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Should the Phillies go after Lance Lynn?

On Episode 168 of The Felske Files, host John Stolnis speaks with The Ringer’s Michael Baumann about ways to improve the rotation, with Lance Lynn’s name becoming a focus.

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Chicago Cubs v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

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Earlier this week, I analyzed the trade market for starting pitchers in baseball, and there are definitely some intriguing names out there, some really good young, controllable options. But it’s fair to say that the ones you’d truly want are going to cost you something special. Probably a few things you deem to be too special.

Of course, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs, and the Phillies have a lot of prospects and players under 25 that they could consider moving for the right player. After all, you can’t hang onto all the prospects.

We’ve largely ignored the free agent market, because team officials haven’t appeared to show much interest in any of those arms. Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are the perceived top-tier guys, with Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn seen as mid-tier options, and general manager Matt Klentak has pooh-pooh’d those arms as possibilities in recent weeks. But perhaps we should revisit how we perceive at least one of those pitchers.

On Episode 168 of The Felske Files, The Ringer’s Michael Baumann joined the show and, after a lengthy discussion about the different possibilities on the trade market, the topic switched to Lynn, the former Cardinals hurler who will turn 31 in May (27:25 mark of the podcast).

Baumann said he thought Lynn would be “the bargain of this free agent class,” and looking at the raw numbers, he may be onto something.

First of all, Lynn been remarkably consistent.

He went 11-8 last year with a 3.43 ERA in a league-leading 33 starts, proving to be very durable following a missed 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery. Lynn has never had an ERA higher than 3.97 and has traditionally been a better-than-league average pitcher, posting an ERA+ of 124 last season, with an rWAR of 3.1. That was his third straight season with a WAR higher than 3.

Lynn’s average fastball velocity of 91.8 mph was right in line with how he threw in 2015, so arm strength is not a concern. What is a concern is that, for the first time in his career, he got severely damaged by the home run ball. Lynn gave up 27 taters last year, far and away higher than his previous career high of 14, in 2013. His HR/9 totals exploded to 1.3, up from a 0.8 career mark and, as a result, his FIP ballooned to 4.82 and he posted a DRA of 4.54, both career highs.

Then again, a number of good pitchers saw their numbers suffer because of the home run barrage in baseball last season, Gerrit Cole among them. But Lynn also struck out a career low 19.7% of batters last year, down from 22.2% in 2015, and walked a career high 10.1%, up from 9.1% two seasons prior. But he also held opponents to a batting average of .219, and his WHIP of 1.23 was his lowest since becoming a full-time starter in 2012.

Those are certainly trends that would give one pause. The good news is that Lynn isn’t a guy who needs to pitch at home to be successful. At home last year he posted a 2.95 ERA in 88.1 innings, allowing a .213/.304/.358 slash line against. On the road, his ERA was 3.86 and opponents batted .225/.319/.427.

He’s made two career starts at Citizens Bank Park in his career and lasted 12 innings, giving up four runs on five hits with a 10/6 K/BB ratio. But that’s not enough of a sample size to tell us anything other than he’s avoided getting blitzed in those two starts.

Acquiring Lynn would force the Phillies to give up a third-round draft pick this year, but having already given up a second round pick to sign free agent Carlos Santana, but they would not have to give up any additional international money.

Lynn is not a potential ace of the rotation, whereas guys like Marcus Stroman and Gerrit Cole could be. But would you rather acquire Lynn and give up a couple draft picks (which may not be all that painful with the depth of the Phillies’ farm system and the third-most international dollars in this signing period) or would you rather give up one or two of your very best prospects for Stroman or Cole?

If Lynn can get his homers under control (which may not be easy at Citizens Bank Park, the stadium that gave up the most homers per game in baseball last season), he can be a potential low-end No.2/high-end No. 3 starter. It would likely cost the Phillies a four-year deal, with some kind of option for a fifth year.

For a team that perceives a window may have opened to be wild card contenders in 2018, that might be a deal worth making.