Jordan Lyles: Astros Ace?

Ed Zurga

Astros starter Jordan Lyles struggled in his first few seasons in the big leagues. He seems to have figured things out in 2013. Read why.

Jordan Lyles was once a top pitching prospect, ranking as high as #42 on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects for 2011. He made his major league debut in 2011, making 15 starts and going 2-8 with a 5.36 ERA, 4.53 FIP, a 1.41 WHIP and a 6.49 strikeouts per nine. He had trouble with the long ball, as he gave 14 in 94 innings pitched. He kept the ball on the ground at a 41% rate, but he struggled like any 20 year old pitching prospect would. lasting more than 6 innings just four times that season. One positive to take away from his first season in the big leagues was his ability to limit his walk rate to 2.49 walks per nine. He was probably picked up once he was called up, but dropped after a few starts.

He started the 2012 season in AAA, lasting just 7 starts before getting the call up for good in mid-May. After his call up, he made 25 starts, going 5-12 with a 5.09 ERA, 4.53 FIP (again), a 1.42 WHIP, a 6.30 strikeouts per nine, and a 2.67 BB/9 (up from 2.49 in 2011). Like 2011, Lyles struggled with the long ball, giving up 20 in 141.1 innings of work, but showed that he could keep the ball on the ground on an increasing rate. His ground ball rate jumped from 41% to 53% in 2012, which was a step in the right direction. One could say he was unlucky in 2012, as his strand rate was an extremely low 61.2%, where the major league average is around 70-71%. He lasted more than six innings in 9 of his 25 starts, including a complete game shutout of the Brewers in his last start of the season, where he gave up just 7 base runner while striking out 3. He finished the last month of the season with a 3.58 ERA in five September starts.

Was September a turning point for Lyles?

It appears it may have been, even though it was a small sample size, and was accomplished vs the expanded rosters in September. Thus far in 2013, Lyle is 3-1 with a 3.48 ERA, 3.78 FIP, a lower 1.32 WHIP, an improved 7.14 strikeouts per nine, and a slightly higher 2.79 walks per nine. He has limited the long ball, as his HR/9 has dropped from 1.27 HR/9 in 2012 to 0.87 HR/9 this season. He has also kept the ball on the ground at a 51.3% clip, which ranks 24th amongst starters with 50 or more innings pitched.

If you've never heard of Bret Sayre's, former baseball writer here at Fake Teams, Holy Trinity for pitchers, here is a refresher:

If you’ve read my stuff across various outlets or follow me on Twitter, you’ve certainly heard me talk about the holy trinity as it relates to pitching. If a pitcher can get strikeouts, limit walks and induce ground balls at above average rates, he can limit his downside risk and pitch deeper into games. The barriers to entry I use are a 7.0 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and 50% GB rate.

Lyles is close to joining the Holy Trinity for pitchers, which is a good thing. And if you take out his May 12th start vs the Rangers, where he gave up 8 runs on 11 hits and 3 walks in just 4 innings, here is what his season stats would look like:

3-0, 1.72 ERA, 1.15 WHIP

Pretty impressive, huh? Here is a breakdown of his starts this season, courtesy of the game log feature over at FanGraphs:

Opp

IP

TBF

H

R

ER

HR

BB

SO

@SEA

7

27

3

0

0

0

2

10

@KCR

7

28

6

2

2

1

1

3

@LAA

5.2

25

6

2

2

1

1

5

COL

7

27

6

1

1

0

3

3

KCR

6

24

6

1

1

0

1

3

@PIT

5

22

4

2

1

1

2

4

TEX

4

26

11

8

8

1

3

1

LAA

5

22

4

3

3

1

2

6

DET

5

22

6

2

2

0

1

6

51.2

223

52

21

20

5

16

41

As you can see from his game log above, he has given up three runs or less in eight of his nine starts this season, and has given up two runs or less in seven of those nine starts. The only change in pitch type for Lyles this season is that he is throwing less fast balls (36% vs 43%) and more two seam fastballs (25% vs 17%).

What amazes me is that he is owned in 14% of CBS leagues and just 2.8% of ESPN leagues. Maybe owners fear that he will turn back into the pitcher he was in 2011-2012, or don't want to own him because he plays for the worst team in baseball. Listen, wins are not predictable, so you may not get many wins from him this season. But, if he can continue to keep the ball on the ground, strike out 7+ batters per nine innings, and limit his walks and the long ball, he is a valuable pitcher, even if you just want to stash him to stream him against AL West opponents.

I recently grabbed him in several leagues including the Tout Wars mixed league. I think you should pick him up if you need a starter who won't kill your ERA and WHIP this season. He appears to have finally reached his potential, and now is the time to benefit from it while the other owners in your league are asleep at the switch.

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