2014 Rockies Player Season Review – Jordan Lyles

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The Dexter Fowler trade earned the Rockies so much grief last year. Dexter was an on-base machine, the most important stat to be had for a lead-off hitter. He patrolled the expanse of Coors without issue. He was young and still had 2 years of team control. If you are going to trade him you have to get a lot back. And in the view of almost everyone out there, the Rox got nothing back for him.


Clearly that wasn’t the view of Dan O’Dowd. He wanted a young pitcher with significant upside, who threw ground balls, and who was cheap because of failure early in his career. Oh, and he needed to get back at least one back-up outfielder who had big league experience. And what was more, they had to make the deal quick so they could lock in the budget and go after Justin Morneau. And the Rox made the deal for former supplementary #1 Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes (reviewed earlier). Lyles had been a top 25 or so prospect in ever review in 2011 and 2012, with a rating of B+ (which is very good) and a profile as a Brad Radke or Jon Lieber level pitcher. Those two names don’t jump off the page but Lieber won 20 games for the Cubs in 2011 and won 10 or more games 6 times and had a sub-4 ERA during the heart of the offense era 4X. Radke won 10 or more 10 seasons (out of 12) and 9 games those other 2 seasons. Radke also had 4 season with sub 4 ERAs again during the heart of the offense era, while pitching at the Homer Dome it should be noted. So if Lyles does end up being like these two guys, the Rox will be quite happy.


Lyles career hasn’t started very well, playing for the worst team in baseball in 2011, 2012, 2013 all while pitching in the 2nd or 3rd most offensive park in baseball (depending on the year). His ERA the first 3 years of partial season pitching are 5.36, 5.09, and 5.59. No wonder his prospect status has disappeared. But Lyles would pitch in 2014 at age 23 (he made his rookie debut at just 20, only 3 years after being drafted. His development in the minors was really rushed because the Astros simply didn’t have arms and like the Rockies of old, traded long-term potential for immediate need. Lyles might be the only pitcher who looked at being traded to the Rockies as a move positive for his career. After all, he at least would have 3 Gold Glove defenders in the infield (now 4), which for a sinker ball pitcher is a nice thing. The big issue for Lyles in 2014 was controlling his sinking fastball which other sinker ball pitchers such as Aaron Cook and Brandon Webb have raved about, though pointing out it moves a bit too much still at this stage. And the Rox planned to take the long-term approach by having Lyles start in AAA and learn that control. Afterall, the sinker hadnt really been the issue, walks had been. But as we all know now, the implosion of the rotation before the team left Arizona meant development was going to take place at Coors, which would challenge the young man to get better against the best.


And surprise – he was great for the first two months. Aside for a so-so first start and a disaster of a game against San Diego at Coors when he walked 6 in 3.1 innings, his first 10 starts were #1 or #2 starter quality. His opening start was great for 5 innings (1 run, 4 hits) but was undone by his first 3 batters of the 6th (HBP/HR/BB), which elevated his stat line. At the end of his 11th start (end of May0 his stat line was:


5-1, 3.45 ERA – 7 games at least 6 innings


That is more than the team could have hoped for when they made the trade, and if the season ended in May, he would have gotten some Cy Young votes. But then June 4th he against the Dbacks covering home after a wild pitch Martin Prado would slide into his glove hand and break it. Lyles said it hurt badly even right then, but he didn’t want to come out, especially as the first inning had gone badly (3 runs on 3 hits and 1 error and his wild pitch). He pitched the 2nd and 3rd innings, giving up three hits and 1 run over those 2 innings. In the 4th, with the pain increasingly significantly, he had another 1-2-3 innings, including a strikeout, but knew he was done. The Rockies, 28-31 at that point (thanks to losing the previous 5 games before his start, which the team would lose) needed Jordan Lyles. As much as the broken finger injury to Nolan Arenado hurt the team – which explained the losing streak – Lyles injury would really signify the bottom dropping out. Their best pitcher, 5-2 with a 3.52 even after that game, was gone for two months.


When Lyles came back Tulo was gone. CarGo was gone. The defense was hurting. The team was mired in finding ways to lose. And Lyles had lost his pitching mechanics. Over the next two months he would make another 10 starts, going 6 innings in 7 of them (though only a high of 6.1 innings amongst those starts after 7 and 8 inning starts before the injury), and giving up at least 3 runs in 7 of them. He did also have 3 games of 2 runs (over 5.1) 1 run (6 innings of 3 hit, 2 walk baseball) and 2 runs (6 innings of 9 hit but 0 walk baseball). Lyles wasn’t the dominating force he was early in the season, but here is where stats can be deceiving. Yes, his ERA went from 3.46 before the start where he injured his hand to 4.33 at the end of the season, but if you use the MLB definition of a quality start – 6 innings of 3 run or less baseball, he still had 4 quality starts after returning. He wasn’t great in August and September, but he wasn’t awful. In 22 starts he gave up more than 3 runs in only 7 of them. He went at least 6 innings in 13 starts. And he did go 7-4 overall (the team was 10-12 in his starts, but that is a far better % than the overall record).


Was Lyles great in 2014? No. But he was great for a while, pretty good for another stretch, and at least average for most of the rest of the season. He was better I believe than the team imagined in 2014 (they certainly imagined him being very good in the future, but he reached expectations earlier I believe than anticipated).


