Sunday Notes: Jordan Lyles Knows What it’s Like to Lose

Jordan Lyles plays for a Baltimore Orioles team that stands 34-39 and is currently projected to finish 72-90. For the 31-year-old right-hander, that qualifies as more of the same. Lyles is in his 12th big-league season, and not once has he played a full year with a team that finished above .500. Moreover, he’s been on four clubs that lost 100-plus games. The worst of the worst was the 2013 Houston Astros, who went 51-111, a staggering 45 games out of first place.

The three seasons in which he’s played for multiple teams haven’t been much better. In each of those years, one of the two clubs he took the mound for ended up losing over 90 games. To date, Lyles has never pitched in the postseason.

That he never anticipated such a dearth of winning would be stating the obvious. Selected 38th-overall in 2008 out of a South Carolina high school, Lyles entered pro ball with the same lofty hopes and dreams as his draft-class peers. When you’re young and talented, visions of championship glory come with the territory.

He did reach the big leagues in relatively short order. Seventeen when he signed, Lyles was a precocious 20 years old when he debuted with the Astros in 2011. His first outing was a harbinger of things to come. The fresh-faced youngster allowed just a pair of runs over seven innings, only to see the bullpen blow the lead, depriving him of a win. At season’s end, Lyles was 2-7, the team 56-106.

Down on the farm hadn’t been much different. Every one of the affiliates Lyles played for prior to his first taste of the majors finished with a losing record. The call-up improved his pay rate but not his fortunes, and a subsequent change of organizational scenery didn’t help either. Lyles’s three years in Houston were followed by a four-season stint in MLB’s most challenging pitching environment.

“I was traded to Colorado, and everyone knows the struggles that happen at Coors,” said Lyles, who logged a 5.22 ERA during his Rockies tenure. “From there I was able to kind of settle in and start figuring out what kind of pitcher I wanted to be. It’s always a learning process — the brain never stops turning — and trying to find new and better ways is something that helps you come to the ballpark every day.”

Playing on a winning team helps even more. The righty didn’t hesitate when asked what he considers his most enjoyable season.

“It would have to be when I got traded over to Milwaukee in 2019 at the deadline,” said Lyles. “I had a really good run with them to help compete for a division. We ended up losing the wildcard game to the Nationals, but I was able to play a key secondary role in a team’s success. It’s something I was lucky to be a part of.”

Lyles made 11 starts for the Brewers after being acquired from the last-place Pirates in late July of that year. Incentivized by a pennant race, he won seven of eight decisions while posting a 2.45 ERA. A year earlier — this before signing with Pittsburgh as a free agent — he’d gone 1-0 with a 3.31 ERA in 11 relief appearances after being claimed off waivers by another postseason-bound Brewers ball club in August.

In Lyles’s opinion, the personal success hasn’t been a coincidence.

“It goes hand-in-hand,” said the veteran hurler. “My best stretches have been when I’ve gotten traded to winning ball clubs. The effort is always going to be the same, regardless of where I’m pitching, but the bottom line is that you want to win. That’s why you play the game.”

That he’s played almost exclusively for bad teams isn’t lost on the 12-year veteran.

“It’s more enjoyable to come to the field when you’re winning, and when you’re expecting to win,” acknowledged Lyles. “The summers seem a little bit shorter than they do with losing clubs. Quite simply, people enjoy winning. But while I haven’t experienced a lot of that, I’m both thankful and fortunate to be pitching in the big leagues. Hopefully I’ve got a couple more years left in me, and my luck will change.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Carl Yastrzemski went 17 for 50 against Nolan Ryan.

Jim Fregosi went 19 for 48 against Bill Monbouquette.

Lou Brock went 23 for 58 against Milt Pappas.

Larry Bowa went 24 for 67 against Dock Ellis.

Ryne Sandberg went 27 for 68 against Bill Gullickson.

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As was mentioned in last Sunday’s column, Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Jesse Goldberg-Strassler made his regular-season MLB debut earlier this month when the Oakland Athletics played a three-game series at Fenway Park. Filling in for the vacationing Ken Korach, Goldberg-Strassler shared the radio booth with Vince Cotroneo, a three-decade veteran of the airwaves who has been behind the mic in Oakland since 2006. Prior to joining the A’s, Cotroneo called games for the Texas Rangers, and before that, the Houston Astros.

