Chicago Cubs: Lance Lynn makes sense for the Cubs in 2018

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 16: Lance Lynn
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 16: Lance Lynn /

Right-hander Lance Lynn makes a lot of sense for the Chicago Cubs in 2018 and beyond. Will he be a Theo Epstein target come this winter?

By now, most Chicago Cubs’ fans know the state of the starting pitching in 2018. As things stand right now, the Cubs are set to lose both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to free agency following the 2017 season. For that reason, possible replacements for Arrieta and Lackey are no doubt being considered by the Cubs’ front office.

One name that is likely floating around as a possible replacement is Sunday’s starter for the Cardinals, Lance Lynn. Even though Lynn struggled against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday (four innings, three earned runs, four walks and five strikeouts), the 30-year-old is having a solid 2017 season.

In 31 starts, Lynn has amassed an ERA of 3.09. To go along with that, Lynn has 11 wins, 147 strikeouts and a .212 batting average against.

Lynn has a track record of success

Looking at Lynn’s numbers prior to the 2017 season, one can see a pitcher that has built a solid big league career and may be on the verge of having a break-out season.

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Lynn became a full-time starter in 2012 when he started 29 of the 35 games he appeared in. That season, Lynn went 18-7 with a 3.78 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 176 innings pitched. For his efforts, Lynn was voted to represent the National League in the All-Star Game, his first and only appearance thus far in his career.

Over the next three seasons, Lynn proved to be a solid and reliable starting pitcher. From 2013 to 2015, Lynn made 97 starts or an average of 32 per season. Of those starts, Lynn won 42 of them and recorded a 3.25 ERA. In addition to that, Lynn collected 546 strikeouts in 580 2/3 innings pitched and logged an ERA+ of 115.

The only blip on Lynn’s record was the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2016, which caused him to miss the entire season.

Post-Tommy John, Lynn seems to have bounced back

The concern following Tommy John surgery for most pitchers is whether they can return to their pre-injury form. Looking at Lynn’s numbers both before and after the surgery, there does not seem to be any drop-off.

Lynn’s best season, in terms of ERA+ came in 2014. That season, Lynn recorded a 15-10 record, 2.74 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 203 2/3 innings pitched. According to Fangraphs, Lynn held opponents to a batting of .235. In addition to that, Lynn left 78.1 percent of runners on base while recording a WHIP of 1.26.

So far this season, Lynn has improved upon those numbers. Currently, Lynn is holding opponents to a .212 batting average and leaving 81.7 percent of runners on base. All that is happening while Lynn’s WHIP sits at 1.16.

Looking deeper into Lynn’s numbers, one can see even more similarities between his 2014 season and his 2017 season. According to Fangraphs, in 2014 Lynn yielded line drives on 19.6% of the balls in play. This season, that number has dropped to 19.0%. In addition to that, Lynn is inducing ground balls at almost the exact rate this season compared to 2014. The only thing that could be concerning is the fact that Lynn is giving up more fly balls this season. Fangraphs tell us that Lynn is issuing 0.9 percent more fly balls this season compared to 2014 and 2.8 percent more than in 2015.

While the jump in fly balls is not a big deal, it is important to see Lynn bounce back the way he has since having Tommy John surgery last year.

Lynn could be exactly what the Cubs need

What the Cubs are looking for in replacements for Arrieta and Lackey are young, cheap starters who can be signed to long-term deals and provide solid starts for years to come. Lance Lynn seems to check all those boxes.

Yes, Lynn is 30-years-old, but because of his injury in 2016, he does not yet have 1,000 innings pitched in the big leagues. In addition to that, Lynn did not break into the major until age 24, meaning his arm may be fresher than most pitchers his age.

Lynn is on the last year of a three-year, $22 million deal that he signed in 2015. Because that contract was signed in an effort to buy out Lynn’s remaining arbitration years, the righty may have a steep price tag this winter. With a 3.30 career ERA and the ability to start 30-plus games every season, Lynn could demand $80-90 million. Of course, that money would only be shelled out if a five or six-year deal were agreed upon, something the Cubs may not be willing to do. Instead, a three or four-year deal worth $55-60 million would make more sense for Chicago.

It is very difficult to predict what could happen this winter. After trading for Jose Quintana, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila, the Cubs’ farm system is not deep enough to trade for another big name starter. It’s for that reason that the Cubs will have to open their checkbooks and sign a free agent this off-season.

Next: Should the Chicago Cubs be worried about the Brewers and Cardinals?

With Lynn posting yet another solid season, he could be wearing pinstripes this time next year.