Sinkerball pitchers are going to get a lot of ground balls, which isn’t always a good thing since more groundballs are hits than fly balls, though usually for fewer bases. Lyles, who is not a big strikeout pitcher (though his movement is good enough to get them when needed and he did have an 8 K game and 9 games with at least 5Ks), and with all that movement walks will always be an issue. This means that his WHIP will be higher than other types of pitchers, and we see this in that his WHIP before the injury was 1.304, in part due to a .285 BABIP (relatively high for a good pitcher). But in the second half that WHIP went up to 1.439, thanks to a very bad luck .313 BABIP. Still, there are positive to look at in each of his splits:


Home 10 starts 5-1 4.81 ERA 1.466 WHIP 1.76 K/BB .312 BABIP 5.2 inn/start
Road 12 starts 2-3 3.93 ERA 1.282 WHIP 2.12 K/BB .285 BABIP 5.2 inn/start
1st Half 12 starts 5-1 3.52 ERA 1.304 WHIP 1.88 K/BB .285 BABIP 5.2 inn/start
2nd Half 10 starts 2-3 5.31 ERA 1.439 WHIP 2.05 K/BB .313 BABIP 5.2 inn/start


A few thoughts:

  1. Is it possible for a guy who gets 51% of his pitches to be ground balls to allow a .312 BABIP with Tulo, Arenado, Morneau and DJ?       Assuming health his BABIP at home should come down in 2015, and with that his ERA and WHIP.
  2. Lyles though already learned the lesson that few other than De La Rosa have learned – at home the key is to pitch better than the other guy, even if that means you give up 3 or 4 runs in 6 innings. To win 50% of his home starts is pretty impressive.
  3. On the road Lyles pitched pretty well, and this was in part to better control and more Ks. If the Rockies score any runs on the road in 2015, Lyles has a chance to win around 8 games or more on the road if he repeats the performance.
  4. The 2nd half numbers are bad yes, but he never looked quite right with his slider (which as good as his sinking fastball is, his slider is his better pitch). He also had bad luck (.313 BABIP), and increased his K/BB rate.
  5. And as discussed above, those games were not as bad as the record shows, with a few bad outings killing the stats.


A few other highlights from 2014, stats wise:

  1. Despite the high BABIP we see at home, on balls hit in the infield he allowed a .063 batting average, 13 hits on 206 at bats. Wow!
  2. On the other hand he was killed on balls in the air – .603 BA and an OPS of 1.578 with 12 homers allowed in just 22 starts. As great as the infield defense is for the Rockies, the outfield defense in 2014 stunk – bad CarGo, Cuddy the statue, Dickerson poor routes, and some adventures from Blackmon, Stubbs and Barnes. I think 2015 will be a lot better, but he has to allow a lot less hard contact (.567 BABIP) to be truly successful.
  3. Lyles needs regular outings to keep his control on. As a young guy he doesn’t need the extra days off. His performance on the regular 4 days was pretty amazing for a guy who pitches half his days at Coors – 5-1, 3.03 ERA 1.219 WHIP, vs 4.04 ERA on 5 days and 7.53 on 6+ days.
  4. One of the big keys for young pitchers is performance consistently regardless of the outs. With 0 and 2 outs in the inning his performance was solid – .250 BA .697 OPS 3.00 K/BB with 0 outs and .216 BA and .696 OPS with a 1.75 K/BB (improvement needed) with 2 outs. But it is after he gets that 1st out he struggled in 2014 .314 BA .850 OPS and 1.67 K/BB. A healthy team and a better catcher may help with this, plus he will be 24.
  5. Lyles is not a power pitcher, and he should struggle against lefties. But he did relatively okay against them. Vs righties he had a .235 BA .654 OPS 3.40 K/BB. Vs lefties a .289 BA .844 OPS with only a 1.26 K/BB. Those aren’t awful numbers but is an area where is he can get even 20% better he will become a better pitcher than many imagined.


Oh, and Dexter’s WAR in 2014 – 1.4. Lyles? 1.6 in only 22 starts. I think the Rox won that one (and it looks like Dex’s stay in Houston will soon end.


2014 Grade:


H: I find it hard to give Lyles anything less than a B+ at home. The only reason I down grade him is the 5.2 inn/start. Lyles was in his 10 home starts all the Dan O’Dowd could home for when he made the trade.

R: His road numbers are harder to grade. His ERA was solid, and all the peripheral numbers were as well. While the record wasn’t good, this team was 1962 Mets bad on the road, so you can’t hold that against him. So a solid B on the road.


Overall Grade – B: I was tempted to give him a B+, but a B makes more sense with the overall numbers. He was tremendously valuable to this team, and for part of the season was the ace, part of the season he was on the shelf, and part of the season he was a 5th starter. Up and Down, but a solid B.


2015 Projections:


I haven’t heard anything about how Lyles is doing this offseason, but having just settled his arbitration case for a nice $2.48 million, life in the Lyles home should be much easier. Having broken through finally with success, I see a full season of 32 starts. If he makes the adjustments against lefties, can avoid a few more walks and hard hit balls, there is no reason he cannot go 13-8, 3.87 ERA. If those don’t happen, he should still give them 180 innings and a record of around 9-9, with a 4.35 ERA. If the Rox are to contend, they need Lyles to make the next step in his development. I would bet he does it.

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