very well have been the most significant contributing factor in the Brewers’ failure to reach the playoffs. More importantly, Nelson is sure to miss a ‘large chunk’ of this year, and even if he returns his effectiveness can’t be guaranteed. In fact, his effectiveness long term can’t be guaranteed, either. While there are potential arms in the Milwaukee farm system, an established starter (or two) look to be the safer plan to augment last season’s unexpected contention and build towards a playoff berth in 2018.
There are some top-flite starters available for trade or through free agency, and several have been looked at already. Lynn falls into the next category of starters, but has demonstrated enough success to make him a legitimate target for Milwaukee.
Lynn (who will be 31 in May) has been a workhorse in the Cards’ rotation since 2012, with the exception of the 2016 season. He missed that year after having Tommy John surgery in November of 2015, but came back at the end of the campaign to put in 6.2 innings of minor league work. He gave the Cards 186.1 innings last season, which is close to his average amount of work throughout his career. His high innings totals are from 2013-14, when he worked 201.2 and 203.2 innings over 33 starts. He posted an xFIP of 3.66 and 3.82 those seasons, and went 15-10 both years for St. Louis.
Lynn was consistently running a K/BB number in the mid-twos as a starter prior to his surgery, with HR/9 numbers between .57 and .82. Batters hit between .235 and .254. He was a remarkably consistent pitcher over that span. 2015 ticked up a bit in his numbers, but that can probably be attributed to attempting to pitch through some arm pain prior to being shut down late in the year.
At first glance Lynn’s return last season was a return to form, but there are some indications that he wasn’t quite back all the way. For one thing, his HR/9 jumped to 1.3 from the .57-.82 range pre-injury. But perhaps that is another indication of the overall climb in the league average, which was also at 1.3 HR/9. His xFIP jumped to 4.75, an alarming climb. Lynn’s BABIP was a career low .244, after hovering around the .300 level before the injury. That is perhaps a not sustainable level. He was around 9 K/9 and just over 3 BB/9 before the injury, but climbed to 3.77 BB/9 and fell to 7.39 K/9 last season. Fastball velocity was down from mid to high 93s to 92.6; fWAR ranged from 2.8 to 3.7 from 2012-2015, but fell to 1.4 last year.
Lance is expected to get a four year deal somewhere between $50 mil and $60 mil, which the Brewers can certainly afford. The question remains, however: was 2017 a season of recovery, the new normal, or do the higher peripherals indicate that his low BABIP is not a sustainable number and he will be worse over the course of his contract? There aren’t any sure things out there in free agency - there never are - but the questions generated by Lynn’s TJ surgery and reduced effectiveness might be enough to keep teams off of the four-year deal platform. The Brewers can use a starter that goes 200 innings for sure, but do they want that starter to come home with a mid to high fours for his ERA?
Kyle Lohse hung around for quite a while as a FA before the Brewers signed him to that three-year deal. If they can get Lynn on a shorter deal like that, I’m OK with it.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs