Here is a proposition for American League Baseball fans: In spite of recently missed starts, the White Sox Lance Lynn belongs in the AL Cy Young discussion. That may be controversial, as he is lacking the innings to qualify for other awards. Additionally, he may not be as flashy as some other pitchers. Yet we believe that, while Robbie Ray and Gerrit Cole are the favorites, Lynn definitely should be in the mix.
Why Would That Be Controversial?
Until recently, Lynn was considered the favorite to take home the AL Cy Young Award. Then he hit a rough patch where his team failed to support him much of the time. He also had a brief stint on the injured list, which helped to reduce his innings pitched to slightly below the qualifying number. He did have one bad start, where he gave up seven runs to the lowly Cubs. Still, his earned run average over this span was a respectable 3.94. That is pretty good for a “rough patch.”
The other issue for Lynn is his lack of wins, at least according to some so-called experts. Ironically, though, the current favorite, Ray, has 12 wins compared to Lynn’s 10. He also has one more loss than Lynn. So, it seems odd that the same people who cite Lynn’s win total as a detriment have no trouble elevating Ray to the favorite. Cole has 15 wins if that means anything. Does anybody remember Felix Hernandez winning the award with a record of 13-12? We are not suggesting that Lynn’s 2021 compares to Hernandez’s 2021. However, it is worth noting that several starters had substantially more wins than King Felix that season.
A Look At The Numbers
So, how do Lynn’s numbers compare with those of Ray and Cole? That is a great question, so let’s take a look at some of the main numbers. Keep in mind that there have been several metrics introduced recently, so many that it is difficult to get a comprehensive comparison of different players. We have chosen six categories, (not cherry-picked) for the reader’s consideration. Adding in wins, which were discussed above, we have seven categories.
Robbie Ray leads the AL in innings pitched with 182 over 30 starts to this point. Gerrit Cole has thrown a total of 169.1 innings over 28 starts. Lance Lynn has thrown 146 innings in 26 starts. In terms of durability, Ray and Cole have averaged just over 6 innings per start, while Lynn has averaged 5.6 innings per start. This is one category in which Lynn clearly falls a little short.
Earned Run Average
While all three pitchers have obviously pitched well, Lynn leads the other two with an ERA of 2.47. Ray comes in at 2.72, while Cole has compiled a 3.03 to this point. Lynn leads Ray by roughly one-quarter of a run per game while leading Cole by roughly half a run per game. These may not be sizeable differences, but the advantage goes to the South Side ace, Lynn.
Earned Run Average Plus
These numbers closely mirror the ERA’s, which make sense. In this category, Lynn leads the way with a 174 ERA+. Ray is second at 160, while Cole is a distant third at 142. Lynn’s ERA+ is tops in the AL, although it is not recognized due to the lack of required innings. Similar to ERA, Lynn leads both Ray and Cole in this category.
In looking at the combined of runners allowed via hits and walks, the numbers are extremely close. So close, in fact, that Ray and Cole have identical WHIPS of 1.033. Lynn, meanwhile, comes in with a WHIP of 1.068. Ray has hit three batters while Cole and Lynn have each hit two. So, in terms of baserunners allowed, Ray and Cole each have a slight edge over Lynn. However, over a nine-inning game, the difference equals one extra baserunner every three games for Lynn. There is no significant statistical difference in WHIP among the three.
Strikeouts Per Nine Innings
The last two categories both pertain to strikeouts, and they do not favor Lance Lynn. In terms of K/9 innings, Robbie Ray is averaging 11.8. Gerrit Cole, meanwhile, is averaging an AL-leading 12.3. Lynn is sitting at K/9 innings of 10.2. Cole is the clear leader here, while Ray is well ahead of Lynn.
Strikeouts/Base On Ball Ratio
As expected, these numbers are similar to the K/9 numbers. Cole leads the AL with a K/BB rate of 6.08. Ray comes in at 5.29. Lynn comes in well below Cole and Ray at 3.77. Clearly, when looking at strikeouts, Cole and Ray each have a significant advantage over Lynn. On the other hand, if Lynn qualified based on innings, he would be solidly in the top 10 in the AL in both categories.
The Case For Lance Lynn
Making a Cy Young case for Lance Lynn is admittedly subjective, although a solid case can be made. He needs 16 more innings to qualify as a starter. While he would normally get three more starts in the regular season, he is likely to miss one to prepare for the playoffs. So, the innings should not disqualify him. Likewise, his win total is not much different than the current frontrunner Ray, as Ray sits at 12-6, and Lynn is at 10-5. That is not a huge difference, in our opinion.
Strikeouts certainly matter as they are one measure of a pitcher’s ability to dominate hitters. This fact is undeniable, and Ray leads Lynn by approximately one and a half strikeouts per nine innings. Ray also leads the AL in strikeouts with 238, while Lynn has 166 (in fewer innings). On the other hand, the disparity is balanced somewhat by the rather similar WHIPs. Basically, while Lynn may strike out fewer batters in a given game, he is allowing the same number of baserunners. So, the lack of strikeouts does not make Lynn any less effective overall.
Finally, while ERA may not be cool for the younger generation who favor sabermetrics, it does tell us who ultimately allows more runs on a given night. Lynn has the lowest ERA of the three candidates, and also the highest ERA+. He simply gives up fewer runs than either Ray or Cole. So, maybe strikeouts do not tell the whole story, after all. Combining ERA and WHIP tells us that Lynn is the best at stranding runners. That is pretty compelling.
So, if voters favor strikeouts and wins, by all means, vote for somebody other than Lance Lynn (Even though Ray only has two more wins, as well as one more loss). If a high number of innings matters, then Lynn will fall a little short However, the bottom line is that, of the three top candidates, Lance Lynn has been the most effective over the course of the season. We wholeheartedly support his candidacy for the AL Cy Young Award.
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