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Updates: Wild Man Lance Lynn, Allen Craig the Chihuahua and Kozma the Mud Hen

Old friend Lance Lynn is off to a horrendous start in his career restart with the Minnesota Twins. Unable to attract much interest on last winter’s free-agent market because of metrics that pointed to a decline, Lynn has an 8.37 ERA and an alarming 19.7 percent walk rate in his first five starts.

In losing 7-5 to Toronto on Tuesday, the Twins drooped to 0-5 in games started by Lynn this season when he gave up 7 hits, 5 walks and 6 earned runs in 5 innings. The former Cardinal walked 23 batters and allowed 5 homers in his 23.2 innings in April.

“It has been the worst month of my career,” Lynn “and told the Twin Cities media after the latest debacle. “I’m ready for it to be over.”

I like Lynn and wish he was doing better.  His stats are unusually harsh and nasty (in a bad way). He’s pretty near the bottom (or close to it) in many key pitching categories so far this season:

Lynn’s 8.37 ERA ranks 121st among 123 MLB starting pitchers that have thrown at least 23 innings.

The opponents’ .427 onbase percentage vs. Lynn is the worst allowed by a starting pitcher.

Only 32.9 percent of Lynn’s pitches have been strikes; that’s the worst rate among starters.

Lynn’s 19.7% walk rate is the worst among starters, as his average of 8.75 walks per 9 innings.

His WHIP of 2.11  (walks-hits per inning) is the worst among starters.

Lynn is opening the bases to a lot of traffic; he’s had an average of 19.01 base runners per 9 innings. The MLB average for starting pitchers this season is 12.05 BR/9.

Lynn’s strikeout-walk ratio of 1.13 is the 6th worst by a starting pitcher.

His home-run rate of 1.90 per 9 innings is the seventh worst among starters.

Lynn is third-worst among starters in Win Probability Added.

Opponents are batting .290 with a .427 OBP, .516 slugging percentage and .943 OPS against Lynn.

“He’s still having a little trouble with his command,” Twins manager Paul Molitor helpfully observed.

Yeah, you could say that. And to think that Cardinals fans were losing their minds over Carlos Martinez when his walk rate spiked in 2017. And to think that Cardinals fans had to get hooked up to blood pressure monitors when the team essentially replaced Lynn with Miles Mikolas, who has the lowest walk rate (1.5%) of any MLB starting pitcher so far this season.

In 2017, his final season for the Cardinals, Lynn clearly — absolutely trended —  in the wrong direction. This was noted by observers that were fluent in baseball analytics. And obviously analytics departments in team front offices were wary of Lynn; the best he could get was a one-year, $12 million deal with the Twins. And Lynn had to wait until March 12 for that.

Lynn’s baseball-card ERA looked good (3.43) but that wasn’t an accurate reflection of his pitching in 2017. A more telling measure of quality was Lynn’s 4.82 fielding independent ERA (or FIP.) Lynn’s walk rate jumped; his strikeout rate went down. His homers-allowed rate went way up. He had the worst strikeout-walk ratio of his career. And the .244 average vs. Lynn on batted balls last season was the lowest against any MLB starting pitcher — meaning that Lynn was extremely lucky in ’17.

Every time I wrote that, the analysis was met with hostile dissent. And I have no idea why. Lynn was a risky investment, and the Cardinals weren’t being cheap in letting him head to free agency. They were actually quite smart — not to mention prescient. And because Lynn signed with the Twins, the Cardinals will receive draft-choice compensation.

The Twins won 85 fames in 2017and made the playoffs as a wild card team, losing the American League WC game to the Yankees. Expected to contend again this season, the Twins have skidded off track by losing 10 of their last 11 games and are flailing away at 9-15. Last season Minnesota ranked 19th in the majors with a 4.59 ERA. This year the team’s early ERA of 5.29 ranks 28th.

Before this season, March-April pitching had been a positive experience for  Lynn. As a Cardinal between 2011-2017, Lynn’s 16 wins in April were the most he had of any month during his career. His overall April record through 2017 was superb, with a 16-4 record and 2.84 ERA. And he’d never had an April ERA worse than 3.63.

“Everything that could possibly happen, happened. That kind of seems to be the way things are going right now,” Lynn said after falling to 0-3 and boosting his ERA to 8.37. “I’m looking forward to May, that’s for sure.”

Lynn and the Twins will be at Busch Stadium May 15-16 for a two-game series against the Cardinals.

Lynn turns 31 on May 12.

Let’s peek in on other former Cardinals: 

Albert Pujols: You may have heard that he’s hunting down career hit No. 3,000 and needs only four more to get there… had five homers and 14 RBIs in this, his 7th season with the Angels. Just an amazing career … 2,996 hits … 619 homers … 1,932 RBI … 624 doubles … 1,735 runs scored … .304 average … .385 OBP … .560 slugging pct….  3 National League MVP Awards … 10 All-Star Games … the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year …  2 Gold Gloves … 4 Silver Sluggers … 73 postseason games … 40 postseason wins … made the postseason seven times in 11 seasons in St. Louis, and once for the Angels … three NL pennants and two World Series championships in St. Louis … in 334 postseason plate appearances a .323 average, .431 OBP, .599 slug, 1.030 OPS, 19 homers, 18 doubles, 54 RBIs. Just a great, great player.

Allen Craig: With his success as a big-league hitter derailed after a debilitating foot injury, Craig hasn’t appeared in a major-league game since 2015 but he’s still trying to revive his MLB career. This season he’s playing for for the San Diego Padres’ Triple A affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas. In his first 48 at-bats he’s batting .229 with 16 strikeouts, 2 homers and a .396 slugging percentage. Craig has logged 183 games in the minors since 2015, but the power has never really returned; he has only 8 homers and a .335 slugging percentage in 746 plate appearances. Craig turns 34 years old in July.

