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Season in Review: Jordan Lyles

Do we have to?

New York Yankees v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

It’s important for me to start this piece off by saying that I am generally not anti-stop gap. I have vocally defended guys like Michael A. Taylor, who receive the ire of fans when their real anger is at the organization. Taylor was a fine player for the money he received and did the job he was asked to do. That Taylor was asked to do that job is the organization’s fault, not his.

Jordan Lyles is that kind of stop-gap player. The Royals entered the 2022 offseason with three young arms in Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, and Kris Bubic potentially in the rotation, along with Zack Greinke. As the saying goes, you can’t get enough starting pitching. I do have three quick reservations about Lyles and why he is not the kind of stop-gap I approve.

  1. The Royals were middle-of-the-pack in innings from starters in 2022 and had a reasonable number of arms to distribute innings already. “Yes, but injuries happen!” you might say, and you would be right, as both Bubic and Lynch missed significant time to injury. Okay, so...
  2. Jordan Lyles is more expensive than other stop-gaps. Michael Lorenzen, Zach Davies, and even Martin Perez all signed for cheaper when they signed deals in recent years. “Yes, but it’s still slim pickings at that price and there aren’t a lot of young, viable starters in that range!” you might say. Yes, you are right. But...
  3. Jordan Lyles has a long history of being a very bad pitcher.

I am not anti-stop-gap, but I am anti-paying a stop-game more than the average stop-gap gap knowing that he is likely not a viable starter. So with that out of the way, let’s look at Lyles’ 2023 season!

It wasn’t good

I have just one point for us today. There’s no sugarcoating it. Lyles may have been the worst starting pitcher in baseball. If the Royals wanted to eat innings, which is likely the case, then he did his job. He led Kansas City starters with 177.2 innings pitched. However, among pitchers with at least 170 innings pitched, Lyles finished 37/37 in fWAR, 37/37 in ERA, 37/37 in FIP, 37/37 in xFIP, and 35/37 in xERA.

Lyles was so bad that The Guardian wrote about him.

Only two pitchers struck out batters at a worse rate and he stranded runners at a lower percentage than any pitcher in the league by 10%. To give context, the gap between Lyles’ 37th ranked 56.3 LOB% and Aaron Nola’s 36th ranked 66.4% is greater than the gap between Nola and the 11th ranked Dean Kremer.

Greater context. Since 2000, there have been 1581 instances of a pitcher throwing at least 170 innings. Lyles’ 56.3 LOB% ranks 1581. There has not been a pitcher worse at stranding runners since the turn of the millennium than Lyles was in 2023.

There are two ways to interpret this number.

The first is with the glass half full. Across his last two full seasons, that number sat at around 74%. Lyles surrendered a .307 wOBA with the bases empty, with hitters slashing .230/.277/.444. Not special, but far better than the combined .434 wOBA with men on base and hitters slashing .328/.387/.673. Regression to the mean will surely happen and he should be better in 2024. The lowest possible bar is Lyles being better than he was in 2023.

The second is with the glass half empty. Kansas City owes Lyles $8.5 million in 2024. They also have Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic coming back from injury, two arms they’ll want to see get innings. Zack Greinke may or may not be coming back, but the Royals are pretty desperate for a functional starting pitcher. Brady Singer has been the closest thing to that in recent years, but even he had a miserable 2023.

I think the best way to interpret Lyles historic struggles is to find the middle ground. That is, he probably won’t duplicate his horror show with men on base and will likely regress to his mean of a replacement-level player. It’s hard to tell what Kansas City’s long-term plan is other than building a new stadium, but giving money and innings to a replacement-level starting pitcher is right up their alley.

What Is To Come In 2024

That’s all to say that only Salvador Perez will make more money than Jordan Lyles in Kansas City next year. And the next closest to Lyles makes 14% of what he makes. Few teams are spending less money than the Royals next year, but 13% of the payroll going to Lyles isn’t pretty.

Lyles was brought in to eat innings, and if that’s his job, he can do it well. He will probably get the opportunity to do it again in 2024. We aren’t likely to see a heavy improvement, but the Royals don’t expect that either. This is one reason why Lyles is so frustrating. On one hand, it makes practical sense. Kansas City isn’t close to winning games, but they do need guys to help them complete these games. On the other hand, it’s somewhat symbolic of the Royals mindset. Let’s give 180 innings to the guy we know can’t prevent runs.


What grade would you give Jordan Lyles for his 2023 season?

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  • 1%
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    (16 votes)
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