St. Louis Cardinals: Lefty or not, Cardinals have no more use for Lyons

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 30: Reliever Tyler Lyons
ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 30: Reliever Tyler Lyons /

At age 29, Tyler Lyons’ effectiveness for the St. Louis Cardinals has quickly fallen off, but there have been signs of this coming for a long time. While he is one of the only lefties in the bullpen, it’s time to start getting away from Lyons.

Despite the success that he had last season for the St. Louis Cardinals, the signs of Tyler Lyons decay were ever present. While he had been able to keep his BA allowed against lefties relatively low, there always have been holes in his game that make me question his credibility as a major league pitcher.

It all came to a head in a monumentally atrocious display against the Reds, who came into the game with the lowest run total, fifth lowest hit total, and tenth lowest walks drawn in the Majors. He completely imploded, giving up three runs without getting a single out, and taking a win away from a stellar Carlos Martinez.

This is just the icing on the cake to a poor season, in which Lyons has struggled to get outs. He entered the game with a 4.32 ERA, which is already quite poor for a relief pitcher. But let’s take a step back and look even further back at Lyons’ credibility as a major leaguer.

Lyons put up some solid numbers in 2017, posting a respectable 2.83 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over 54 innings. However, those numbers hid some concerning trends and declines in Lyons game that have only continued into this season. Simply put, despite the appealing numbers, Tyler Lyons has never been a pitcher worth Cardinals’ fans’ time.

First is Lyons’ fastball is mediocre at best. Averaging 91.26 mph at its peak, it has never had the life or the bite a fastball with above average spin rates have either, and looks flatter and straighter than ever this season. On top of that, Lyons’ velocity has been gradually dropping to unacceptable levels.

4 SeamSinkerChangeSlider

For a pitcher with a flat fastball and sinker, that kind of velocity is not going to cut it in the modern league, where players are seeing 95 mph or sharp breaks on a daily basis or guys like Jordan Hicks with both, and at twenty-nine, there is no reason to believe his decline won’t continue.

Turning to Lyons’ slider, not only has the velocity become paltry, but the spin rate is a hair above the MLB average. Overall, it isn’t a high quality weapon, so to have it as a go-to strikeout pitch is concerning in itself. It has been somewhat successful in the past, but even that is deceiving.

Last season, Lyons forced whiffs on 13.89% of his sliders, while allowing 11.32% of them in play. Of 102 sliders that ended at bats in 2017, only 50 resulted in K’s. And while his slider kept a low BABIP against lefties, he allowed an absurd .445 BABIP against righties. And Lyons saw more right-handed batters than he should have.

The pitch that caused the most whiffs in Lyons arsenal in 2017, the change-up, was an experimental pitch and had to be removed, because Lyons was grooving it too much, on the way to a 23.26% BIP rate compared to a 20.93% whiff rate. But that’s not the worst part of it. No, the worst part is what you are all thinking. The ones that hang, right? Trust me, it’s even more appalling than you think.

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In 2017, the reliever with the highest allowed home run rate in the majors was Chris Beck of the White Sox, who allowed 2.23 home runs per nine innings. Reliever Dan Otero had 26.1% of the fly balls that were hit on him ended up leaving the park in 2017.

Additionally, .369 was the worst BABIP allowed by relievers in 2017 by Blake Wood and Brandon Maurer took the honors of worst BAA by a reliever in 2017 at .296. So why am I bringing up all of these bottom feeder pitchers?

Well, with those numbers, all of those pitchers should groove a high number of their pitches to allow such a high rate of hits and success, right? Well, here are their grooved pitches rates, compared to that of Tyler Lyons over the past 2 seasons.

 Via BrooksbaseballGrooved Pitch % vs LHBGrooved Pitch % vs RHB
Chris Beck, 20175.15.98
Dan Otero, 20178.335
Blake Wood, 20175.525.01
Brandon Maurer, 20174.187.9
Tyler Lyons, 20178.316.33
Tyler Lyons, 201810.144.55

That’s quite concerning, and it’s honestly a miracle Lyons is as successful as he is. Despite his low walk rate, Lyons shows poor control, gets behind in counts, and throws the worst kind of pitches at an alarming rate. Pairing that with low velocity and mediocre spin rate, and you can spot the disaster happening from Jupiter.

