Today’s tale starts with a confession: I haven’t always liked Lance Lynn.
Yes, I was dejected when he had to miss last season. Yes, I was delighted at the thought of adding him back into the starting mix for the 2017 Cardinals. And yes, I will stop whatever I’m doing to watch his postgame interviews, because I can’t get enough of his charmingly sarcastic wit. But, it hasn’t always been this way.
You see, once upon a time, there was a Lance who always had a Lynning. And after that Lynning, there were excuses. And after the excuses, there I was, making this face:
See, the struggle was never because of the incessant talk of fastballs, or the general grouchiness. (I was, after all, a fan of the ultimate pitching grouch, Chris Carpenter.) It was always because of the potential that would draw me in, then rip my heart out, and try to sooth the wound by (seemingly) blaming something else.
I was simply not amused.
What’s the excuse we’re going with for Lynn this time? Bad defense? Anger management? Attitude probs? Sorry. Just not amused anymore.
— Tara Wellman (@tarawellman) September 1, 2013
So, I friend-zoned him.
That’s right, I put Lance Lynn in that horrible little box that allowed me to acknowledge his moments of glory, without ever hoping for anything more substantial to appreciate. If he managed to keep the Cardinals in games, even if a five-run 5th was part of his final line, we were cool because that’s exactly what I expected. Nothing more. Nothing less. And I liked it that way.
For a guy who now speaks of his ability to pitch deep into games, he hasn’t always been the “innings eater” type. In both 2012 and 2013, he lasted five innings or less eight times. The 2014 season was a year of drastic improvement. There were significantly more good days than bad. Only five times did he pitch just five innings or less. And, that year gave us the first complete game shutout of the Lance Lynn era.
No runs on five hits, despite two errors behind him (a typical Lynning starter in the past), in a 6-0 win over the New York Yankees.
And like that, the walls that I’d built to keep any expectations of success at bay started to crumble.
Holy cow, I’m pumped. THAT is what I’ve been waiting for from Lynn. What a beauty.
— Tara Wellman (@tarawellman) May 28, 2014
So, the guy could pitch a little. I didn’t mind admitting it. And let’s not forget, the guy is hilarious. A sense of humor can be a priceless tool in winning someone over.
Therein lies the moral of this story:
Lance Lynn has done the impossible.
No, I don’t mean coming back from Tommy John surgery and looking like he hasn’t missed a beat. No, I don’t mean resisting the urge to stuff someone in a locker after the way the defense has played so far in 2017 (although, kudos for the self control on that one). I mean that he’s taken a skeptic — more than a skeptic, really… because I’d just decided not to care — and convinced me that he’s exactly the piece the Cardinals rotation was missing last year.
He escaped the friend zone.
Small Sample Size warning, but his 2017 numbers are trending quite similarly to those 2014 stats. His strikeout percentage is hovering just under 21%, and while the walk percentage of 8.3% is higher than I’d like for it to stay (the only starting pitcher with a higher rate is Carlos Martinez…who also has the best K%. So, that’s weird.), he’s getting more ground balls, fewer line drives or fly balls, and stranding 84.5% of the baserunners who do reach. His 2.45 ERA is second only to the inspired Mike Leake.
Sure, Lynn had a rough second start, giving up six runs (four earned) to the Washington Nationals. And, in the realm of small sample sizes, the three homers he allowed that day certainly skewed his early season numbers. But, he owned it. And he was better the next go ’round.
He’s given up just two runs in 19 innings since that frustrating day in the nation’s capital. The Cardinals went 3-0 in those starts.
I can respect that. No… I appreciate that.
He better be careful, though. I’m starting to expect him to always be great. Dangerous territory, I know.