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Collette Calls: Lyles on the Rise

Jason Collette

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at theprocessreport.net. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

At one point or another in our fantasy baseball playing careers, we have all been guilty of writing off prospects as busts with a hair trigger. Domonic Brown entered 2013 with a .236/.315/.388 slash line in 492 plate appearances with just 12 home runs. He had a hot spring in the Grapefruit League which drew a few people back in , but many have missed out on a .275/.322/.543 season this year as he has already hit 19 home runs in 286 plate appearances. Many were clamoring for the Rays to call up Wil Myers to make the Rays' Opening Day roster and screamed like petulant children as he was kept down in the minors until Father's Day. To be fair, I joined that fray a week before his callup. That said, Myers has just four hits in his first 21 plate appearances, has not walked yet, and has but one extra-base hit.

Society offers us many instant gratifications for what we need in life. Twitter gives you information right to your phone. Jimmy John's delivers sandwiches to your front door in less than 10 minutes and makes your sandwich in the store quicker than you can pay the cashier. Baseball prospects do not always work like that. Mike Trout and most recently, Yasiel Puig, have spoiled people into thinking everyone will come up and make an immediate positive impact when the truth is, most prospects were born to fail. A 2011 study by Scott McKinney of Royals Review showed that 63 percent of position player Top 100 prospects from 1990 to 2003 were major league busts while 77 percent of pitchers turned out to be busts.

With those kinds of odds working against prospects, it is tough to hold off on that hair trigger to break out the BUST stamp from your toolbox and slap it on a prospect. We may have done that too quickly with Houston's Jordan Lyles.

Lyles made his major league debut on May 31st, 2011, at the tender age of 20 years old. At a time when most of his age peers were pitching in A-ball, Lyles was toeing the mound facing major league hitters. Lyles was given 77 minor league starts and 423 innings of baseball in the minors before the Astros decided to see what he could do at the major league level. Since all pitching prospects are not built like Jose Fernandez, it was not surprising to see Lyles struggle pitching for two awful Astros teams with bad defense and bad bullpens around him. He was put on the Houston to Oklahoma City shuttle a few times over the past two seasons but while in the majors, he went 7-20 with a 5.20 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP. His seven percent walk rate was better than the league average for starting pitchers but his 16 percent strikeout rate was below the league average and the league hit .281/.334/.456 against him in 1,043 plate appearances.

There were a few glimmers of hope for Lyles heading into 2013 that were covered by David Coleman over at The Crawfish Boxes in late November that included an uptick in velocity and the 1.33 run gap in his ERA and SIERA made him one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball last season. If you combine the disappointing results from the previous two seasons and the fact he was going to be pitching for the consensus worst team baseball has seen since the 2003 Detroit Tigers, it was understandable if people avoided Lyles on draft day.

Oops.

It is important to put into perspective just how young he is for the major leagues. He is the seventh youngest pitcher on a major league roster this season. According to the leaderboards at minorleaguecentral.com, Lyles would currently be the one of the 15 youngest players in both of the Triple-A leagues.

This season, Lyles is 4-1 with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP through 10 starts. He has permitted more than three runs just twice this season, and that came in back-to-back starts in April including a forgettable outing against Texas in which he allowed eight earned runs and 11 hits in just four innings. His growth, at his age, has been impressive.

SPLITBAOBPSLGK%BB%
2011-12.281.334.45616%7%
2013.253.310.39918%6%

His batting average on balls in play over the previous two seasons was .310 while it has been .297 this season. His groundball rate has risen from 49 percent to 54 percent as he works to keep the ball in play with the Crawford Boxes right over his shoulder when pitching at home. Additionally, he is throwing harder as he continues to mature physically.

When Lyles entered the league, his average fastball velocity was 90.3 mph but that rate has continued to rise throughout the rest of 2011, into 2012, and here in 2013.

He is currently averaging 93.9 mph on his fastball which is more than a three mile-per-hour increase over where he was in 2011 and pitch f/x has him throwing five different pitches. The increased velocity has made it tougher for hitters to square up his pitches. This season, hitters are putting 41 percent of his pitches in play, a drop from 44 percent in the previous two seasons. When they do put in play, they frequently become groundballs as Lyles is using his sinker at rates well above previous career norms as he is trading in four-seam fastballs for more movement with the two-seam fastball.



Since that forgettable start against Texas, Lyles is 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP in seven starts. Five of the seven starts have been quality starts, but the strength of schedule has not exactly been Murderers' Row as he has faced Pittsburgh, Kansas City (twice), Colorado, Anaheim, Seattle and Milwaukee. That said, you cannot control your schedule but you can control your results and Lyles has done just that.

He has a start Sunday against the Cubs, which gives him an opportunity to continue the success as we continue to learn the lesson of writing off prospects too quickly, especially those that are rushed to the major leagues at such a young age.