Spring Training Storylines: Jordan Lyles


Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

I could spend some time trashing the Colorado Rockies’ trade of Dexter Fowler for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles. Right now, it certainly looks like a bad trade. But that’s in the past, and now all we can do is evaluate the players the Rockies received for Fowler. And guess what: one of those players is Jordan Lyles, and I am going to evaluate him in this post. What is his likely role this season? Will he be in the rotation? Is he a fringe player? How is he doing in spring training? What can we expect?

Spring performance to this point:
Yes, it’s hard to take much from one game. And I advise you not to overreact to Jordan Lyles’s first start of spring training. In his first two innings (again, it’s the smallest of sample sizes), Lyles struggled with his stuff, and ended up giving up two runs (one earned) to go along with three hits in those two innings. It’s important to note that Jordan Lyles has tweaked his delivery. In the past, Lyles had trouble with fastball command, often leaving pitches up in the zone. That, in turn, led to innings that quickly got out of control, and Lyles gave up some big innings over the last three years, which explains his 5+ ERA in each of those three years. Walt Weiss wants Lyles to land his left leg more solidly during his delivery, which should in turn lead to better placement of the fastball. The good sign from the first game is that, again, you can’t take anything from the numbers. Lyles got five ground ball outs and one strikeout, and that is what he will need to do during the season if he wants to succeed in Coors. So as for the important thing that’s bolded, (it must be important if it’s in bold, right?) the answer is: we can’t take much from his first outing, but there were some bad signs (the numbers) and some good ones (the new delivery).

Will he make the rotation?
Right now, the best guess is “no.” Let’s face it: Jordan Lyles doesn’t have the best major league track record. His best single-season ERA is 5.09, and that’s over three seasons, which is a large enough sample size. Lyles definitely has a chance at a rotation spot, if not out of spring training. Manager Walt Weiss likes him, and injuries have already struck in the form of a Jhoulys Chacin shoulder injury. If the Chacin injury is a serious one, the Rockies are left with only three healthy rotation locks: Jorge De La Rosa, Tyler Chatwood, and Brett Anderson. And it’s always a stretch to call Brett Anderson healthy. Opportunity abounds. Juan Nicasio currently has a leg up on the #5 (or #4 if Chacin is seriously hurt) spot in the rotation, but after that there are only question marks.

Franklin Morales is a reliever trying to make the switch to the rotation. Yohan Flande hasn’t ever pitched in the MLB. With that in mind, it’s possible that Jordan Lyles could be right behind Nicasio in the pecking order. In that case, barring an early call-up of Jonathan Gray or Eddie Butler (and I actually think that could happen very early in the season), Lyles could be just an injury away from the rotation. And it might just be that the injury has already happened.

What can we expect?
Throughout his career, Jordan Lyles has done worse than his peripheral numbers. His xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching), at 4.23, is more than a run lower than his ERA in his career. That gives fans a shadow of hope. The change in mechanics also does. Lyles throws 91-94 with solid off speed stuff. He was actually once a top prospect, entering 2011 as Baseball America‘s #42 prospect. He was rushed to the MLB by a struggling Astros team, and already has pitched nearly 400 innings. He is 23 years old. Given the fact that Jordan Lyles was once a top prospect and was once drafted 38th overall, it’s easy to see that he has upside and was the key to the Dexter Fowler trade.

On the other hand, there are plenty of problems. Again, he has a 5+ ERA in each of his three seasons. Granted, the Astros rushed him, but he has not improved at all in the three years. In both the minor leagues and the big leagues, he has struggled to strike hitters out because, while he has fine stuff, he doesn’t have a true strikeout pitch. Those are issues that are hard to ignore, and even if we factor in natural improvement in the age-23 season and his improved mechanics, it wouldn’t be fair to expect better than a 4.50 ERA. That is actually a very valuable ERA for the Colorado Rockies, but unfortunately it is Lyles’s best case scenario this season. The more likely scenario is that Lyles again finishes in the 5s in ERA with the move to Coors offsetting the better mechanics. That isn’t as valuable.

Jordan Lyles is one of the most interesting players on the Rockies because of the expectations that will inevitably be placed on him. He is the guy that the Rockies traded Dexter Fowler for, after all. I think we should just give him some time. Lyles is still young, and I trust that the Rockies can develop him. Based on the mechanics change, they have already started. The realistic expectation is this: Lyles shows a little improvement this year, holds onto a rotation spot, and can be in this same position next year. The reason I can’t ask for any more is that Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler will likely be in the rotation next year. Given that, and the fact that Chatwood and Anderson will also be in the mix (De La Rosa is a free agent), being the 5th starter next year might not be as bad as it seems this year. At least, that’s the hope.