Lance Lynn returns to old form with a new-look curveball

Through his first nine starts of his delayed 202 season, Lance Lynn was saddled with a 6.42 ERA, primarily due to a pair of problems.

  1. Allowing 10 homers in 49⅔ innings.
  2. Getting eaten alive by lefties.

Aside from a few more long balls, Lynn was near his usual success against righties, allowing a .237/.292/.402 line when he had the matchup advantage, with 31 strikeouts over 100 plate appearances. Lefties smoked him to the tune of .320/.358/.560, with nearly half the strikeout rate (18 over 104 PA).

Fortunately, “the first nine starts” ended eight starts ago, and his last seven starts have been a different story. After throwing seven innings of one-run ball (zero earned) against the Mariners in Seattle Monday afternoon, he’s yielded a 2.06 ERA, and while the home-run rate is still high (six over 43⅔ innings), it’s his only flaw. He’s racked up 53 strikeouts against just four walks, and opponents are hitting .199/.228/.325 against him.

What’s more impressive is that he’s on this roll despite facing lineups throwing two lefties for every righty. They’re trying to exploit what was a major vulnerability, and Lynn isn’t letting them. He’s improved considerably when facing a handedness disadvantage…

  • Through July 29: .320/.358/.560, 18 K over 104 PA
  • Since July 29: .187/.216/.318, 30 K over 111 PA

… and his reconfigured curveball is a big reason why.


Lynn’s breaking ball has been a work in progress over the last month, but it’s no longer a secret weapon after what it did to Seattle. More than half of his 11 strikeouts came on the curveball, and the Mariners swung and missed two out of three times they offered at it.

Here’s the highlight reel, and notice how many of these hitters are lefties.

This the second start in a row where his breaking ball has been especially effective at getting swinging strikes.

DateCurvesSwingsWhiffs
Aug. 141053
Aug. 19310
Aug. 251593
Aug. 311465
Sept. 52096

Lynn’s curveball has never really been a distinguishing factor over his career, and it was a true afterthought in his first season with the Sox, as he threw it just 3 percent of the time.

Now? It’s starting to become a thing. He’s only thrown more than a dozen of them in three starts during his White Sox career, and they’ve come in his last three starts, including a Sox-high of 20 on Monday.

If I saw that Lynn started throwing his curveball three times as often in response to having an ERA over 6.00, I might assume we’d be watching a desperate man searching, for Lynn has always defined himself by his array of fastballs. Fortunately, this evolution doesn’t appear forced. Lynn is still defined by his four-seamer and cutter; it just took a while for their power and precision to return to their normal levels.

As Lynn’s performance stabilized over the course of August, the curveball became a different pitch entirely, featuring far more horizontal movement.

If you’re not used to reading Statcast charts, it’s easy to see the shift in practice.

Here are a few typical curveballs to lefties at the start of his season.

These curves didn’t really didn’t move laterally, and they didn’t feature much of a sharp break vertically, either. They almost acted as high-spin changeups, except when he wanted to back-door it on the outside corner, when the couple inches of right-to-left action helped. Most pitchers don’t want that kind of cutting action on their offspeed offerings otherwise, since it’s supposed to tail away from a hitter’s swing path, not into it. That’s why Lynn only threw the pitch when hitters might be expecting something else.

But when early August rolled around, Lynn started figuring out how to get a sharper break on it, the kind that hitters swing over the top of. Here’s Nick Pratto doing so on Aug. 3:

It wasn’t an overnight sensation — that was the only whiff on his curveball of 18 thrown over consecutive starts against Kansas City — but as the chart above shows, you can see that he finally saw a reason to throw it on purpose, and the last two starts suggest he’s starting to really get the hang of it.


This is a valuable development for Lynn, and not just for the fact that it’s good to have more effective pitches than fewer. While Lynn had been a top-10 Cy Young candidate in each of the past three seasons, the Astros always had his number because 1) they can cover the fastball, 2) they can cover the plate, and 3) they play in small park (some people might be tempted to add a fourth reason, but these are Lynn-specific points). They only had a narrow band of velocities and tilts to consider, so they could wear him down if Lynn was less than his best, and those foreseeable struggles played out during last year’s ALDS.

With the White Sox still in third place with 28 games to go, planning for a potential October rematch against Houston seems premature at best, but his start against Seattle shows it can be plenty significant in September. The Mariners pitching staff boasted the third-best ERA in baseball over the last 30 days. The White Sox offense could only give Lynn three runs to work with. Lynn made it hold up with seven strong innings, and considering he threw just 89 pitches and retired the last 17 batters he faced, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable if Miguel Cairo had him open the eighth.

