The rotation has not produced much to be optimistic about thus far in 2022, but one of the bright spots has certainly been Daniel Lynch. Last year Lynch looked lost or overmatched most of the time. This year he as a 3.30 ERA, and 4 of his 6 starts have been serviceable or better. I decided to dive in and see if anything looked significantly different so far this year compared to last, just to see what adjustments might have been made.
There are a couple of simple things up front. One of the biggest is that Lynch is throwing more strikes. About 65% of his pitches have been strikes so far compared to 2021’s 61% rate. Not a massive difference, but three to five extra strikes per game (along with three to five fewer balls) is helpful. Also, he is working off of his slider a lot more. According to pitch values, his slider is by far his best pitch, so using it more makes sense, and so far, has led to better results from his fastballs as well. Now on to the more intense level of scrutiny thanks to Fangraphs.
On the top is the 2021 release point, on the bottom 2022 so far. It looks like the release point has moved to the right and down a little bit. The cluster is a little tighter as well, which might mean he is being more consistent with his release, or could just be an effect of sample size, but keeping the release point from various pitches closer together is very important for fooling hitters. Maybe this new release point is helping him repeat his delivery with more consistency.
I will spare you velocity charts since they look very similar to last year across all of his pitches. Some of the particular pitches are moving differently though.
Again, 2021 on top. The changeup (green) just seems to have more variance in its movement, 2.5 to 12.5 horizontal rather than sticking between 5 and 10. The spread on the vertical movement might be slightly larger too with several changeups being down in the 1 to 2 range rather than all staying above 2.5 like last year. More variation and in some spots more overall movement could make it a more unpredictable pitch as long as he can command it. Importantly, it looks to me like it is overlapping less with the fastball movement, I would have to show you more charts with and without both, and I am not confident in the sample size to say this definitively but having the fastball and changeup in different locations will make them both much more effective when batters are putting the wrong swing on a pitch.
The slider movement (orange) seems to have shifted some too. The sliders this year are staying between 0 and 5 on vertical movement instead of -5 to 2.5, and they are also centered closer to -1 or -2 horizontally rather than almost dead on zero last year. It might be getting a tiny bit more run and giving up a little bit of drop to attain that. Not a sweeper or anything that drastic, but slightly different pitch shape.
The big question then becomes, how are these changes being converted into better outcomes. Swinging strikes and strike outs are both up, but not by enough to be considered statistically significant at this point. I don’t think that is actually driving the improvement, or at least not very much of it. The big difference seems to be inducing a lot more pop-ups. Popping the ball up means outs at a much higher rate than any other batted ball type, as long as they are staying in the park. Average launch angle off of Lynch so far has been 21 versus 14.5 a year ago, and that is a large difference. This has led to a fly ball rate of almost 52%, when that rate was 37.4% in 2021. Instead of hitting line drives, which batters did last year 35.3% of the time and now that rate is only 12.9%, batters are popping the ball up. In general I would call that a good recipe for success, especially in Kauffman Stadium.
Overall, I am optimistic that the Daniel Lynch of 2022 has been better in a sustainable way relative to what we saw last year. The pitch mix changes along with the release point and some pitch shape changes seem to have batters a little more off-balance, which is leading to popups instead of line drives. Hopefully this can continue and at least one of the prospects we have been waiting for can solidify a rotation spot for the coming years.