Like Goldberg-Strassler, Cotroneo was a minor-league broadcaster when he got his first big-league opportunity. Unlike Goldberg-Strassler, he had no time to prepare.

“I was with the Tucson Toros in 1989,” explained Cotroneo. “At the end of the [Triple-A] season, Fred Nelson, who was the Astros’ director of the minor leagues, told me, ‘Hey, we want to fly you to Houston. You’re not going to go on the air, but you can kind of just hang out. It’s a reward for taking care of our players, and for doing a good job overall.’

“So, I went to Houston,” continued Cotroneo. “I was down on the field during batting practice, and then when I went up to the food room, the late Jamie Hildreth, who was then the director of broadcasting, comes up and say’s, ‘Hey, Brownie is sick’ — Bill Brown — ‘and can’t work tonight. I need you to do radio the next two days.’

“It was like the quarterback who they don’t tell is going to start until they flip the coin. I had no time to be nervous. When you’re going to do this for the first time, you’re going to over-prepare, but I didn’t have a chance to do that. I didn’t even have a scorebook with me. I just went in there — I worked alongside Larry Dierker — and did play-by-play for the middle three innings. That was my first game.”

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A quiz:

Mike Trout (.418) and Joey Votto (.414) boast the highest OBPs among active players with at least 5,000 plate appearances. Who ranks third in that category?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

The Milwaukee Brewers signed erstwhile Red Sox reliever Marcus Walden to a minor-league deal earlier this week and assigned him to Triple-A Nashville. The 33-year-old right-hander had been pitching for the Atlantic League’s Gastonia Honey Hunters.

Dave Wickersham, a right-handed pitcher who appeared in 283 games from 1960-1969, died last weekend at age 86. One of four players to play for both the Kansas City Athletics and Kansas City Royals — Moe Drabowsky, Aurelio Monteagudo, and Ken Sanders are the others — Wickersham also saw action with the Detroit Tigers and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Ohio University product went 19-12, 3.44 with Detroit in 1964.

The full schedule is now out for SABR’s 50th annual national convention. The all-are-welcome event will be held in Baltimore from August 17-21, with Sig Mejdal, the Orioles’ Vice President and Assistant General Manager of Analytics, delivering the opening remarks.

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The answer to the quiz is Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt, each with a career .391 OBP.

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Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch thinks highly of Rafael Devers, and well he should. The 25-year-old Red Sox third baseman has emerged as one of the most dangerous hitters in either league. Batting in the middle of the Boston lineup, Devers boasts a .331/.386/.612 slash line with 17 home runs and a 179 wRC+.

“I’m glad we only play him six times,” Hinch said on Tuesday. “I was just telling a story about when he was [20 years old] and hit a home run in the playoffs off of Francisco Liriano, and watching him grow and mature. The stage doesn’t bother him. The level of pitcher doesn’t bother him. He barrels the ball up as well as anybody in the league. His personality comes out when he plays. There’s nothing not to love about that kid.”

Following up, I asked Hinch if he’d put Devers on the shortlist of best hitters in the American League.

“The most dangerous,” replied Hinch, who was at the helm in Houston when Devers took Liriano yard in the 2017 ALDS. “If you need damage, he’s on a very short list. His intent matches his output. He tries to do damage, and he does it.”

Oliver Marmol was sitting down in Fenway Park’s visiting-manager’s office when I asked him about Devers last weekend. The St. Louis Cardinals’ skipper was equally effusive in his praise of the superstar-in the-making.

“He’s very good at baseball,” said Marmol, who proceeded to pick up a color-coded chart from his desk. “Looking at our matchup sheet of how we want to maneuver through the bullpen, there is a lot of red next to his name. That means, ‘good luck.’”

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Leonys Martín is slashing .165/.299/.313 with NPB’s Chiba Lotte Marines. The 34-year-old outfielder — a .244/.301/.367 hitter over parts of nine MLB seasons — has slashed .222/.352/.465 since coming over to Japan in 2019.

