By: Noah Wright
If I told you at the beginning of the 2018-2019 off season that the best signing would be either Lance Lynn, or DJ LeMahieu, and not Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel, etc., would you have believed me? Because I would not have. However we’re nearing the home stretch of the MLB season, and both LeMahieu and Lynn are having career years after entering the winter as free agents. But between the two, which has been the best?
- Lance Lynn:
The Texas Rangers nabbed the righty Lance Lynn on a 3 year, $10 million contract. Lynn was coming off a so-so 2018 year split between the Twins and Yankees. Through 156 and two thirds innings, Lynn had a 4.77 ERA, 1.526 WHIP, and career high 35.4 hard hit %, but his FIP was a healthy 3.84. Lynn did struggle with walks (4.4 BB/9), but he did well keeping the ball in the park (.8 HR/9).
The Rangers took a chance, hoping they could recapture the Lance Lynn the Cardinals had between 2012 and 2015 (3.38 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 1.314 WHIP), and gave Lynn the 3 year deal. The first year of the contract has been more than worth the $10 million. His FIP is a prestein 2.85. Lynn’s strikeout rate has risen to 10.3 per 9 a career high, while keeping his BB/9 to a career low 2.0. For being in such a hitter friendly park, Lynn has given up just 13 long balls. Plus, he has been a workhorse for the Rangers. He has averaged over 6 and a third innings per outing. Lynn has actually seen his pitch speeds increase. Even though Lynn has had Tommy John surgery, his fastball velo sits at 94.6 MPH (career high), his cutter velo sits at 89.1 MPH (career high), and his curveball sits at 81.1 MPH (also a career high). Surprisingly enough, the right hander has an AL pitcher leading 5.3 fWAR.
But not every single one of his stats are Cy Young worthy. His ERA and SIERA are a solid, but not superstar 3.71. His hard hit rate has skyrocketed to 37.7%, while his soft hit rate has plummeted to only 16.5%, a career low by 1.9%.
- DJ LeMahieu:
The NY Yankees picked up LeMahieu on a 2 year, $24 million deal. The former Gold Glove 2B would be entering the year with a handful of questions to answer. How would his bat age? 2018 was a career worst year for DJ. While his slugging % wasn’t a full year career low, his OBP and batting average were. His walk % was the lowest it had been since the 2014 season. Then, how would his bat fare outside of Coors Field. While LeMahieu wasn’t useless outside of Coors, like Charlie Blackmon, he was clearly a whole lot better in Coors. Regardless, the Yankees, who were going to be missing middle infielder Didi Gregorious for most of the first half of the year with Tommy John Surgery, took a shot on DJ. And it has more than paid off.
LeMahieu looks like he could finish in the top 5 of MVP voting. In 442 plate appearances, LeMahieu is leading the league with a .336 BA, while also posting a strong OBP (.383), and slugging % (.531, a career high). His OPS+/wRC+ of 141/140 are both career highs. The right handed batter has slugged 17 home runs, also a career high. Plus, LeMahieu has also seen time at both corner infield positions, along with second base. In total, LeMahieu has racked up 4 DRS (4 at 2B, 1 at 3B, -1 at 1B), while posting a strong .6 dWAR.
But like Lynn, LeMahieu is lacking in some areas. His walk rate, which used to consistently sit in the high-8’s, is a mediocre 7.0%. His base running skills, which used to be an extremely valuable asset to LeMahieu, are now just average. Currently, Fangraphs pins LeMahieu at .3 BSR.
I’m going to give the Yankees the advantage in this race. Sure, Lynn has been fantastic for just $10 million, but not all of his numbers have been ace-like. How the rest of his contract will play out, well we’ll just have to see. However, LeMahieu, there’s a lot less risk. After the 2020 season, the infielder is a free agent.