Daniel Lynch, Parts 1 and 2
When the Royals promoted Daniel Lynch, it was supposed to be the start of something, but then he had to be demoted. What changed when he came back and is the success sustainable?
When the Royals called Daniel Lynch to the big leagues in May, they held a 1.5 game lead over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. He was to be the first of a handful of pitching staff fortifiers that would come up throughout the season with the team hoping to continue their surprising place at the top of the standings. I don’t have to tell you what happened from that point forward. He was fine enough in the first start, but then got absolutely demolished in his next and then slightly less demolished but still didn’t get out of the third before he was back in AAA.
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He came back, and as we know he was much better in two July starts and five August starts before hitting what looked like a wall in September. I should say that we hope he hit a wall because he struggled in September, but for now I think it’s fair to assume the best there. Either way, one thing was very different for him from his first stint in the big leagues to his second.
Everything dropped his second time through. We know that the Royals worked with him on some changes during his time in Omaha. He wasn’t great in the minors, but he came back from his two-ish month demotion and had, by game score, the second best start of the season for the Royals. The only start better than his eight shutout, walkless innings against the Tigers on July 25 was Kris Bubic’s seven shutout innings with one walk against the same Tigers on September 26.
This is probably a good example that spin rates aren’t everything. But I was hoping to take a look at what changed for Lynch between the first stint and his return and what might be sustainable and what could have been a good run for a talented pitcher. The other thing that strikes me about Lynch is that I feel like there has to be another gear on the fastball. For a pitch that reached as high as 97.4 MPH with his lanky body, you have to assume there’s a way to increase that swinging strike rate on the pitch.
Edit: Whoopsadoodle. The crackdown on sticky stuff that started between Lynch getting demoted and Lynch getting called back up literally never crossed my mind. That’s a bad job by me here.
The first thing that I wanted to look at was pitch usage and, sure enough, Lynch was using his fastball less. A lot less actually. Prior to getting sent to AAA, Lynch threw his fastball exactly half of the time. Opponents were 7 for 12 against it with five extra base hits. The sample is beyond small, yes, but yikes. They were 11 for 26 against everything else, so it’s not like he was fooling anyone with anything, but the fastball was getting absolutely mauled.
To be honest, the fastball wasn’t significantly better when he came back. We already know the spin dropped a bit and I’m going to get to some video review in a minute, but he allowed a .340 average and .515 slugging percentage, which was actually in line with the expected stats on the fastball from the first stint (.344 and .553). But he threw a lot fewer fastballs, just 39.2 percent of all his pitches. That made a difference. Also, he very clearly had a different plan of attack with the pitch.
This was his fastball heat map from his first stint:
And here was after he came back:
He filled the zone with the fastball. What’s funny is that if you had shown me those two charts, I’d definitely prefer the first one, but the results weren’t nearly as good, so this could very easily be a case of one size doesn’t fit all. So let’s take a look at two deliveries. One was in May in the start against the White Sox where Lynch couldn’t escape the first and one was in August where Lynch pitched quite well against a very good Astros lineup.
Here’s the one from May:
And here’s the one from July:
It’s kind of hard to see any difference. Okay, it’s very hard to see any difference. But I noticed something on these two deliveries and then on just about every other fastball that I looked at. Check out the extension on his right arm in the middle of his delivery from May:
And now look at it from July:
I know, I know. It’s a screenshot and all that, but you can see that he’s basically pointing to the Royals dugout in the first shot and then just doesn’t extend nearly the same. And like I said, I looked at probably two dozen fastballs and the delivery showed the same difference in every single one of them. Eliminating movement can help to be more consistent with location, which Lynch clearly wants to use his fastball to throw strikes. I think even that small of a change could impact spin as well.
Now, that arm drop is less evident on his slider. I won’t bore you with the screenshot there because there just isn’t much to look at. It’s one of those things that if you want to see it, you’ll see it. If you don’t, you won’t. So I can’t say with any certainty that it’s actually there. But also, there probably wasn’t much of a reason to alter what he was doing with the pitch. Before his demotion, opponents were 2 for 13 with a double and four of his five strikeouts. After, they were 14 for 74 with a double and a home run and 32 of his 48 strikeouts.
I think he probably will have to throw more strikes with it eventually because almost everything is out of the zone, glove-side and down. But it’s also in a spot where it’d be pretty tough for a hitter to do much damage, so there are certainly worse things. I would maybe throw it on the first pitch a little more. He did in his first stint about one-third of the time but it dropped to about 20 percent his second time.
