Has The Clock Struck Midnight For Jordan Lyles?

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JUNE 29: Jordan Lyles #31 of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on after giving up the solo home run in the fourth inning Eric Thames #7 of the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 29, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - JUNE 29: Jordan Lyles #31 of the Pittsburgh Pirates looks on after giving up the solo home run in the fourth inning Eric Thames #7 of the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 29, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /
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After pitching the best baseball of his career to start the season, has the clock struck midnight on Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jordan Lyles?

At the MLB Winter Meetings, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed free agent pitcher Jordan Lyles to a one-year contract. Although the contract was only worth $2.5M, it was a much maligned signing. This was due to Lyles poor track record, especially as a starting pitcher.

When the Pirates first signed Lyles it was unknown if he would join the team as a starting pitcher or a bullpen arm. Last season, he found great success as a reliever. Splitting time between the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers he owned a 3.32 ERA, 3.11 FIP, and a 25.9% strikeout rate as a reliever. As a starter, however, he posted a4.72 ERA,  4.93 FIP, and a 19.9% strikeout rate.

Shortly after he was signed, general manager Neal Huntington announced that Lyles would be given an opportunity to earn a spot in the Pirate starting rotation. Then during the spring, he was dubbed as having the inside track to earning a rotation spot. He went on to earn the fifth and final spot in the Pirate rotation and many fans groaned.

Early on this season, groaning fans, myself included, were eating crow. Eight starts into the season Lyles owned a 1.97 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 9.0% walk rate, and a 26.4% strikeout rate. In 45 2/3 innings of work he allowed just four home runs and was looking like the latest Ray Searage reclamation project success story.

In his last six games, however, Lyles has fallen on hard times. This leads one to wonder – has the clock struck midnight on the Pirates starter?

His last six starts Lyles has pitched just 28 2/3 innings. He has allowed seven home runs and owns a 8.16 ERA and a 5.47 FIP. While his walk rate has fallen to 8.1%, his strikeout rate has also fallen to 22.8%.

Now, there is a bit of a caveat. Lyles exited his start against the Cincinnati Reds of May 28th with side discomfort. After making two more starts, he would spend two weeks on the injured list. So, it is possible that, to some extent, he was pitching injured. But since returning from the IL, he has allowed 10 runs and four home runs in 10 innings of work across two starts. Both of which were games the Pirates lost.

Through his first eight starts Lyles limited opposing batters to a 33.9% hard contact rate, he was generating soft contact 20.0% of the time, his line drive rate was 17.5%, and his ground ball rate was 43.0%. In his last six starts, each of these numbers have gone in the wrong direction. His hard contact rate has risen to 40.9%, his line drive rate to 26.7%, all while his soft contact rate has fallen to 15.1% and his ground ball rate to 40.0%.

Overall this season Lyles now owns a 4.36 ERA, 4.16 FIP, 24.8% strikeout rate, 8.6% walk rate, and a 1.33 HR/9 in 74 /13 inning pitched across 14 starts. These are not bad numbers for a back of the rotation starting pitcher. However, with the recent struggles of Lyles it is alarming that he appears to be trending in a bad direction. Additionally, with the amount of injuries that have piled up in the team’s starting rotation the Pirates need more than that from Lyles.

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In his last six starts Lyles has experienced a spike in hard contact and line drives allowed, while the amount of soft contact and ground balls allowed have dropped. This is not a recipe for success, and, as a result, Lyles has struggled mightily in these six starts. One has to wonder, has the clock struck midnight on Lyles?

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