Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jordan Lyles Pitching Profile Update

I'm setting out ot do a proper profile on Jordan Lyles, who now has 17 starts under his belt and, until Thursday, was leading the minors in strikeouts. Looking at all of his innings, batter-by batter, I came up with four main points that have defined his season. Before we close out, I'll also discuss how Astros GM Ed Wade historically has handled high-school pitchers.

First off, here's a refresher on Lyles' bio.
Jordan Lyles is an 18-year old right-handed pitcher from South Carolina. A three-sport athlete from Hartsville High Schol, Lyles was selected with the 38th overall pick in the supplemental portion of the first round in the 2008 draft.

At 6-foot-4 and 185 lbs., Lyles has a good frame for a pitcher. His delivery is an 'easy' three-quarters motion and is not a violent affair.
Here is his stat line through his latest start: 5-7, 2.92 ERA in 95 2/3 innings, 118 strikeouts, 21 walks, .238 BAA. All very impressive, but we can delve deeper.

The first point I'd make is about his strikeouts. Lyles has a K/9 inning rate of 11.10 and has struck out 10 or more four times. Two of those games came against the Greenville Drive, who took the first-half Southern Division title. In my first profile, I commented on how Lyles struck out most of the hitters on swings and misses. I went back through all his starts and split out hte called strikeouts and the swinging strikeouts. Out of the 118 K's, 25 were called and 93 were swinging. That suggests Lyles has not only outstanding raw stuff, but also good command. I also said in the first look that Lyles appeared to be more of a thrower than pitcher, but he has disproven that theory. His season BB/9 rate is at 1.98 and he went 10 straight games earlier this season wihtout hitting a batter. Clearly, his command is pretty solid.

Secondly, there are some very interesting data points in his splits. Against left-handed batters, Lyles is allowign a batting average of .193 in 137 at-bats with 50 strikeouts. Against right-handers, that number jumps to .263 in 226 at-bats. That's usually what a left-handed pitcher looks like stat-wise, but Lyles is right-handed. It's also not necessarily a product of small sample size since he has over 350 at-bats. This mayb e due to many things, but it seems like Lyles has developed a hard breaking pitch he can bust in on a lefty. Baseball America does not metnion whether he has a slider, but I wonder if he added it this season. I know for sure that his changeup is progressing nicely, because you can see it in his ground ball/fly ball ratio. Many of the hits and ground ball out Lyles gives up are pulled by the batter. Rarely, though, do hitters make good contact, usually rolling over and hitting easily playable grounders. Of course, his lefty/righty mystery could simply be a changeup/fastball combo working well, but I think there is more to it. For one thing, Lyles has struck out 36.5 percent of the batters he's faced on the left side and 30.1% on the right. Not a big difference, but even a small one can be significant.

Third, if you can believe this, Lyles has been a bit unlucky this season. His BABiP of .343 suggests he should be allowing fewer hits. Combine that with a Defense Efficiency Ratio of .657 and you get a pitcher who has not been helped by his defense. Basically, Lyles still has a sub-3.00 ERA because of his strikeouts. With a little better defense, Lyles could easily have closer to the 10 victories he's expected to have from his Pitching Runs Created of 37.5. On the other side of the luck coin, Lyles is pitching in an offense-deficient league. The South Atlantic League is averaging a little over four runs a game per team, which is the lowest of the four highest minor league levels. So, it could be worse.

The last point I'd make about Lyles is about his performance with runners on base. In 40 2/3 inings, Lyles has an ERA of 6.42, a batting average allowed of .272, a G/F ratio of .90 with 33 strikeouts and 10 walks. That's about half his inning total, but just a quarter of his strikeouts. Lyles apparently has problems pitching out of the stretch. For some pitchers, it's the other way around, like Corpus Christi's Brad James, who Zachary Levine says has been pitching exclusively out of the stretch to feel more comfortable. I'm not sure Lyles needs to avoiding the stretch just yet, but it is a quirky little problem in an otherwise sterling record.

Now that we've talked about his performance, let's discuss how he will be used the rest of the way. I talked about this earlier this week and over at the Crawfish Boxes and got some interesting feedback. Lexington recently added starter David Duncan to the team and Astros assistant GM Ricky Bennett said the team will be moving to a "modified six-man rotation." I covered this on Thursday, but Lyles is on pace to throw 152 innings. Before, I was thinking about the question from general data and philosophies on young pitchers from the sabermetric community and general managers like the Yankees' Brian Cashman. Instead, we need to look at Wade's track record.

Wade was the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies for seven seasons. I found nine good examples of pitchers drafted out of high school and examined their usage patterns. Out of the nine, the highest innings total was 175 1/3 innings by Brett Myers in 2000, the lowest total was 54 by Zach Segovia in 2003 and the average was 125 innings pitched. I took the totals from their Age 19 seasons, and only looked at players in Low A ball the season after being drafted. The fact I found nine players fitting this bill shows it can be considered a trend by Wade. Here's a rundown of the pitchers I found.
  • Brett Myers - threw 175 innings and started 27 games in 2000. Made similar transition from Rookie ball to Low A.
  • Cole Hamels - threw 101 innings in 2003, lost time with a pulled shoulder muscle and was coming off a broken arm from HS.
  • Zach Segovia - threw 59 innings in 2003
  • Ryan Madsen - started 21 games and threw 135 2/3 innings in Low A in 2000. Threw 141 2/3 total innings in two previous seasons.
  • Gavin Floyd - threw 166 innings and starter 26 games in 2002. Signed late made pro debut in Low A ball.
  • Scott Mathieson - threw 64 2/3 innings in 13 games in 2003.
  • Keith Bucktrot - 135 innings in 24 starts in 2001.
  • Robinson Tejeda - 151 innings in 2001.
  • Kyle Kendrick - 138 innings in 2004.
While I disagree with a young kid throwing 150-170 innings so early in his development, Wade apparently doesn't take my advice, so we'll just have to project out what will happen. Already, one of the young guys, Brad Dydalewicz has hit some injury bugs. Hopefully, Lyles will also stay healthy. I don't think he will be called up to Lancaster this season, but I do bet he adds another 40 innings before the season is done.

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