Roki Sasaki was back on the mound this week after a 10-day layoff. Facing the Seibu Lions, the 20-year-old Chiba Lotte Marines right-hander allowed three hits over seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts. Sasaki is 6-1 with a 1.56 ERA on the season.

Yuki Matsui has a 1.78 ERA to go with 17 saves, and he’s fanned 42 batters while allowing just 12 hits over 25-and-a-third innings for the Rakuten Golden Eagles. The 26-year-old southpaw has recorded 30 or more saves in four of his NPB seasons.

Hyeong Jun So is 7-2 with a 2.69 ERA and a 3.02 FIP over 86 innings with the KBO’s KT Wiz. The 20-year-old right-hander is 27-15 with a 3.66 ERA since debuting as an 18-year-old in 2020.

ByungHo Park has 21 home runs, tops among KBO batters. The 35-year-old former Minnesota Twins first baseman is slashing .241/.308/.530 with the KT Wiz.

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Who is the best left-handed-hitter in MLB? I asked that question in a Twitter poll a few days ago, with the four options being Yordan Alvarez, Rafael Devers, Bryce Harper, and Juan Soto. (Due to my inattentiveness and the evils of autocorrect, the first option actually read “Jordan Alvarez.” Who I meant was obvious enough.)

On the subject of autocorrect, has there been a more utile, yet teeth-gnashing, invention? Maybe the leaf blower?

Back on point. Soto won the poll going away. The Washington Nationals megastar — this despite his having by far a career-worst year — garnered a healthy 56.0% of the vote. Alvarez finished second with 20.5%,, Harper placed third with 15.2%,, and Devers pulled up the rear with a meager 8.3%.

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FARM NOTES

Curtis Mead is slashing .302/.392/.540 with 10 home runs and a 144 wRC+ for the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits. The 21-year-old infielder from Adelaide, Australia — No. 3 on our Tampa Bay Rays Top Prospect list — was the subject of a FanGraphs Q&A last October.

Taylor Kohlwey is slashing .340/.431/.522 with seven home runs and a 141 wRC+ for the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas. Featured in Sunday Notes last September, the 27-year-old outfielder in the San Diego Padres system played his college ball at Division III Wisconsin-LaCrosse.

Lenyn Sosa has 85 hits, second most in the minors. The 22-year-old infielder from Ordaz, Venezuela — No. 14 on our Chicago White Sox Top Prospects list — is slashing .331/.384/.549 with 14 home runs for the Double-A Birmingham Barons.

Cam Robinson has 16 saves, the most in the minors. The 22-year-old Tampa-born right-hander — No. 35 on our Milwaukee Brewers Top Prospects list — has a 1.67 ERA to go with 46 strikeouts, and 19 hits allowed, in 32-and-a-third innings with the High-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

Mitchell Parker is 3-1 with a 1.80 ERA over 50 innings for the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks. The 21-year-old left-hander from Albuquerque, New Mexico — a fifth-round pick last year by the Washington Nationals out of San Jacinto College — has fanned 61 batters and allowed just 31 hits.

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Chaim Bloom was a guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and one of the topics I broached with Boston’s Chief Baseball Officer was the trading of popular and productive players. Bloom has shown a willingness to make bold moves since being hired in October 2019 — dealing Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers sent shockwaves — and he’s well aware of how such moves are received by a fanbase. He’s also steadfast in his belief that decisions ultimately need to be made with the best interests of the organization in mind.

“At the end of the day, if the only reason that we wouldn’t do something is because we’re worried about getting criticized for it, that’s not a good enough reason,” Bloom said on the pod. “We need to be better than that. If we think something is right for the organization, we have to be willing to do it, even if we expect criticism. Now, the criticism matters on some level, because we are in the entertainment business. We’re in a very public situation, and public business. Obviously, whatever noise there is may impact what we’re trying to do. We need to factor that in, but shame on us if the possibility of criticism pushes us off something that we think is right.”

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With trades in mind, if I’m the Red Sox — or any other serious contender in want of a high-quality back-of-the-bullpen piece — my primary target would be David Bednar. Since joining the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to last season as part of the Joe Musgrove deal, the 27-year-old right-hander has a 2.06 ERA and a 2.58 FIP over 89 relief appearances, and he’s logged 126 strikeouts, while allowing just 61 hits, in 96 innings. Bednar has 11 saves this season, and three of them have been of the multi-inning variety.

