Following up: Lance Lynn still lagging against lefties

White Sox pitcher Lance Lynn
(Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports)

At the start of the season, the White Sox rotation had a problem against lefties. Some of these splits could be expected to even out as sample sizes grew, but Lance Lynn’s merited tracking over the following weeks.

When Lynn struggled in his return from knee surgery in 2022, the damage opponents inflicted on him was lopsided along party lines. Lynn kept righties in check, so he only needed to improve against lefties in order to get his house in order, and he more or less achieved that by September.

Lefties aren’t letting up this time around, including his start in Game 1 of Thursday’s doubleheader. Lynn allowed five runs on eight hits and two walks over five innings, and most of the damage came from the other side of the plate.

  • vs. RHB: 2-for-8, 2B, 2 BB, K
  • vs. LHB: 6-for-15, 2B, 3B, HR, 0 BB, 2 K

It’s not just that the Yankees’ lefties hit him well, but who those lefties were. Willie Calhoun. Jake Bauers. Billy McKinney. Oswaldo Cabrera. It’s not Murderers’ Row. It’s Middlers’ Row at best, yet there they were, counterpunching Lynn every time the White Sox offense got on the board.

When you update the splits from the first time around, we’ve seen that Lynn’s issues against lefties persist to a far greater degree than any of his counterparts:

StarterFirst 2 startsSince
Dylan Cease.000/.250/000.281/.348/.484
Lance Lynn.412/.500/1.177.355/.400/.637
Lucas Giolito.421/.421/.790.200/.293/.388
Michael Kopech.194/.297/.581.167/.298/.282
Mike Clevinger.412/.476/.471.198/.301/.506

Lynn isn’t entirely without company. Clevinger also suffered damage to New York’s lefties, as McKinney added a Game 2 homer after a triple in Game 1. McKinney just joined the Yankees as a replacement for Aaron Judge, and yet those two White Sox righties made the journeyman with a 79 OPS+ look like last year’s MVP.

That said, Clevinger has at least negotiated an uneasy coexistence with lefties. He’s gained a little bit of confidence with the fastball as a primary pitch, but he’s also treading carefully and issuing more walks, which leaves him susceptible to giving up one of those hard-hit balls at the wrong time. Such is life for a back-end starter, and Clevinger’s held up his end of the bargain, at least relative to those expectations.

The thing with Lynn is that he’s not used to ducking confrontation. He’s supposed to set the agenda with his array of fastballs, but he’s lost enough velocity to the point that, against left-handed hitters, his four-seamer has a higher velocity coming out than it does coming in. Here’s how his fastball performances against lefties compare over the last three years per Statcast.

YearFB%VeloEVxBAxSLG
202144.993.889.4.235.328
202247.592.984.8.220.341
202346.192.393.4.424.794

If you’re looking for any signs of life, Lynn’s velocity is trending in the right direction, which helped him solve his lefty issues last season. The question is whether the effort needed to summon the requisite heat subtracts from his command, leading hitters to slug .407 against him with two strikes after never even slugging .300 against him in such counts in any other year. That’s the hardest part about watching Lynn in 2023: It’s hard to trust that he’s ever in charge, which makes his third-out profanities a lot less intimidating than they used to be.

But even if this looks like a vulnerability for the foreseeable future, it seems unlikely that the White Sox will DFA Lynn anytime soon. They don’t have the depth to cover 17 starts the way they could use Johnny Cueto, Vince Velasquez and Davis Martin to get by after dropping Dallas Keuchel. Beyond that, Lynn is still capable against righties, which gives him a chance of being potentially useful on any given day.

That’s the faintest of praise, because that same phrase applies to Jesse Scholtens. After that, you run out of names. That’s the bigger problem, especially when you look beyond the remaining three-plus months. Assuming the White Sox decline Lynn’s $18 million option for 2024, Clevinger’s mutual option works out the way mutual options usually do, and Lucas Giolito opts for free agency, the White Sox will have three open spots, and little in the way of in-house candidates to replace them.

Author

  • Jim Margalus

    Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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vanillablue

As ass as this team is, it still makes more sense for them to try to make a run at the division this year rather than making trades at the deadline, because next year’s team will have a ton of holes in addition to the ones us fans know and love (2B, RF).

Worst. Rebuild. Ever.

roke1960

Yep, this may be as good as it gets. Subtract Giolito, Lynn and Grandal (and probably Clevinger) from this year’s team. I don’t think there’s anyone that thinks that Jerry is going to spend to replace those guys. Two lower level free agents and either Scholtens or Crochet will join Cease and Kopech in next year’s rotation. Perez will replace Grandal, Colas will be in right, and Sosa, Romy or Ramos will be at 2nd. And I’m sure Jerry would love to dump Moncada’s contract, but he probably won’t find a taker. Like you said above:

Worst. Rebuild. Ever.

HallofFrank

Yeah, it’s bleak. But at least one faint note of optimism: from this moment (and things could change rapidly), the outlooks for 2024 Opening Day 2B and RF look better than their 2023 counterparts. Relying on Colás in ’24 may be a bad idea, but it’s a better idea than relying on him in ’23. For 2B – hopefully one of JRod, Sosa, or Romy will look like a decent option for ’24. Either way, one will probably be a better idea than Elvis.

shaggy65

I’d rather see Scholtens starting, although we’re just an injury away from needing Lance in the rotation again so maybe there’s no point. At least he’s still eating innings.

Lance has at least a little experience in the bullpen and I wonder how he might operate there. He should recover at least a little velo and you could help him avoid lefties.

StockroomSnail

Steve stone would argue he’s eating more than innings.