Better Fit for the Seattle Mariners: Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb?

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 31: Alex Cobb
HOUSTON, TX - JULY 31: Alex Cobb /

The absolute transaction blackout drags on for another day, and Mariners fans are becoming a bit restless. The Mariners still need to add at least 1 starter, and have not been linked to top starters Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta.

However, Seattle has been roughly linked to starters Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb. Today, on MLB Tonight, Jon Morosi reported the Mariners are at least ” willing to entertain the idea of Cobb or Lynn.” He also added the may prefer Lynn, because he is “more durable” than Cobb. You can hear his full remarks by clicking here.

Not exactly a hard link to either arm, but it does raise an interesting question. Which pitcher is the better fit for the Seattle Mariners? Before we answer that, we must first know what GM Jerry Dipoto typically looks for in a starting pitcher.

Obviously, there is no where else to start but the mantra, “control the zone”. What does this mean? How do you measure it? For our purposes, we will define it with strikeouts, walks, and throwing strikes.

The easiest way to compare these measurements is to look at the K/BB rate. Typically, a Jerry Dipoto starter averages 8 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) with a 3 or less BB/9. Cobb has not posted a 8 k/9 since 2014. However, he did miss all of 2015 and most of 2016 to injury. In 2017, Cobb posted a below average 6.42 K/9. His career average is 7.33.

Meanwhile, Lynn’s career line is a 8.46 K/9 ratio. However, in 2017, that number plummeted to 7.39. Interestingly, both pitchers passed the magic 8 K/9 mark before their injury. However, Lynn has historically been a better strike out pitcher than Cobb. The edge goes to Lynn.

Next, we will look at the walk rate. Here, Cobb blows Lynn out of the water. Posting a paltry 2.21 BB/9 in 2017, Cobb sits at a meager 2.61 walks per 9 innings throughout his career. Meanwhile, Lynn posted a 3.77 BB/9 in 2017, and has a career 3.40 BB/9 rate. Advantage Cobb.

So if Lynn strikes out more hitter, but Cobb walks fewer men, who gets the edge in the control the zone category? Looking solely at the 2017 numbers, the edge goes to Cobb, posting a 2.91 K:BB ratio, compared to Lynn’s 1.96 K:BB rate.

However, if you zoom out and look at the career totals, the numbers show a much closer race. Cobb’s career K:BB ratio is a rock solid 2.79. Lynn’s career K:BB rate is 2.49. In the control the zone battle, the 2 are close, but I would give the slight edge to Cobb.

Our next category might be the most important after what Mariners fans were subjected to watch. I am, of course, referring to durability. The Mariners have 1 “durable” starter named Mike Leake.

Now, both pitchers are currently 30 years old. Lynn will pitch most of 2018 as a 31-year-old, while Cobb will pitch the entire 2018 at 30. Both starters also made their debut in 2011, not becoming full-time Major Leaguers until 2012.

Since then, Lynn has started 29 or more games 5 of the past 6 seasons. Lynn missed the entire 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but has been much more durable than Cobb. Making a career high 29 starts in 2017, Cobb missed the entire 2015 season to Tommy John surgery, and missed most of 2016 as well, recovering from his surgery.

There really are no two ways about it, Lynn has a clear edge in the durability category.

The final categories are miscellaneous factors. For example, both pitchers were extended qualifying offers. They will both cost the Mariners draft pick compensation, likely a 3rd round pick.

Both Cobb and Lynn struggled with giving up the home run ball in 2017, Lynn posting a 14.2% HR rate and Cobb posting a 13% HR rate. However, Lynn has a better track record of avoiding the home run in his career, a full 3% better than Cobb.

While Lynn gives up fewer home runs, Cobb is much better at producing ground balls in his career than Lynn. Cobb has a career 54% GB rate to Lynn’s 44.3%. Lynn’s ground ball rate is actually quite good, but Cobb’s is elite.

As annoying as it is, both pitchers are likely looking a similar contracts, although Lynn’s durability might land him a slightly better deal than Cobb. What this decision ultimately comes down to is personal preference.

Do you prefer the ground ball pitcher, with the master control and average ability to miss bats but a long history of injuries? Mariners fans may have gotten a preview to how this would play in Seattle after the acquisition of Mike Leake in late August.

Or perhaps you prefer the strikeout pitcher with less control who is durable but post unspectacular numbers? Lynn is not fantastic, but does provide some #2 upside and should give the Mariners a different profile from Paxton and Leake.

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Any way you look at things, the Mariners need to add impact starters to its staff if the want to compete in 2018. Whether it is Cobb, Lynn, or an unknown arm, the need is obvious, and it isn’t going anywhere.