Two seasons, 33 wins. That’s what Lance Lynn has given the Cardinals since the start of 2012.
Yet, after watching Lynn during that span, you can’t help but feel slightly disappointed. Too often he lets his emotions get the best of him. He lets his passion turn into anger, which leads to chaos. It derails his progress, keeping him from reaching a special status among his peers.
Over the past two seasons, manager Mike Matheny felt it necessary to have multiple meetings with his talented right-hander about channeling his passion.
In August of 2012, Matheny addressed the subject with Jennifer Langosch of MLB.com:
It's not the kind of game he wants. I think the bigger message really was that's not how he needs to respond when games start to go in that direction. It's just a part of the maturing process.
The conversation with the press came following the latest in a rough string of starts for Lynn. Aside from the occasional hiccup, he had been brilliant heading into August, posting a 3.42 ERA.
Then the wheels came off. A 7.80 ERA over four starts that month got Lynn demoted to the bullpen.
Lynn was wearing his emotions on his sleeve, making it quite obvious when he didn’t approve of a defensive misplay or a perceived blown call by the umpires.
We can't help but see it. The thing is, that leads to how the umpire views the strike zone and views you and your team. That's how the opposition sees you, a chink in the armor. No good comes from that.
Veterans like Chris Carpenter would pull Lynn aside. Carp was no stranger to getting emotional on the mound. He, too, would glare at teammates at times after a blunder. The difference was that he had earned that right. He was the bulldog on the mound with the playoff pedigree. The same intense concentration he expected from himself was also demanded from teammates.
But Lynn hadn’t established enough credit in the locker room to fly off the handle, to show up teammates or umps.
Despite not pitching well in relief, Lynn got another shot in the rotation—and shined. He won all four starts while sporting a 2.12 ERA in September.
Lynn began the postseason for St. Louis in the bullpen before earning two starts against the Giants in the National League Championship Series. He didn’t make it through four innings in either turn. San Francisco’s soft-tossing lefty Barry Zito out-pitched him in Game 5. It was the turning point in the series for the Giants, who rallied from a 3-1 deficit.
Stamina concerns in 2012 linked to Lynn’s burly 6'5" frame were eliminated during Spring Training in 2013. He shed the weight necessary to push through the grind of 30-plus starts.
The University of Mississippi product started with a 2.91 ERA the first two months before inconsistencies arose in June. Talk of Lynn’s emotional antics were front and center. From then until the end of August, a 5.19 ERA created speculation regarding another move to a relief role.
But the demotion never happened, and as Lynn had done the prior season, he finished strong in September.
It’s ironic that teammate Michael Wacha emerged as a rookie to pitch with the poise of a grizzled vet. His mound presence, as much as his talent, helped him ascend to the top of St. Louis’ rotation in just over a month. Meanwhile, Lynn’s a veteran who too often displayed the immaturity of someone just summoned from Triple-A.
Lynn’s got the arsenal. He’s big and strong, possessing a fastball to blow away hitters. And he’s got the complement of secondary pitches necessary to succeed over a long season.
Too many times, however, Lynn gets stuck between his ears. Whether it’s minimizing the big inning or letting a miscue ruin his day, he can be his own worst enemy.
The recipient of the best run support in MLB the last two seasons, any modicum of consistency might have resulted in back-to-back 20-win campaigns for Lynn.
As the Cardinals moved into the offseason looking to address a shortstop vacancy, Lynn’s name surfaced as a way to open a spot in the rotation for Carlos Martinez while filling a major void.
However, Lynn is still around with his enormous talent and occasional emotional baggage. The Cardinals hope one is enough to overcome the other.