A Change in Approach Could Help Jordan Lyles

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The Milwaukee Brewers raised some eyebrows when they decided to stand pat at the trade deadline with their current pitching staff. However, General Manager David Stearns did make a move shortly after the deadline, acquiring right-hander Jordan Lyles off waivers from the San Diego Padres last Sunday.

Lyles has been a serviceable swingman for the Padres this season. In 24 games (including eight starts), he has pitched to a 4.29 ERA and 4.44 FIP. Lyles will work out of the bullpen┬áin Milwaukee, but also provides some depth with his ability to make a spot start if need be. If he continues to perform as he has thus far in 2018, he’ll provide value for this Brewers team. However, when the Brewers target a pitcher, it’s often because they believe there is potential for improvement. Pitching coach Derek Johnson has helped several pitchers make career-changing adjustments. Chase Anderson, Jimmy Nelson, Jhoulys Chacin, Jeremy Jeffress, and Junior Guerra have all stepped up their games after working with Johnson. Jordan Lyles could be next.

A Change In Approach Could Help Jordan Lyles

Lyles’ Current Approach

Lyles has utilized a new approach this season with the Padres. According to Statcast, he’s throwing his four-seam fastball 34.4% of the time, which is easily the highest rate of his career. The only problem is that opposing hitters are teeing off on Lyles’ heater, hitting .353 and slugging .529 against the pitch. He’s also throwing his changeup more, but it also hasn’t been particularly effective. He’s allowed four home runs against his changeup to go along with an opposing .574 slugging percentage.

The uptick in four-seam and changeup usage has come at the expense of Lyles’ sinker, which used to be one of his more prominent offerings. He’s throwing the sinker just 13.6% of the time, compared to 24.3% last season. When he threw his sinker regularly, Lyles was a contact pitcher. He averaged just 6.2 strikeouts per nine innings up until this year. His new approach has led to a career-best strikeout rate, as he carries a 7.8 K/9 this season. However, his home run rate has also spiked by about half a home run per nine innings. According to FanGraphs, he is allowing hard contact at the highest rate of his career. Lyles is getting more swings and misses, but when the ball is being put in play against him, it’s being hit hard.

It’s easy to see why Lyles made a change. He was largely ineffective as a contact pitcher, posting a very poor 5.43 ERA over 681 innings of work up until this season. However, there’s reason to believe that the Brewers may have him return to throwing his sinker frequently. The sinker has easily been one of Lyles’ more effective pitches this season. Opponents are slugging .200 against it with no extra-base hits. Despite that, he has been using the pitch as one of his secondary offerings instead of using it more frequently.

Lyles has Thrown his Sinker Less, but he Should try Throwing it More Often

Lyles’ previous sinkerballing approach may not have been as ineffective as it seemed. His 4.55 FIP over that span was about a run lower than his ERA. He also had some poor defense behind him, which is not good news for a pitcher that relies on getting outs on balls in play.

Lyles began his career with the Houston Astros, pitching there from 2011 through the 2013 season. During that span, Houston ranked near the bottom among all MLB teams with -105 defensive runs saved. From there, he moved on to the Colorado Rockies and pitched there until the middle of last season. The Rockies defense cost the team -6 defensive runs saved during that time period. For comparison’s sake, the Brewers have been the top team in the Major Leagues this season by DRS, coming in at 81 defensive runs saved. Lyles could throw his sinker more with the assurance that it will lead to more outs than it did in previous seasons.

The Sinker isn’t the Only Pitch Lyles Should Throw More Often

The sinker hasn’t been Lyles’ only effective pitch this season. The righty’s curveball has produced solid results as well. Opposing hitters are hitting just .204 with a .316 slugging percentage against his breaking ball. It’s also generating swings and misses at a 28.6% rate. Lyles is already throwing the curve frequently, as the only pitch he has thrown more this season is his fastball. However, he could benefit from throwing the curve even more than he already has. Jhoulys Chacin has anchored the Brewers rotation this season, and he has done it by throwing his breaking ball a whopping 42.9% of the time. An increase in his own curveball usage could lead to a similar improvement for Lyles.

Jordan Lyles has adjusted his approach this year as a member of the San Diego Padres, throwing more four-seam fastballs and changeups in an effort to get more strikeouts. After being picked up by the Milwaukee Brewers, he may be encouraged to make even more adjustments. By telling him to throw his fastball and changeup less in favor of his sinker and curveball, the Brewers could exploit some untapped potential in Lyles. Under team control through the 2019 season, he could become a valuable arm for both this season and next if he makes some adjustments in his approach.
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