Hello again, Lance Lynn. NLDS Game 2 represents the 10th time Lynn has started against the Pirates since the start of the 2012 season, providing a familiar face and arm for Pittsburgh’s attempt to even up the playoff series.
The Bucs have produced many runs against the Cardinals’ right-handed starter in that timespan: in 50.1 innings, Lynn has posted a 5.19 ERA despite 54 strikeouts and 21 walks. Beyond the results, simply facing a familiar pitcher can provide the Pirates a small advantage between two evenly matched teams.
“As a hitter, the unknown is sometimes a difficult thing,” second baseman Neil Walker said. “Seeing guys’ fastballs out of their hands, seeing the breaking ball… [but] we’re not banking on that.”
Make no mistake: Lance Lynn is a quality starter for St. Louis in Game 2: His 3.38 FIP over the last two seasons is better than that of other strong NL pitchers like Jordan Zimmermann and Mat Latos.
“With Lance you know you’re going to be challenged with fastballs, especially early on,” Walker said. “He’s going to be mixing in his breaking ball and changeup over the course of the game.”
Lynn, 26, threw the most fastballs of any National League starter this season, using it on 73 percent of his pitches according to FanGraphs. He is right to do so, as the fastball averages 92.5 miles per hour to put him in the top-third of NL starting pitcher velocity. The Pirates should expect about two four-seam fastballs for every sinker.
Secondary pitches like Lynn’s cutter and curveball are mixed in, as is a rare changeup. What is unusual about Lynn is that his breaking balls are not much more a “put-away” pitch than his fastball.
Lance Lynn Whiff Rate By Pitch (2012-13)
- Four-Seam: 11.7%
- Sinker: 7.6%
- Curveball: 11.3%
- Cutter: 14%
The goal for Lynn is to place his fastball on the edges and get called strikes. It is command, not control, that is key for Lynn. His 9-percent walk rate is actually rather high among starting pitchers, but the effectiveness and strikeout rate come from hitters choosing wrong and earning a strike three call.
Pittsburgh’s Game 2 lineup features the regular three left-handed hitters: Neil Walker, Justin Morneau and Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates continue to be much better against lefties (one of the league’s best offensive teams) than against righties.
Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte are known fastball-killers who would be ready for four-seamers, despite McCutchen’s 10 strikeouts and .385 OPS in 26 at-bats against Lynn.
Small sample size and all that. But the playoffs are all about small-sample success.