It’ll be fun to see what kind of ceiling this pitch has, because I can see its effectiveness being limited. Had Lynn not experienced the kind of swing-and-miss success in the previous start, I might be inclined to chalk up Monday’s numbers to the extreme shadows around home plate due to the late-afternoon Labor Day start time. Give the league more exposure to this pitch and standard visibility, and hitters might start picking up the arm slot better when the count gets to two strikes.

But even if Lynn can’t get a weapon along the lines of Dylan Cease’s slider out of this development, it still gives opponents something else to think about, and a more complicated game plan probably benefits Lynn more than most pitchers. If Lynn loses something permanent on his array of fastballs as he moves into his late-30s, this would give him somewhere else to turn.

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Jim Margalus
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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jorgefabregas

Keuchel has been DFAed for the third time this season. You won’t be surprised to find out that he thought he pitched well in his last start, but he at least now is crediting the other team instead of blaming his own.

https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34524007/texas-rangers-designate-dallas-keuchel-assignment-two-starts

“I felt I pitched a whole lot better than the line read,” Keuchel said after Friday’s game. “It felt like I was making pitches and they were battling like the classic Red Sox game at Fenway Park. I established all my pitches, but this year is what it is. We’re working toward an end goal of putting up some zeroes.”

Yolmer's gatorade

Meh, it’s old news now. Keuchel won a Cy Young Award and never threw particularly hard. You probably have to be somewhat delusional to have the career he’s had.

a-t

The curve’s plane of break of 2 to 8 aligns much better with Lynn’s arm slot than before. Aligning with arm slot is generally where the most movement to be had on a curveball is found.

andyfaust

Having an effective Lynn in the rotation is a huge help for the Sox chances in the final month. I was looking at Cleveland’s remaining schedule and it looks pretty easy for them.
8 games w/ Minn
8 w/ KC
3 w/ LAA
3 w/ TEX
3 w/ TBR
4 w/ SOX

Only one opponent with a better win percentage than their own (TB). They only have two remaining scheduled days off and have a brutal stretch of 18 games (albeit against sub .500 clubs save for MN) in 17 days beginning this Friday.

Last edited 28 days ago by andyfaust
andyfaust

By comparison, Sox remaining schedule includes a few similarly weaker opponents but they have three built-in days off remaining and do not have any stretches of games longer than the final nine. Difficulty of opponents is slightly tougher for Sox, imo but it’s pretty close. The head to head will be the key. Also worth noting that Cleveland may be without Civale and Plesac perhaps for the remainder of the regular season.

2 at SEA
4 at OAK
2 vs COL
4 vs CLE
6 vs DET
6 vs MIN
3 at SD

dwjm3

It just blows my mind that we are still in this division race. Cleveland should have buried us when we were five back.

andyfaust

Agreed. It’s been a roller coaster these last couple weeks. If these two clubs were tied today, I’d give the edge to the Sox due to the rotation injuries and grueling schedule Cleveland has. As it is, it’s going to be tough. And a tie is no good, there is no game 163 and I believe Cleveland has the tiebreaker in that case, but I don’t know whether Sox could flip that or not with their 4 remaining games. CLE may have already clinched the tiebreaker, not sure there.

If a few of those warning track balls made it over the wall for the Sox, it would be a much rosier picture today.

metasox

Yes, the numbers get tough this late in the season. Cleveland going just 15-14 the rest of the way gets them to 84 wins. Sox would need to go 17-10 to get to 85.

NDSox12

Sox are 6-9 against Cleveland so far. So they’ll need to sweep the final four to win a tiebreaker.

upnorthsox

If we could sweep them we’d probably win the division outright. That said, we haven’t even won a series from them this year.

NDSox12

Yeah… That Cleveland sweep in their first meeting in April is the difference right now. Every series since has been split.

Right Size Wrong Shape

They also managed to bail both times it looked like the Sox were ready to take a series from them. Cowards.

GrinnellSteve

At the close of games on September 25, 1967 the Sox were in 3rd place, a half game behind Boston and Minnesota. All 3 teams had 68 losses. Minnesota had games left against Boston and 5th place California. Boston still had the Twins and 6th place Cleveland. The Sox finished against 8th place Washington and 10th place KC.

I got a postcard from my grandpa saying he liked the Sox’ chances because of their schedule.

The Sox scored 5 runs total in their remaining 5 games, three of them shutouts. They lost all 5. They finished in 4th place, 3 games out. Boston won by a game over Minnesota and Detroit.