The worst part is the most obscene numbers are against lefties. As a left-handed pitcher, one of your most important assets is your ability to have an advantageous match up against left-handed hitters. He has gotten away with leaving mediocre pitches for too long, and with an off-season of study has revealed that to teams. I’m sure teams never saw him as a threat before, so they never bothered preparing for him until his solid 2017.

That just leaves the problems of having an actual lefty in the bullpen. Usually, having a left-handed pitcher to meet the lefties in late inning situations are key, but what’s the point if that lefty specialist grooves pitches to left-handed batters while throwing pitches at a declining speed and break.

The answer is simple, you keep him if he performs, and you bench him if he doesn’t. The Cardinals cannot be experimenting and giving guys long leashes for too long (*cough* *cough* Matt Carpenter *cough* *cough*), so allowing Lyons to pitch like this and almost single handedly lose a game against arguably the worst offense in the majors should make you sick.

Another thing is Matheny doesn’t actually use Lyons as a lefty specialist. Typically, lefty specialists will face 1-2 batters per appearance, so they would have less innings then games appeared, and they face more left-handed batters than right. Lyons has never had fewer games than innings in a season, and he has faced significantly more right-handed batters then left-handed. As I mentioned earlier with the slider, this added responsibility doesn’t help Lyons at all.

Lyons had got by with his mediocrity under the radar for a year, but teams understand what he is now that 2017 gave them a reason to care a little. Now Lyons is as he should be and as his pitch arsenal would make you expect: a pitcher who isn’t up to par.

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Even with the bullpen full of injuries, there are still guys like John Brebbia and Mike Mayers,displaced out of the bullpen into the minor leagues because of the additions of guys like Greg Holland. On top of that, elite prospect Alex Reyes is on his way, which will add another body to the bullpen even if he starts. And that’s not even counting the man who should be the fifth starter, Jack Flaherty. With all those bodies, there’s no reason to keep Lyons around, lefty or not.

Now some people may think that I am overreacting to his poor start, but his stuff has never been that sharp. His slider certainly has movement, there’s no denying that. But it doesn’t have that sharp bite or that last second dip. It’s more of a gradual, floating break, and one that can be read  with a bit of practice and effort. In trying to paint corners, he’ll miss inside the zone, which has been deadly so far this year, as Lyons has grooved over 12% of his sliders this season.

He has grooved at least 7% of his pitches to lefties every season he has been a full-time reliever, and was .06% off in 2016 from being at least 8%. It hasn’t been a great number at all throughout his career, and there are younger guys with better upside that won’t groove pitches to lefties nearly as much as Lyons does.

Lyons has never really completed his game either. When his BABIP has been low (.220 in 2016), his home run rate was high (9 in 48 innings). When his home run rate was low (3 in 54 innings in 2017), his BABIP is high (.296). The only thing that Lyons has going for him is his low BAA over the past few seasons, but considering teams are reading him better, his strikeout pitch is declining, and he’s grooving an insane amount of pitches, that doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to show up.

So what are we waiting for with Lyons? While some might say we are looking for him to return to 2017 form, it seems that his success was just an anomaly. From what I can tell, the real Tyler Lyons is much closer to the 2018 version than last year’s counterpart. He simply wasn’t performing well enough for people to study him, and now that they have, it seems that Lyons doesn’t have the talent to improve.

Even if he stops grooving pitches, can we honestly say that for both the St. Louis Cardinals’ present and future, we want Tyler Lyons pitching over these young guys? I certainly can’t, because unless he’s used as a lefty specialist, Tyler Lyons is not good enough to be on this team.

How much longer should Lyons remain in his current role? Should the Cardinals cut ties all together? Do you think Lyons will right the ship? Feel free to leave your comments below?