Somewhat overshadowed by the signing of Corey Kluber this offseason, is Jordan Lyles a player ready to have a major impact for the Texas Rangers?
For most, the signing of Jordan Lyles remains what it appears on the surface, a depth rotation piece that literally cannot be worse than what the Texas Rangers got out of their rotation (minus Lance Lynn and Mike Minor) last season. Originally assumed to be the fourth starter in the rotation behind Kyle Gibson and the aforementioned combo of Minor and Lynn, Lyles looked like a strong acquisition compared to the rest of the league’s fourth starters. Once Corey Kluber was acquired via trade though, Jordan Lyles went from a strong fourth starter, to one of the better “fifth” starters in the league with the potential to produce well above expectations.
The 29-year old has had an interesting climb through the majors. Originally a first round pick of the Astros in 2008, Lyles is entering his 10th season as a big league pitcher. Texas represents his sixth team in that span after work with Houston, Colorado, San Diego, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. If you look at his numbers at each of those stops they are relatively unimpressive. His resume is scattered with 5.00-plus ERAs and strikeout rates under, and sometimes well under, the one per inning mark. However, his time in Milwaukee remains not just an outlier, but one so far from the norm the graph had to be extended.
Lyles has made a pair of stops in Milwaukee, first in 2018 where he made 11 appearances all in relief, and then again in the second half of last season where his 11 starts with the Brewers were the best stretch of his career. He posted a 2.45 ERA and a WHIP of 1.108. His strikeout rate was a solid 8.6 per nine innings (identical to Mike Minor’s from 2019) and his 182 ERA+ was among the best in baseball during that period. That brings to light the question, what prompted that breakout. A lot of the praise can be given to Milwaukee as an organization and catcher Yasmani Grandal who both played a part in adjusting Lyles repertoire. Grandal is known as a stout defensive catcher which no doubt played a role in benefitting his numbers as well.
The Texas Rangers are hoping to carry over that change in pitch usage to the 2020 season. A higher reliance on his four-seam fastball has benefitted him. And while the Rangers aren’t bringing Grandal with Lyles, they do have a known defensive catching commodity in Jeff Mathis who has been credited a number of times for impacting pitchers revitalizing their careers including Mike Minor and Lance Lynn.
Considering Lyles is on just a two-year, $16 million deal, the bar for being considered a good deal is low. But if Lyles can pitch somewhere near his ability with Milwaukee, he becomes a steal, something the Rangers have prided themselves on finding in recent years. Steamer and ZiPS projections’ both expect him to have an ERA north of 5.00 with the Rangers in 2020 and posting a WAR in the 1.2-1.4 range which would be fairly par for a fifth starter. If he can bump his up around 2.0 or higher though, he’ll be one of the better fifth starters in baseball and will contribute heavily to a rotation that many consider to be among the best in baseball.