It may be short-lived, but hitters took his first pitch 69 percent of the time. If he can locate the slider in the zone to start an AB, I would think it would accomplish two goals. One, it would get him ahead in the count, which weirdly wasn’t a great spot for him by the splits but I’d still say is good. And two, it would establish the slider in the zone. He only got swings on about half his sliders, but when he did get a swing, he got a whiff more than 40 percent of the time. Establishing the pitch in the zone would likely add to more swings like this one:
I wish I had an answer for his decrease in spin rate. There’s nothing readily apparent in delivery or arm slot or anything, so it could very well be that it’s just a coincidence or maybe something grip related.
I saw the most progression just from watching the games in Lynch’s changeup after he returned from the minors in July. Before his demotion, his changeup got knocked around. Again, it’s a sample that is just far too small to look at the numbers with any seriousness, but opponents were 4 for 5 with a double and a homer against it. They did not miss. He threw 26 of them, opponents swung at 13 of them and missed just three.
After he came back, he threw 179 changeups, opponents swung at 89 of them and missed 31. Again, the sample was too small but it’s also all we have, so the whiff rate jumped from 23.1 percent to 34.8 percent. But he also was throwing it in the center of the zone much more, which tells me it was working in conjunction with his fastball very well that he was able to get as many whiffs on it as he did. After his return, opponents did hit .303 on it and did pick up four extra base hits, but his xBA of .191 and xSLG of .278 showed it was better than the results would indicate.
The biggest difference was the quality of contact. They were hitting the changeup hard before his demotion with an average exit velocity of 93.2 MPH and that dropped all the way to 82 MPH after. It’s always a slippery slope looking at average exit velocity, but even with a small sample, that’s a big difference.
Now let’s go back to the fastball heat map above and see where he threw his pitches. Given that the changeup should theoretically play off the fastball and he wasn’t throwing his fastball for strikes, it’s no surprise that before he was sent down, Yoan Moncada smoked one down the left field line.
He was able to read the pitch because of the location and, while it’s subtle, you can see him keep himself back an extra split second. That’s the difference between what he did and what Chas McCormick did in August when it looked like McCormick read fastball out of Lynch’s hand.
I haven’t heard one way or another whether the fastball being more in the zone was part of the whole package, but it would make sense and you can see the results ticking up by utilizing that changeup in tandem with his fastball. And if that’s the case, it makes the lack of whiff on the fastball a bit more palatable. Still, one thing that I’d like to see more of from Lynch on that changeup is a little more drop. While it’s a good pitch and has a chance to be quite effective, it just doesn’t move quite enough. Which brings us back a bit to spin. His vertical movement is 4.1 inches less than average. That’s 266th in baseball out of 293 pitchers. Just like anything, it doesn’t mean he can’t be effective, but it sitting in a zone can make it a sitting duck if a hitter is ready for it.
All this said, there are actually three very distinct seasons for Lynch from 2021, even though this article is just titled parts 1 and 2. It was his first go-round, which was a disaster. His immediate few starts after his callup and that last month where he seemed to hit a wall. Like I said, I’m willing right now to chalk that last month up to fatigue. Given the previous year, it would make total sense.
But moving forward, I’m going to bring up the very first point - the spin rates. The slider is fine either way. The changeup seems to be pretty fine either way. But the difference between Lynch being a 3/4 starter and being a 2 or even a 1 is if he can start getting swings and misses on his fastball. And that likely requires him to find that extra 200 rpms of spin rate. Hopefully he’s incorporated the location of the fastball that he found after his recall and figured out how to get some of that spin back.
In 2021, 492 pitchers were able to coax more than 50 swings on their four-seam fastball. Only 33 had a lower percentage of swings and misses on the pitch than Lynch. I don’t think he needs to find a way to get a ton more. Just 20 more out of the 512 pitches he threw in 2021 would have gotten him right in the middle of the pack. So it’s certainly possible. I’m not expecting Brandon Woodruff levels or anything like that, but maybe adding that spin back will get him where he needs to be and can help to make his changeup look even better as well, especially if he can work to get a little more drop.
Lynch is still my pick to be the best of the bunch. I liked what I saw from him and the adjustments he made and now we’ll hopefully see that next step taken after an offseason of knowing exactly what to work on to get big league hitters out. We’ll find out soon enough what part three will bring for him.