With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at pitcher Jordan Lyles.
The signing of Jordan Lyles to a two year deal after the 2019 was not a success for the Texas Rangers. Lyles was a curious case, a guy who had just finished his ninth year in the major leagues but was just 28 years old, a guy who had accumulated a -2.7 bWAR in his career before he was shipped to Milwaukee at the trade deadline in 2019. While with the Brewers, Lyles put up a 2.45 ERA (albeit with a 4.42 FIP) in 58.2 innings of working, good for a 1.8 bWAR.
While that still wasn’t enough to get him above replacement level for his career, the Rangers liked what they saw from Lyles in the final two months of 2019 to give him a 2 year, $16 million deal. It was a move that prompted a fair amount of head-scratching, but he was coming in to be the fifth starter behind Lance Lynn, Mike Minor, Corey Kluber, and Kyle Gibson, and who knows, maybe there was something there.
There was not, as it turned out, something there. Lyles put up a 7.02 ERA in the truncated 2020 season. Despite there being talk in spring training 2021 that Lyles might be used as a multi-inning reliever or as part of a tandem starter setup, or perhaps regularly with an opener, Lyles threw made 30 starts and just two relief appearances in 2021, logging 180 innings.
As you no doubt recall, they were not good innings. They probably weren’t quite as terrible as you recall — Lyles put up a 5.15 ERA and a 5.34 FIP, and with a -0.1 bWAR, he was essentially replacement level. But they definitely weren’t good innings.
But they were innings, and in 2021, that alone would land you on some leaderboards. The 180 innings Lyles pitched were sixth in the American League. And he was fourth in batters faced. Think about that for a moment...as bad as Jordan Lyles was, there were only three pitchers in the American League who faced more hitters than he did.
Lyles also ended up giving up the most home runs, and the most earned runs, in the American League in 2021. He gave up the most earned runs in the majors in 2020, so he actually has led the league in that category two years in a row now. He was second in the A.L. in hits allowed. He was ninth in wild pitches. He was fourth in losses.
On the plus side, he was tied for the league lead in fielding percentage, at 1.000.
Oh, and in case you missed it, Lyles already has a major league deal for 2022. Right before the lockout, the Orioles and Lyles nailed down a one year, $6 million deal for 2022, with an $11 million team option for 2023 with a $1 million buyout. Lyles will, it seems, be in a major league rotation in 2022.
While I suspect that the Orioles, like the Rangers before them, see something in Lyles that they think provides some upside, some potential they may be able to unlock, I think the biggest reason that Lyles has a job with the Orioles is for the same reason the Rangers would say he provided value to them in 2021.
The Orioles are likely going to be a last place team in 2022. They are in the midst of a rebuild. They have some young arms they will likely want to take a look at over the course of the season, but they also are going to need innings.
And Jordan Lyles can give them innings. Not necessarily good innings — ZiPS projects Lyles to be right at replacement level once again, and I think that’s a pretty reasonable expectation — but innings nonetheless. If you’re a bad team that wants to avoid torching your bullpen on a daily basis or plugging young pitchers into the rotation before they are ready, there’s some logic behind bringing in Jordan Lyles.
That’s ultimately what he did for Texas in 2021. Lyles soaked up some innings for a rebuilding team that was going nowhere. He stayed healthy, took the ball every fifth day, and took some beatings.
One other things that I find interesting about Lyles...he has the most innings pitched of any pitcher in the modern era with a negative bWAR, with 1147.1 IP. Only three other pitchers — Bill Bailey, Elmer Myers, and the immortal Randy Lerch — have at least 1000 innings with a negative bWAR. Given how young Lyles is, he will have the ability to remove himself from this unfortunate title with a couple of decent seasons, or one good season. Of course, the better he pitches, the more opportunities he will get, which will mean more chances to then drop back below 0.0 bWAR.
Something for Orioles fans to watch this coming season.