All of this is to say it is etched in my mind that strength of schedule is not destiny.

As Cirensica

The Guardians and the Twins have only 2 days off in September AND a double header among themselves.

The White Sox have no DH programmed, and 3 days off

The Twins have a lot of games against the Royals, but they are also facing the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the next three days. And the Yankees are starving for wins.

So it is a packed month for the Guardinas and the Twins. I don’t think the Twins have the pitching strength to pull it off even if the get Maeda back. The Guardians have a better pen that can take some of the load by the starters, but it is gonna be taxing.

The White Sox still have the easiest schedule.

HallofFrank

I know we’re a long way from the playoffs, but if the Sox make it: Lynn’s development gives me a lot more hope that they could have some playoff success. Johnny Cueto deserves a raise and award for his work, but I wasn’t particularly thrilled at the prospect of lining him up second behind Cease in a playoff rotation.

lifelongjd

Although a novel concept, it’s refreshing to see the adjustment. If something isn’t working, adapt. Seems fairly reasonable and obvious, but outside Lynn and Abreu, not seeing this as protocol for this organization.

HallofFrank

I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. Giolito and Cease made significant adjustments that led to excellent results. I’ve seen players tinker with their approach and/or batting stance (to mixed results). The Sox aren’t the Rays or Dodgers, but they seem willing enough to try something.

lifelongjd

Good points. Guess my comment was more focused on this season.

gibby32

Great article.

jorgefabregas

Cease is the top of the front page at Fangraphs right now https://blogs.fangraphs.com/dylan-cease-makes-his-cy-young-case/

roke1960

From the Mully Haugh show:
Steve Stone believes Tony La Russa will return to the dugout this season, doesn’t think White Sox’s improved play is tied to his absence in any way.

This better not happen. There is no reason for Tony to ever step foot in that dugout again.

As Cirensica

Stone didn’t use the word “manager” specifically, so I guess Tony will return to the dugout as a visitor or guest or special adviser or mascot. I am OK with any of that.

roke1960

I’m not ok with him even being in the same state as the team. The cloud has been lifted since he’s been gone. Why bring it back?

As Cirensica

To make him feel he is part of something while at the same time, he is not.

dwjm3

Why would he specifically have to say he would return to the dugout as manager?

It would be assumed he would return as manager as they never took away his title

Last edited 28 days ago by dwjm3
As Cirensica

The word “return” can be interpreted in many ways in this case. He can pay a visit during a batting practice, and then leave the next day, and Steve Stone’s statement is truthful.

roke1960

But I disagree with the 2nd part of his statement also. They look like a different team since Tony has been gone. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

dwjm3

How so? He hasn’t had his job taken away as Cairo is just the interim.

I think you are engaging a bit in wishful thinking. If he does come back we will be stuck with him the dugout and his black cloud of doom will return.

As Cirensica

I want to be positivist.

dwjm3

fair enough

dwjm3

It would be peak Jerry to have the team get into first place and then announce the next day Tony is returning.

As Cirensica

And then fire Cairo next year and extend Tony.

calcetinesblancos

Anyone thinking SS would actually speak his mind on this is delusional.

chipporter

I don’t know why people continue to expect to hear unbiased organizational talk from him. He’s a company man, through and through.

Last edited 28 days ago by chipporter
calcetinesblancos

Well I think he’s fairly comfortable speaking his mind, but even if Tony being gone is good for the team I don’t think SS or anyone else is comfortable basically rooting for his bad health to keep him away.

Of course, that ignores the fact that when he was “heathy” he was an awful manager. That part has nothing to do with his current health situation.

Last edited 28 days ago by calcetinesblancos
peanutsNcrackerjack

Contrarian option here. The surge in the White Sox is more a function of Moncada out of the lineup. Now that he’s back, use him as a defensive replacement rather than start him.

GrinnellSteve

I’d bat him 9th until he gets his stroke back.

gibby32

What is it exactly that you think Harrison or Garcia has done that Moncada would not hae done?

peanutsNcrackerjack

Hustle.

gibby32

Bullshit. He hustles and anyone who thinks otherwise is feeding a pre-existing narrative. And he is a great defensive third baseman, unlike the other two.

calcetinesblancos

I have an extensive list of traits that I look for in a starting pitcher, and LL checks all the boxes:

  1. Wants to win, and is pissed off when he isn’t winning.

Fin.

As Cirensica

But anger seeps energy out of your body…

Wait… that was the other guy. We have a new one.