Lyles has the potential to be a solid starter
In a perfect world, Houston Astros 21-year-old, right-handed starting pitcher Jordan Lyles would still be pitching in the Minor Leagues, learning and developing all his pitches.
The Astros don't have the luxury of keeping him at Triple-A. They have half a season of games to play and few experienced starting pitchers from which to choose. The team is in transition.
The 6-foot-4 inch, 210-pound Lyles has one of the best arms in the Astros' organization. They need him to take the ball at the Major League level every fifth day.
With their second overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Houston selected the lanky Lyles in the supplemental first round as the 38th player chosen. The club had selected catcher Jason Castro with the 10th overall pick.
After having a very successful athletic career playing basketball, football and baseball at Hartsville (S.C.) High School, Lyles had plans to attend the University of South Carolina. The Astros' interest in him changed his mind.
I had only seen video of Lyles until I witnessed his start against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix on Monday. I learned a great deal about him and gained an appreciation for his future in that outing.
The aspect I like best about his pitching is his very simple, clean delivery. He doesn't waste energy with extraneous or herky-jerky movements. He uses his large, slender frame and lengthy stride to come downhill directly at the hitter. Using his size as an ally, his long arms seem to be on top of the hitter quickly.
The ball comes out of his hand nice and easy. His approach really looks effortless. His arm action is very smooth.
Lyles has an extremely mature mound demeanor for a pitcher so young. He doesn't panic when he gets into trouble. He takes a bit of time to compose himself, figures out a plan and proceeds to execute his pitches.
The night I saw him pitch, Lyles used a complete repertoire that included both four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a curveball, a slider and a changeup, though not all the pitches were of equal quality, effectiveness or development.
Lyles' two-seam fastball may have been his best pitch that evening. With sharp downward movement the pitch helped induce ground balls, exactly what it is designed to accomplish. Very few outs were hit in the air.
Lyles' fastball isn't overpowering. He generally sits between 91 and 94 mph with both the two-seamer and the four-seamer. Late in the game, when he was being hit harder, his fastball velocity had dropped consistently to 90 and 91. I believe he had tired badly and his loss in velocity contributed to the offensive barrage that caused his sixth-inning exit.
I was concerned that Jordan Lyles looked like two different pitchers during the game.
During the first 60 or so of his 92 offerings, Lyles was in total command of both the strike zone and his repertoire. It seemed he could breeze through an inning by making the right pitch at the right time. He would change the eye level of the hitter by using every quadrant of the strike zone. He would rely on one of his two types of fastballs, but mix in a breaking ball or off-speed pitch to change the hitter's balance.
Lyles suddenly started to tire. His pitches were up in the zone and he was getting hit. Hit hard. It seemed as though whenever he missed with a pitch, it was up in the zone.
Major League hitters feast on pitches they see the best, those above the waist and up in the zone.
As Lyles tired, his arm lagged behind, causing the ball to sail on him. The end result? He fell behind in counts and had to make the perfect pitch. That became increasingly more difficult from batter to batter. He ended up giving up eight runs, five of them earned.
The fact that Lyles did not walk a batter in the outing is significant. Rather than nibble at the corners of the plate, he went right after hitters. That's a good quality -- except when a pitcher is behind in the count.
Lyles has to work on his secondary pitches to find more success. As a young pitcher, he has to refine his breaking balls so they move sharply and crisply and don't flatten out.
I was particularly impressed with the few changeups I saw Lyles throw. The reduced velocity and outstanding movement on the pitch dictate its increased use. Spotted properly and more frequently, I believe it can be an out-pitch weapon in his arsenal. It seems he spotted the pitch but didn't trust it as much as one would like.
Lyles pitched in Houston last season. In parts of this season and last, Lyles pitched for Triple-A Oklahoma City. He compiled an 8-3 record over the two abbreviated campaigns. This season he was 5-0 with a 3.54 ERA before being recalled by Houston. He walked only eight while striking out 33 in 40 2/3 innings.
Inducing contact is a critical component of Lyles' approach. His excellent command (at least for the first half of the game) kept his team in the game.
Lyles is 0-5 on the road. He's won two games at home. His ERA is more than double away from Minute Maid Park.
There is no doubt Lyles has the arm, the ability and the repertoire to be a very successful Major League pitcher.
He needs time to learn and refine his craft. I have every confidence many winning days are ahead. He has the skill to be a very solid starting pitcher.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.