The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 71-80
NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 72 LANCE LYNN
One of just two players ever named the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year, Chris Carpenter made a career out of making valiant returns. He did it again in 2012, returning in September from surgery on a nerve in his neck to shut out the Washington Nationals in Game 3 of the divisional playoff series and beat the San Francisco Giants, 2-1, in the the NLCS.
But during the regular season, it was up to second-year right-hander Lance Lynn to hold down Carpenter’s spot in the Cardinals’ rotation. All he did with the opportunity was post a team-best 18 wins and start the All-Star Game. Only Kyle Lohse was better than his 3.78 ERA and only Adam Wainwright struck out more than his 180 batters.
Nevertheless, Lynn understood that his spot in the rotation the following season was not guaranteed, even though Carpenter’s next start, a Game 6 loss to the Giants, proved to be his last.
Rookies Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller emerged as competition. Plus, Lynn saw some decline in the second half of 2012. He had cruised into the break at 11-4 with a 3.41 ERA, but while he still won seven of 10 second-half decisions, his ERA ballooned to 4.32 and his strikeout rate fell by nearly a third.
Lynn blamed the fade on some excess weight, which the Cardinals listed generously at 250 pounds. He never copped to exactly how much he lost, but when he showed up at spring training in 2013, Wainwright was heard to comment “Where’s your other half?”
A leaner Lynn won that rotation spot and didn’t give it up for five years, save for 2016, which he used to rehab from Tommy John surgery. Without the brand name, he was as consistent a starting pitcher as there was in baseball. Lynn won 15 games in 2013 and again in 2014, when he posted a career-low 2.74 ERA in a career-high 203 innings.
Even after the year lost to Tommy John, he made a Carpenter-like rebound by leading the league in starts. Lynn finished 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA just in time to try the free agent market.
Fans generally favored Lynn’s return to the Cardinals even over other free agents like Jake Arrieta. But Lynn bristled that the team didn’t try to negotiate an extension prior to the end of the year, then turned down a $17.4 million qualifying offer. With a .605 winning percentage and still just 30 years old, the Cardinals let him walk.
Lynn’s free agency lingered into spring training before the Minnesota Twins took him on for a one-year deal. He struggled in the American League initially, but rediscovered his control once traded to the New York Yankees at the deadline. His two September wins and a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than 4-to-1 re-established his value. The Texas Rangers snagged him with a three-year contract.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 2011-2017
72-47 (.605) with Cardinals | 3.38 ERA | All-Star | 14.7 WAR
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.55