642 dollars. That is the winnings of those who have bet on the Pirates each time Jordan Lyles has taken the mound this season. No other pitcher has matched his success.
Jordan Lyles … doesn’t he have a career ERA over 5? How has this 9-year-vet become the most profitable pitcher in all of baseball? There are several reasons. Let’s break them down.
The Pirates are Outplaying Expectations
After an 82-80 2018 season for Pittsburgh, Vegas predicted that the club would take a step backward in 2019 rather than build on their success. The over/under for Pirates 2019 wins was set at 77.5, placing them dead last in the NL Central.
Through the first 37 games of the 2019 schedule, the Pirates are sitting in third place at a cool 20-17. These 20 victories have included their fair share of upsets.
Pittsburgh has yet to be tabbed +200 dogs this year, but have had lines of +150 or more on 6 different occasions. Of all winning teams, only the Diamondbacks have played more frequently as +150 dogs.
Over the past 3 seasons, the MLB win rate for teams with lines of +150 or higher is 31.5%. The Pirates are 3-3 this season in such games.
This means that Pittsburgh has profited $175 alone in those 6 games, a huge chunk of their $436 total profit in 2019. This level of profits ranks them 6th in the Majors.
Put yourself in Jordan Lyles’ cleats. Each time he takes the mound, his Pirates are being undervalued by the Vegas bookies. A couple of wins with long lines and you are suddenly staring at huge profits.
Opposing Hitters Can’t Catch a Break
ERA can be such a misleading statistic. Think of a football team who routinely allows the opponent to drive the length of the field only to fall short in the red zone each time. Their points allowed per game will be low but will not tell the entire story, right?
Likewise, pitchers can do all of the right things and still allow runs, or, in Lyles case, can do all the wrong things and escape lots of jams.
LOB%, colloquially called the strand rate, is a simple statistic that measures the percentage of baserunners that wind up stranded on base against a given pitcher. The MLB average for LOB% is consistently from 70-72%.
Lyles’ career LOB% sits at 65.2%, slightly worse than the league average. The right-handers’ inability to post a league average LOB% stems from his low-strikeout approach to pitching. High-strikeout guys can maintain LOB% rates above league average, but not guys like Jordan Lyles who are averaging just 6 and a half Ks per 9 innings in their career.
The fact that Lyles’ 2019 LOB% of 84.7% is nearly 20% higher than his career average is a major red flag.
Lyles is walking 3.49 batters per 9 innings this year, nearly a 15% increase above his career numbers. He is also allowing 12% more fly balls than usual and 2% more hard contact.
These 3 stats alone should signal that Jordan Lyles is not pitching tremendously well this season. So what gives?
We already saw that his LOB% was elevated, so he is getting lucky in that regard, but there is more. Lyles’ BABIP for 2019 is currently .245. This is insanely low. League average pitchers are typically around .300. Lyles is at .308 for his career.
This is probably why Lyles is stranding so many runners on base – they are hitting the ball right at his fielders.
Remember when I said that Lyles is allowing more fly balls and more hard contact? You would expect his home run rate to shoot up, right? The opposite has happened for Lyles in 2019.
Once again, HR/FB is a stat in which most pitchers are clustered around the league average, 12-13%. Lyles’ career numbers are right there, 12.5%.
Guess what percentage of fly balls have turned to homers for Lyles this year. It’s much much lower … 7.1%.
Lyles is walking more hitters than usual and allowing good contact, but he is stranding more runners and allowing fewer hits and fewer homers in 2019 than he ever has.
Lyles’ ERA for the season rests at a pretty 2.09, 6th in the MLB. This peripheral numbers say that he is absolutely not a top-10 ERA guy. Let’s remember that Lyles’ career ERA is north of 5.
If only there was a metric that told us what a pitchers’ ERA should be based on how well he has pitched … oh wait! There is! xFIP.
Jordan Lyles’ 2019 xFIP is 4.48. This is nearly 2 and a half runs higher than his true ERA. The numbers say that Lyles will soon begin behaving like a pitcher with an ERA of 5 again.
Want to hop on the Lyles money-making Express? You should ask yourself two questions first: Will the Pirates continue winning and will Jordan Lyles continue to luck into outs?
If the answer to either of those questions in your mind is no, thank Jordan Lyles for a fun April and then move on.