Dealing Bednar would be an unpopular move in Pittsburgh — he’s a homegrown hurler performing at a high level — but at the same time, a rebuilding team has limited need for a closer. Pirates GM Ben Cherington knows that, which means Bednar is almost assuredly available for the right price. He won’t come cheap, but if late-game shutdown innings are your primary need, Bednar is your man.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

A historic Negro League park in Hamtramck, Michigan has come back to life. Jason Beck has the story at MLB.com.

Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch told reporters — including yours truly — that pitching coach Chris Fetters has declined an opportunity to become the head coach at the University of Michigan. Brandon Day wrote about Fetter’s decision at Bless You Boys.

Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Joe Mantiply has 28 consecutive appearances without issuing a walk, and AZSnakepit’s Jim McLennan feels the righty deserves to be an All-Star.

The MLBPA’s Jerry Crasnick wrote about four San Diego Padres holding an impromptu Cape Cod League reunion, eleven years after winning a title.

Purple Row’s Joelle Miholm wrote about Title IX and the slow integration of women in baseball.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Colorado Rockies have stolen 13 bases in 25 attempts. The Chicago White Sox have stolen 33 bases in 35 attempts.

The New York Mets have hit 16 triples and 70 home runs. The New York Yankees have hit four triples and 118 home runs.

Going into the weekend, the Houston Astros had hit 95 home runs and scored 300 runs. The Cleveland Guardians had hit 53 home runs and scored 300 runs.

Freddie Freeman has a .296 career batting average, 986 RBIs, and has grounded into 130 double plays. Paul Goldschmidt has a .295 career batting average, 988 RBIs, and has grounded into 130 double plays.

St. Louis Cardinals left-hander Larry Jaster faced the pennant-winning Los Angeles Dodgers five times in 1965, and threw a complete-game shutout each time. They were the only shutouts for Jaster that year, who finished with 11-5 with a 3.26 ERA.

On today’s date in 1977, Rod Carew and Glenn Adams combined to go 8 for 10 with 14 RBIs to lead the Minnesota Twins to a 19-12 win over the Chicago White Sox. Adams hit a grand slam off of Steve Stone.

On today’s date in 1972, Gary Nolan ran his record to 10-2 by throwing an eight-hit shutout as the Cincinnati Reds beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0. Forty-nine-year-old knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm pitched two scoreless innings of relief for the losing side.

Players born on today’s date include Jean-Pierre Roy, whose big-league career comprised three pitching appearances for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946. A native of Montreal, and a member of the Quebec Baseball Hall of Fame, Roy was a Montreal Expos broadcaster from 1969-1984.

Also born on today’s date was Debs Garms, an outfielder/third baseman who played for four teams from 1932-1945. Garms broke up Johnny Vander Meer’s 21-and-two-thirds-hitless-innings streak in 1938, and two years later he led the National League with a .355 batting average while with the Pittsburgh Pirates. A native of Bangs, Texas, Garms was named after Eugene Victor Debs, a longtime leader of the Socialist Party of America.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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sadtrombonemember
5 months ago

I was going to go with Miguel Cabrera for highest OBP among active players (5000 PAs or more), but he’s fifth. Turns out the last 2000 (!!!) PAs of substandard play have taken their toll, because through age 33 he had an OBP of .399. (Votto’s was also higher. And Pujols was way, way higher. Paul Goldschmidt is actually slightly lower, because of he’s on fire this year and he’s age 34)

So the question of “who has the highest OBP among active players” sounds like a fair comparison but since it includes decline years the year is confounded with age. 5000 PAs sort of addresses that but just shifts the confounding. This has been your morning edition of “Dilemmas in Demography: Baseball Edition.”

tz
5 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The fact that Bryce Harper has already had over 5000 career PAs kind of overwhelmed me. Still seems like we’re waiting for the kid to reach his potential, even though he’s already in his 11th MLB season.

Left of Centerfield
5 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I guessed Goldschmidt, but as of this morning, BR shows Harper at .3913 and Goldschmidt .3908. So technically Harper is the answer for the moment.