A player, proud of the work he has done over the offseason, will arrive in Spring Training and declare himself to be in the best shape of his life. It's exaggeration for some, false hope for others.
And then there's the case of Lance Lynn.
Lynn landed in Jupiter 40 pounds lighter than he was when he emptied his stall in the Busch Stadium clubhouse last October. Right now, he said, the scale reads 239. That's a number Lynn hasn't checked in at since he was pitching for the Brownsburg (Ind.) High School team.
This look is quite in contrast to one year ago, when Lynn reported to Spring Training at about 260 pounds. He packed on another 20 pounds as the season progressed. That weight became the first factor many then pointed to when Lynn's effectiveness dipped during the second half of the season.
It was at that point that he found himself answering questions about his body composition and how effectively it would allow him to handle the workload of a starting pitcher. Some raced to a cause-and-effect explanation, assuming that the connection between conditioning and fatigue was a real one.
Yet, it wasn't the outside chatter or the coaching staff's recommendations or even how he felt after his late-season starts that initiated the transformation, Lynn said. In fact, he still isn't so sure that there really was such a pointed correlation.
Rather, clarity came through conversation.
Taking the message
One of Chris Carpenter's most critical deliveries in 2012 came while he was still on the disabled list. He had been replaced in the rotation by Lynn back in March and was among many impressed by Lynn's 10-2 start.
Carpenter, though, also had an up-close view of Lynn's second-half decline, one that sharpened beginning in Chicago on July 27. Lynn allowed six runs in five innings that day. He would allow at least four earned runs in three of his next five outings. By late August, the Cardinals had unplugged Lynn from the rotation, believing their chances of winning every fifth day would improve if someone else took the spot.
Lynn was, at times, demonstrative in his disapproval of his new role. Carpenter took the cue and made his entrance.
Carpenter's challenge, as Lynn recalled, went something like this: "He said, 'Just think about the success you've had so far with not even being prepared for what you're doing. If you prepare and if you do the things you're supposed to do, you're going to be even better."
The point resonated with the first-year starter.
"Coming from a guy like that who has seen a lot of guys come and go to sit there and tell me, 'You're going to be good and you're going to be good for a long time and this is how to do it,' you have to listen," Lynn said. "If you don't listen, you're not very smart.
"I left some things on the table last year that I could have done, and I don't want to do that again this year."
Making the changes
Upon returning to his home in Oregon in October, Lynn -- with Carpenter's words still resonating -- began what he now describes as a lifestyle change. The gym work wasn't drastically different, though Lynn did increase his workout days per week from four to six. He added some agility work to the schedule.
But the greater emphasis was on nutrition.
The Cardinals sent a nutritionist to Lynn to help with the process of putting restrictions on a diet that the right-hander had never previously thought much about. Lynn and his wife, Lauren, were instructed on what to cook, how to control portions and what substitutions could be used to improve the health content of a dish.
"As a kid, you just eat whatever you get your hands on," Lynn said. "Now, I have the opportunity to know what I'm putting in my body, to know what's good, what's bad. That's what it's all about -- doing everything you can to make sure your body's running on everything it needs to run on to be successful."
For one, that meant ceasing the pizza and wings orders for each football Saturday and Sunday.
"I was steering clear of those things," Lynn said. "It wasn't that hard at all. I actually enjoyed it. It makes it a little easier to eat. For us, it's not just a one-time thing. It's something that we plan on doing the rest of our lives."
One thing Lynn never did, though, was step on a scale. Dropping pounds was never the intention. Getting healthy was the goal. That's why Lynn said he was somewhat taken aback by all the attention he's garnered with his leaner look this spring. In his eyes, he doesn't look all that different.
But to others, the transformation is startling.
"I think Lance Lynn did himself a huge favor," manager Mike Matheny said. "We saw last year how he'd get tired at the end. But more importantly than that, when your body starts to lend itself to weakness, you're going to break down. We're very, very proud of him. This guy took another step forward in the development and maturing process for his career."
Feeling the effects
As strong a first impression as Lynn has given in 2013, he'll obviously still be scrutinized by results. Whereas drastic weight loss cost Shelby Miller strength last spring, the Cardinals seem unconcerned about the potential for Lynn to run into the same roadblock.
Matheny has maintained, though, that while Lynn is on the fast track for a rotation spot, he still has to earn the opportunity to begin the year in that role. Lynn conveyed a somewhat differing perspective on the rotation competition.
"The way I approach it is it's my spot," Lynn said. "That's just the way it is. It's my spot to lose. I was an 18-game winner last year with an All-Star appearance. I have to do a lot of things to lose a spot, in my opinion."
Lynn, 25, does have the benefit of arriving in camp with a clear understanding of how he'll prepare. At this time last year, he anticipated opening the season as a late-inning reliever. Those plans changed after it was determined that Carpenter would not be healthy at the start of the season.
As Lynn looks to build on his 2012 season, he finds a bar that is already pretty high. Not only did he win 18 games, but the Cardinals won 73 percent of his starts. In his 179 innings, Lynn struck out 180.
It's a strong foundation, one now supplemented with a stronger physique.
"You look at the wear and tear a pitcher puts on his body and with where he was to end the season last year," general manager John Mozeliak said. "I think this is just ultimately going to help him as far as endurance and being able to go the long haul."