Lynch working on simple things this spring

Royals left-hander keeping open mind in looking to refine his best pitches

February 19th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When creating his plan for the offseason, Royals starter Daniel Lynch kept coming back to the disconnect he kept feeling between his bullpen sessions, when he was able to spot the ball where he wanted to, and his starts last year, where he didn’t always have the pinpoint command he was striving to have.

“Last year was really good at times and really bad at times,” Lynch said of his 2022 season, when he posted a 5.13 ERA across 27 starts and 131 2/3 innings. “And I was just like, ‘There’s obviously an answer to this.’

“I didn’t want to make a wholesale change, I wanted to do something simple and small that could help me.”

What Lynch landed on was a movement assessment, which tested the mobility and functionality of different parts of his body. The results told Lynch what his strengths are and what his weaknesses are -- “correctives” he could focus on improving.

Lynch used what he learned to help guide his training, especially when refining his delivery.

“My external hip rotation is really good, but I wasn’t necessarily getting into it,” Lynch said. “I was getting quad dominant rather than hinging. That’s just essentially storing up energy. And then being long-limbed, my arm would be a little bit late at top speed.

“I came into the offseason saying, ‘The thing I need to do is execute pitches better. My stuff is good enough.' So allowing my lower half to work so that my arm can be on time was a major point of emphasis. I can feel when they’re connected.”

The assessment, which was done outside the organization but supported by the Royals, gave Lynch simple things to work on rather than complicating his entire offseason trying to fix everything. Simplifying was the goal -- not big changes.

“I tend to want to complicate things as much as I can,” Lynch said. “Knowing my personality, if I don’t have a specific thing, I don’t have the capability of not trying everything.”

In other words, Lynch let baseball be simple while he got into the complexities of other things in his life, like playing guitar, surfing on vacation and reading. One example: Lynch read Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” this offseason, an 800-page novel.

“I got so wrapped up for a while, like when baseball wasn’t going well, I didn’t care about anything else,” Lynch said. “I thought that’s what I had to do to be good. Caring about other things and trusting that baseball is going to be fine helps me way more.”

This spring, Lynch is back to work as he heads toward his third big league season. He has two focuses: Differentiating his curveball and slider and hitting his targets with the slider. Lynch utilized his curveball some last year, but not enough as he would like, throwing it just 5.1% of the time. It also got hammered; hitters batted .471 against the pitch with an average exit velocity of 95.1 mph.

A better curveball -- one with true depth so hitters have to protect the bottom of the zone -- paired with a fastball at the top of the zone, his biting slider and his changeup would give Lynch a better repertoire.

Every time Lynch throws, he explores different cues to better help his curveball shape. During Friday’s bullpen session, his cue came from his middle finger and keeping it on the ball longer, which helped the spin.

“When we were looking at the data, that cue gave him more efficiency in the breaking ball,” pitching coach Brian Sweeney said. “And he threw it for strikes.”

Lynch’s slider is his best pitch, and he’s working on tightening the shape this spring. But the bigger focus is throwing it to its target zones to help the command.

“No matter if it’s a little shorter or a little bit bigger, if he gets it to his target zones, it’s a good pitch,” Sweeney said. “Reinforcing that you don’t have to have this big movement. Your movement, what you produce from your body, is good enough when you hit it right here. That’s a focus on his slider.”

As much as Lynch is simplifying things this year, he’s open to the cues and research the Royals’ new pitching team brings him.

“He’s been working really hard to refine his pitch shapes and asking a ton of questions,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “Overall, there’s the same sentiment that a lot of the guys’ voice: I want to be better. There’s going to be improvements in command, pitch shape, all those things. And hopefully all of it leads to effectiveness.”