The Cardinals got some good news over the weekend when their projected Opening Day starter, Chris Carpenter, received a moderately positive medical review. Neck pain that was radiating down both arms was diagnosed as a bulging disc rather than a potentially more serious nerve condition or other injury.
The Cardinals clearly had a Plan B in mind and are internally equipped to replace Chris Carpenter with another pitcher, if not one who is as effective on the mound. Today, Mike Matheny revealed that Lance Lynn gets that label as the back up plan to Chris Carpenter and will be stretched out over the next several Grapefruit League starts. Matheny offered some rationale for the semi-secret backup plans via Derrick Goold and Rick Hummel in the Post-Dispatch:
I’ve been so reluctant and hesitant with all of you (the media) as I have been excited about how Lance has fallen into that role. He could be that late-inning guy. He could be that seventh-, eight-inning (guy). He certainly has the ability and the long-term projection to potentially be that starting guy as well. We just didn’t want to push his mindset outside of being that bullpen guy until we knew we were going to have to start ramping up his innings.
Lynn provided the common and correct media responses about doing what is best for the team wherever the team may need him even as he indicated a preference for starting. Curiosity about Lynn since his uptick in velocity was further stoked by an impressive collection of relief outings for the major league club in 2011. With Carpenter ailing, the Lance Lynn, reliever, label gets scratched out. Here’s three reasons why that’s a good thing.
- Starters are more valuable than relievers – Lynn ran the risk of being pigeonholed by his impressive 2011 performance. Matheny even notes in the Post-Dispatch article that he could have been a late inning reliever. It’s extremely difficult for relievers to be as valuable as starters though. Assuming that Lance Lynn was a true talent 2.88 FIP reliever (his 2011 numbers), he would be worth about 1.3 WAR over the course of the entire season (75 innings). He also would have been a top 10 reliever, which seems unlikely. To accumulate that as a starter, Lynn only needs to post a FIP around 4.40 (lgFIP = 5.00; 200 IP) in order to accumulate that value. ZiPS projects Lynn for a FIP around 3.80 (depending on your league modifier).
- It relieves the bullpen crunch - The Cardinals have lots of options for right handed relievers who have already spent time in the major league pen: Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez and Kyle McClellan. They’ve got a handful of players who are in Memphis, nearly ready for the majors and limited to the bullpen as well: Adam Reifer, Adam Ottavino or Chuckie Fick. What the Cardinals don’t have much of is imminent starting pitchers. Outside of Shelby Miller, who projects very similarly to Lance Lynn for 2012, guys like Maikel Cleto or Brandon Dickson are the closest to the majors. The former could use some more seasoning after starting 2011 in Palm Beach and the latter is questionable as a projected major league starter. Lance Lynn is the default candidate as well as the best candidate.
- It helps the 2013 rotation – Shelby Miller was always going to get a shot in the rotation. There has never been any doubt about that. The Cardinals currently will have two open rotation slots in 2012 after Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse’s contracts are completed. The risk of pigeonholing Lance Lynn as a reliever has as much to do with 2012 as it does with 2013. If Lynn can establish himself as a reliable major league starter this year (even in limited time) it should provide added comfort to a 2013 rotation that could include both Lynn and Miller. The Cardinals are not well known for introducing multiple untested starters into the rotation in a single year so increased certainty of Lynn only helps his long term prospects and the teams chances of keeping payroll under control.
Should Chris Carpenter miss extended time, Lynn appears, both statistically and from a scouting perspective, to be capable as a major league starter. It is beneficial for both Lynn and the Cardinals to see early success in that role for 2012 as well as the future.