If not for the two outfielders who will find themselves ranked 27 and 26 to complete this week, this may as well have been the week of 27-year-old, back-end starter types. Today it’s all about right-hander Jordan Lyles. Not only are Colin Rea, Robbie Erlin, and Jordan Lyles all the same age, but they have all failed to live up to their draft position, although that may be slightly less true for Rea than the other two. Anyway, that’s enough about Rea and Erlin. Let’s focus in on Lyles, who was drafted out of high school ten years ago in the supplemental first round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros. Since that time, Lyles has failed to live up to the potential that has seemingly always been there.
It seems like Lyles has never really clicked on the mound. There have always been flashes of brilliance, but Lyles has yet to put it all together during any significant time period. After being drafted, Lyles started in 13 games and threw 49 and two-thirds innings for the Astros’ rookie ball affiliate. Despite an ERA that wasn’t sensational (3.99), Lyles did a lot of things well, as evidenced by his 64:10 strikeout to walk ratio. Lyles’ biggest problem came with a slightly elevated BABIP and a HR/FB rate that was a little too high. Lyles also got two starts and five and two-thirds innings in short-season ball, but that’s not worth mentioning in-depth given the small sample size.
Lyles actually ended up skipping short season ball entirely, spending the entirety of his first full professional season in Low-A. All told, Lyles threw 144 and two-thirds innings, striking out 167 batters to just 38 walks. Once again, Lyles found plenty of success with getting lots of strikeouts. Despite his BABIP running even higher, as evidenced by the gap between his ERA and FIP (3.24 to 2.70), Lyles was able to make some meaningful cuts to his home run rate. To kick off 2010, Lyles skipped High-A entirely, finding himself in Double-A for much of the season. In 127 Double-A innings, Lyles took a slight step back, with his strikeout rate falling to just 21 percent from 27 percent the previous year. However, Lyles’ walk rate remained consistent and his overall ERA/FIP were also still in the low threes.
Lyles finished the year with six starts in Triple-A, not finding the same success he did in Double-A (5.40 ERA and 14 percent strikeout rate), although it was a small sample. Lyles began the 2011 season in Triple-A before earning himself a big league promotion. Not only did Lyles throw 62 and a third Triple-A innings, with a 3.61 ERA, but he also threw just shy of 100 big league innings, although he did not find the same success. Looking back at his 2011 big league debut, it’s clear where the problems arose for Lyles. Not only did his Triple-A strikeout rate decline continue, Lyles’ HR/FB rate climbed to the highest rate of his career. Despite throwing just 94 innings, Lyles gave up a whopping 14 home runs. Even with similar numbers across the board, those home runs really slowed Lyles’ progress in 2011.
Lyles found the same problems in 2012, with 20 home runs in 141 and a third big league innings. His strikeout and walk rates were about the same, while his FIP was identical in 2011 and 2012. Lyles threw 141 and two-thirds more big league innings with the Astros in 2013 with the same problems. Although Lyles did cut down on the home runs slightly, from 20 home runs to 17, his strikeout rate also fell to just 14.5 percent while his walk rate reached the highest point of his career at 7.6 percent.
The 2013 season ended up being Lyles last in Houston, as the then-23-year-old was traded to the Colorado Rockies for Dexter Fowler. Despite going to easily the worst pitcher’s park in all of baseball, Lyles found the most big league success of his career in 2014. Altogether, Lyles threw 126 and two-thirds innings with a 4.33 ERA – definitely not great, but with Coors Field as his home park, this marked a giant step forward for Lyles.
Just when things looked like they were turning around, Lyles career took another turn after a toe injury held him to just 10 starts in 2015. When he was on the hill in 2015, Lyles took a step back, as his strikeout rate fell further while his walk rate rose. Interestingly enough, home runs weren’t a problem for Lyles in 2015, although his ERA still climbed over 5.00 for the year. Lyles ended up being used mostly as a reliever in 2016 after operating as a starter in his first five appearances. Lyles wasn’t much better for the Rockies as a reliever, putting up a 4.42 ERA in 38 and two-thirds innings. Most alarmingly, Lyles’ strikeout rate didn’t play up despite being used in a relief role exclusively.
Going into 2017, it was pretty clear that Lyles was a bit of an odd man out in Colorado. Lyles was once again used almost exclusively as a reliever, with an ERA in the sixes. After such a disastrous start to his season, Lyles was designated for assignment in August. At this time, Lyles signed a minor league contract with San Diego, where he finished the season with five starts with an ERA over 9.00 in those starts. Surprisingly, Lyles was re-signed by the Padres on a one-year major league contract for 750K.
Lyles maintained a pretty similar pitch repertoire in 2017, with nearly 60 percent fastballs, just shy of 20 percent sliders, 20 percent curveballs, with a few changeups thrown in as well. While both his fastball and slider can sit in the low-to-mid 90s, both his curveball and changeup sit mid-80s. Despite being his best pitch in his first few years in Colorado, Lyles’ slider continued to give him trouble in 2017 in San Diego.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
To be frank, I don’t expect anything from Lyles in 2018. With that being said, it’s clear the Padres see something in the right-hander. Maybe with a full season under Darren Balsley, Lyles can put it together and finally reach his potential that has been talked about all these years. If Lyles does make the rotation, it’s likely he’s nothing more than a league average-ish, back-end starter. Long-term, Lyles will probably end up elsewhere, either in a trade if he performs, or somewhere else via attrition if he doesn’t work out. Lyles will never be a dominating, strikeout pitcher, but maybe he can do enough to find some more sustained big league success. Either way, Lyles is yet another short-term filler destined to eat some big league innings in 2018.