Joe Kelly: The RH reliever is a solid piece of the Boston bullpen, pitching 11.2 innings so far this season for a 3.09 ERA, one save, and a six-game suspension for hitting the Yankees’ Tyler Austin with a pitch during Yankee vs. Red Sox hostilities. During his suspension Kelly watched part of one game with fans in the bleachers at Fenway Park.

David Freese: You just saw him in Pittsburgh when the Cardinals were there. Has a .356 OBP and .473 slug with 2 homers for the Pirates.

Shelby Miller: The RH pitcher, now 27, is progressing on his comeback from Tommy John elbow surgery that’s kept him sidelined since last May 10. Miller hasn’t pitched in an MLB game since April 23 of last season, but he threw another live batting practice session Tuesday (his ninth). But Miller has a way to go before he pitches for Arizona in a game.

Jaime Garcia: 2-2 record with a 5.40 ERA for Toronto, and has been cannon-balled for 7 homers in only 26.2 innings.

Zach Duke: the lefty relief specialist has a 5.19 ERA in 11 appearances and 8.2 innings for the Twins.

Miguel Socolovich: Had a shot with Atlanta in early April but was outrighted after two appearances and a 9.00 ERA.

Randal Grichuk: The free-swinging outfielder is batting .106 in 77 plate appearances for Toronto, with a .208 OBP and a very low .227 slugging percentage. Grichuk has struck out 31 percent of the time, and his swing-miss rate of 36.6% is the worst of his career in a season. Grichuk was just placed on the 10-day DL with a strained knee ligament.

Aledmys Diaz: He’s started 23 games at shortstop for Toronto. The good news: Diaz has improved defensively playing shortstop at an average level based on Defensive Runs Saved. Unfortunately, Diaz is off to a low-impact start offensively with a .183 average, .230 OBP, .354 slug. But he does have 4 homers.

Jon Jay: After having a good 2017, season in Chicago (Cubs) the outfielder signed a one-year deal with Kansas City. In 114 plate appearances he’s batting .238 with a decent .325 OBP. Not much power; 21 of his 24 hits are singles.

Sam Freeman: The lefty reliever is in his second season with Atlanta and has a 4.76 ERA in 16 appearances covering 11.1 innings.  But forget the ERA; Freeman has turned into a fine left vs. left asset. This season LH batters are 0 for 13 against him … and since the start of last season LH batters are 18 for 108 against Freeman (.167) with only two doubles and a homer.

Mike Leake: Off to a rough start in Seattle this season; six starts, 6.48 ERA, and punched for 6 homers in 33.1 innings. I don’t know why, but Leake’s groundball rate is only 40 percent this season, and that will continue to be a problem for him. He’s never had a groundball rate lower than 49 percent in a season, and if batters are hitting a lot of fly balls against him, that’s a problem. Which we can see by looking at the .542 slugging percentage against Leake so far in 2018.

Daniel Descalso: A fine player for an excellent Arizona team, Descalso is slugging .443 with 3 homers and 13 RBIs so far. He’s started mostly at third base but has also worked at second base and first.

Marc Rzepczynski: Hey, this lefty is still going too. Now 32, Rzepczynski has a 9.00 ERA for Seattle in 11 appearances and 5 IP. You will recall that “Zep” was acquired from Toronto in the three-team deal that sent outfielder Colby Rasmus to Toronto in July 2011. That trade reinforced the Cards rotation  and bullpen and made it possible to reach the postseason and go on a run to a World Series title.

Edward Mujica: the Cardinals signed him to a minor-league contract before the season, and he isn’t on their 40-man roster. But the team’s one-time closer who saved 41 games and made the NL All-Star team in 2013 is pitching well in relief at Triple A Memphis … 11 innings, 12 strikeouts, 0.82 ERA.

Colby Rasmus: Oh, gee … huge surprise … his comeback isn’t going too well. Baltimore took a chance on Rasmus, who had quit on Tampa Bay in the middle of the 207 season. Why? Baseball was no longer fun. As Rasmus told the Post-Dispatch: “Man, it wasn’t fulfilling me with all the happiness in the world.” So how’s he doing in Baltimore? Rasmus played in eight games for the Orioles; he had two hits in 21 at-bats (.095); he struck out 13 times; he was placed on the DL with a hip flexor on April 7.

Seung-hwan Oh: Another former Cardinal with Toronto, the RH reliever has been solid enough, with a 2.38 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 11.1 innings. His FIP is 4.20, so there could be trouble up ahead.

Matt Adams: The big guy is doing a swell job off the bench for Washington, ripping 3 homers and driving in 10 runs and slugging .500 in 59 plate appearances.

Stephen Piscotty:  After a slow start Piscotty has gotten his bat going for Oakland, batting .311 with a .376 OBP and .446 slug in his last 21 games. He’s finding the gaps with doubles; 7 (plus a homer) in his last 67 at-bats. For the season Piscotty’s slash line is .278 / .345 / .381

Finally …

Where is Pete Kozma? The shortstop who saved the Cards’ 2012 season in more ways than one jturned 30 on April 11 and is playing for Detroit’s Triple A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens… batting .232 with a .628 OPS early on. The Koz appeared in 39 MLB games with the NY Yankees and Texas last season. Kozma’s home run against Detroit last May 21 was his first in the majors since 2013.

I hope you enjoyed the briefing on all of the former Cardinals.

Thanks for reading …

-Bernie

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