Even though his strikeout rate took a step from his 2019 season, Lance Lynn delivered 84 quality innings of work for the Texas Rangers and his fantasy owners. He went 6-3 with a 3.32 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and a 3.56 K/BB ratio that turned out to be the third-best mark of his entire career. In fact, like most pitchers for 2020, if we could remove that one bad start, Lynn’s ERA for the 2020 campaign would have been just 2.53. That’s excellent.
His 7.3 percent walk rate last season was the second-best mark of his career, and just slightly behind his 6.7 percent mark from 2019. The concern with Lynn after his final season with the Cardinals in 2017 was that the lack of ground balls started to catch up to him, and the home runs were going to do him in. After posting a 1.30 HR/9 mark in 2017, he kept it in check, but he did allow a career-high 1.39 HR/9 in 2020. It should come as no surprise that 2020 featured a career low 36 percent ground ball rate.
Now, to his credit, he boasts some solid spin rates, which help with limiting impactful contact in the air. The spin rate on his fastball continues to increase, and he did a great job of limiting hard contact on fly balls and line drives in particular. In fact, he had the ninth-lowest exit velocity on fly balls and line drives in 2020. He allowed 13 home runs on the year, but his xHR mark was 11.6. Lastly, his 13.8 percent HR/FB mark was the second-highest of his career, and the average for his career is 9.8 percent.
With all that in mind, it would be great to see him induce more ground balls, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case. He’s turned into a fly ball pitcher since coming to Texas, but he shouldn’t be bitten by the home run in 2021 like he was in 2020. Using his sinker and curveball more would help, but Lynn has an extensive repertoire to give batters fits. Also, he uses his fastball up in the zone, nearly exclusively, so that’s going to be prone to fly balls.
Reports are out that Lynn wants to make his curveball a viable weapon. It didn’t generate as many whiffs as it did in 2019, but the 31 percent whiff rate in 2020 was his second-highest mark. It was hit hard (92.2 mph exit velocity against) but resulted in a batting average of just .120 (xBA of .139) and over half of the at-bats that ended with a curveball resulted in a strikeout. Is there optimism for it to develop? I believe so. Take a look at the spin rate for his curveball over the years below, referencing the percentile rankings, via Baseball Savant.
CB Spin (percentile)
If this becomes a legitimate weapon for Lynn, and it does develop, 2021 could be his best strikeout season of his entire career.
Now pitching for the White Sox, he gets the benefit of a better offense backing him and a much easier division of offenses to feast on. If you exclude the White Sox, considering he pitches for them now, in the 2020 season, the other four teams all finished in the top 18 in the league in strikeout rate, including the league-leading Detroit Tigers. The four teams from the American League West, excluding the Rangers, featured the team with the fewest (Astros) and fifth-fewest (Angels). This move is a nice upgrade for Lynn and provides further optimism for an elevated strikeout rate in 2021.
Lynn will remain a solid workhorse starter, but this is the year that he is ready to be a fantasy ace. He can headline your rotation and provide excellent ratios. The youngsters in the Chicago lineup should provide the veteran right-hander with plenty of run support, and as the 18th starter off the board and coming in at pick 54, per NFBC data, he presents a nice value. In 15-team setups, you can take Lynn in the fourth round as your first starter and pack your offense with three big offensive pieces to open the draft. If you get him as your second starter, even better, but he can headline a fantasy rotation in 2021.