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Jordan Lyles can’t win

The Royals have lost all 15 of his starts, setting a record.

Cincinnati Reds v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Jordan Lyles exited last night’s start against the Tigers in the seventh inning hoping his bullpen could protect a 4-1 lead and give him his first win of the season. They did not. Taylor Clarke blew up and five runs crossed the plate as the Royals lost, as they have done every single time Jordan Lyles has started this year. In fact, according to ESPN it is the first time ever a team has lost in each of the first 15 starts by a pitcher in a season.

As a pitcher, Lyles is 0-11 as a starter for the Royals, making him just the fifth starter since 1969 to begin the year with 11 losses or more. He is just three losses away from tying Matt Keough’s 0-14 start with the Athletics in 1979 as the longest losing streak by a starter to begin a season.

Winless streaks to start the year for starting pitchers

Starting pitcher Team Year Losing streak
Starting pitcher Team Year Losing streak
Matt Keough OAK 1979 14
Jordan Lyles KCR 2023 11
Kyle Abbott PHI 1992 11
Ray Burriss MON 1982 11
Ken Reynolds PHI 1972 11
Anthony Reyes STL 2007 10

Hat tip to Craig Brown.

Lyles has a real shot to set the club record for losses in a season, currently at 19 set by Darrell May (2004) and Paul Splittorff (1974). He has a chance to become the first 20-game loser in baseball since Mike Maroth in 2003. With 69 runs allowed in 15 starts, he has a chance to set the club record for most runs allowed in a season, 140, set by Jose Lima in 2005. He is on pace to give up 155 runs, which would be the most allowed by any pitcher since Pedro Astacio gave up 160 in 1998 with the Rockies. He is also on pace to give up 40 home runs, which would set the club record, currently held by Darrell May.

But to the Royals, the performance doesn’t matter that much. Lyles was brought in on a two-year, $17 million deal to eat innings, with Royals general manager J.J. Picollo touting his ability to “really handle a heavy workload.” And he has done that, taking the ball every fifth day and going 5+ innings in all but two of his starts.

Were there better options on the free agent market? Perhaps, but not many. The Royals could have gotten into a bidding war for a pitcher like Drew Smyly (who has been good!) or Sean Manaea (who has had mixed results) or Ross Stripling (who has been bad). But ownership wasn’t exactly pumping cash into payroll last winter. Here are the one-year MLB contracts given to starting pitchers last year that were for less annual value than the one the Royals handed Lyles.

Free agent starting pitchers

Pitcher Team Contract ERA FIP IP fWAR
Pitcher Team Contract ERA FIP IP fWAR
Jordan Lyles KCR 2 years, $17M 6.72 5.61 85.2 0.1
Johnny Cueto MIA 1 year, $8.5M 36.00 32.28 1.0 -0.2
Michael Lorenzen DET 1 year, $8.5M 4.23 4.55 66.0 0.5
Rich Hill BOS 1 year, $8M 4.31 4.43 77.1 0.7
Zach Davies ARI 1 year, $5M 7.11 4.07 31.2 0.5
Wade Miley MIL 1 year, $4.5M 3.28 4.59 46.2 0.5
José Ureña COL 1 year, $3.5M 9.82 10.97 18.1 -0.8
Shintaro Fujinami OAK 1 year, $3.5M 10.65 5.78 36.1 -0.3
Vince Velasquez PIT 1 year, $3.15M 3.86 3.90 37.1 0.7
Ryan Yarbrough KCR 1 year, $3M 6.15 5.18 26.1 0.0
Drew Rucinski OAK 1 year, $3M 9.00 8.72 18.0 -0.6
Luke Weaver CIN 1 year, $2M 6.47 5.49 57.0 0.2
Chad Kuhl WSN 1 year, $2M 7.71 6.79 37.1 -0.6

It turns out that with the bargain bin, you largely get what you pay for.

The Royals are likely stuck with Lyles for this year and next, despite reports they are trying to attach an unwanted contract with Aroldis Chapman to reduce their payroll. With so few starting pitching options in the upper minors, he does help fill out a rotation so they don’t have to rush a kid that’s not ready.

But many of the arms in the upper minors aren’t exactly spring chickens anymore. Jackson Kowar is 26. Austin Cox is 26. Jonathan Heasley is 26. Drew Parrish and Anthony Veneziano are each 25. Maybe they would all get pounded at the big league level - some of them almost certainly will. But maybe one or two will surprise you. If they are ever going to make it, now would be the time.

Jordan Lyles will probably eventually win a game for the Royals. But at this point, you have to wonder how much winning even matters.