Sunday Notes: Revisiting Jordan Lyles, Who is Winning With The Orioles by David Laurila August 14, 2022 The Baltimore Orioles were nine games under. 500 when I talked to Jordan Lyles in late May, and they were only a smattering of games better when the veteran right-hander was featured here in Sunday Notes on June 26. Not much changed over a month’s time. Moreover, most signs pointed to the rebuilding Birds’ going on to have a sixth straight losing season. A revisiting of what I wrote seven weeks ago is in order. Not only has Baltimore morphed into one of baseball’s hottest teams, the crux of that column was Lyles’s bad-club background. Now in his 12th big-league season, the journeyman hurler came into the current campaign having never played a full year with a team that finished above .500. That might be about to change. With 24 wins in their last 33 games, the Orioles went into last night with a record of 59-53, in third place in the American League East and in possession of the final wildcard slot. Earlier this week, I asked Lyles about the team’s unexpected ascent in the standings. “When we talked, there was a different atmosphere around our ball club, our clubhouse,” said Lyles. “Things definitely turned around and got moving in a better direction for us. It’s been a joyful ride. It’s been fun to see these young guys start to grow, and to grow quickly.” Amid that growth, the Orioles front office saw fit to take one step backward in hopes of taking two steps forward. In moves that weren’t well-received by much of the fan base, Baltimore traded Trey Mancini and Jorge Lopez. On back-to-back days, an impact bat and a closer departed town in exchange for a further influx of promising, yet mostly-unproven, talent. “We had a little hiccup at the deadline,” acknowledged Lyles. “Two of our better players went to different teams. It was a probably a tough week or so leading up to that deadline for [General Manager] Mike Elias, deciding what direction would be best for the organization. I thought it was up in the air, that it could go either way.” Lyles is quite aware that he too could have changed addresses. At age 31, and with a pitching pipeline that includes then likes of DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, he doesn’t profile as a big part of the team’s future. That he’s still in Baltimore comes as a relief. “I’ve been on ball clubs that had no chance of making it to the playoffs, but this year is different,” said Lyles, who is 9-8 with a 4.35 ERA and a 4.43 FIP over a team-high 130-and-one-third innings. “In the weeks prior to the deadline we just kind of hit a switch and turned it on. It was fun showing up every day, so I was more than OK to remain an Oriole. Our younger guys have stepped up since the trades, too. I’m excited to continue to be an Oriole past the deadline.” As for the team’s postseason possibilities, let’s just say that Lyles is equal parts pragmatic and positive. “We have a tough schedule moving forward,” reasoned Lyles. “We all know that. Really, it’s not so much about thinking playoffs, but rather more of trying to win each series. Every time we show up we feel that we can take two out of three from a good team. Confidence wise… we have a lot of it right now.” ——— RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS Honus Wagner went 29 for 74 against Noodles Hahn. Derek Jeter went 12 for 20 against Hideo Nomo. Jimmy Rollins went 12 for 19 against Nate Snell. Julio Franco went 9 for 14 against Bobby Thigpen. Pablo Sandoval went 7 for 12 against Johan Santana. ——— Jeff Francoeur knows his way around a batter’s box. Now a TV analyst for the Atlanta Braves (and occasionally for TBS), he logged 5,700-plus plate appearances in a big-league career that spanned the 2005-2016 seasons. A free-swinger during his playing days, Francoeur spent six of his 12 years with the team he currently broadcasts for. Which current Atlanta Braves pitcher would the erstwhile outfielder have least liked to face during his playing career? Charlie Morton,” was Francoeur’s response when I posed that question earlier this week. “If I were a left-handed hitter, it would be Max Fried. It’s because of the curveball. Charlie’s is so dynamic. He can literally throw it three or four different ways. And then Max, he does such a good job of coming in with the heater. He will pound you in, in, in, and then drop the curve. To me, those two would be the toughest pitchers.” Francoeur swung the bat from the right side. Morton would thus be the tougher of the two. Correct? “100%,” agreed Francoeur. “That curveball would screw me up. I could always handle the fastball. It was the curveball that gave me problems.” ——— A quiz: The same pitcher is the Kansas City Royals franchise leader in complete games, shutouts, and home runs allowed. Who is it? The answer can be found below. ——— NEWS NOTES Ian Kinsler and John Blake were inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame yesterday. Kinsler played eight of his 14 big-league seasons, and logged 1,145 of his 1,999 career hits, with the Rangers. Currently the club’s Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, Blake has spent 34 of his 44 years in professional baseball with the Rangers. The championship game of Baseball Canada’s 22U Nationals were held last Sunday in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Newmarket, Ontario took home the title, beating the host team 3-1. The wife of Arizona Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen died earlier this month after a battle with brain cancer. Information on how to donate to The Nicole Hazen Fund For Hope, which endeavors to fight aggressive brain tumors, can be found here. Mike Bordick has been added as a featured speaker for next week’s National SABR Conference, which will be held in Baltimore from August 17-21. Information can be found here. ——- The answer to the quiz is Dennis Leonard, who pitched for the Royals from 1974-1986. Paul Splittorff ranks second in all three categories. ——— Sandy Alcantara has arguably been the best pitcher in baseball this season. The Miami Marlins right-hander has a 2.01 ERA and a 2.85 FIP over an MLB-high 166 innings, and his 4.4 pitcher WAR is tied with Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodón for the most in majors. According to Louis Head, his former teammate’s dedication to his craft ranks second to none. “I’ve played professional baseball for awhile, and I’ve played with some really good players,” said Head, who spent the first three months of this season with Miami before being claimed off waivers by the Orioles. “I would put few of them into a category with Sandy Alcantara when it comes to work ethic. He is laser-focused. Even the day after his start, he’s got a plan, and he does it, and he sticks to it. Whether it’s in the weight room, his catch play… he’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen.” And there is Alcantara’s arsenal. “The stuff he has is unbelievable,” exclaimed Head. “I mean, when you’ve got three quality pitches that you can throw for a strike anytime you want… and I shouldn’t even say ‘quality,’ it’s three elite pitches that he can put anywhere he wants. I think that goes to show the work ethic in developing those pitches. A lot goes on behind the scenes that allows him to do what he does.” ——— FOREIGN AFFAIRS Munetaka Murakami became the youngest player in NPB history to reach 40 home runs in a season when he went deep on Thursday at the age of 22. The Yakult Swallows slugger broke the record co-held by Sadaharu Oh (1963) and Koji Akiyama (1985), both of whom were 23 years old. Edwin Escobar is 4-0 with two saves and a 1.75 ERA over 46-and-two-thirds innings with the Yokohama BayStars. The 30-year-old former Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks southpaw has been pitching in NPB since 2017. Juan Lagares has 11 hits, including a home run, in 42 at bats for SSG Landers. The former New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels outfielder signed with the KBO club last month after being DFA’d by the Halos. Mexican League batters are slashing a robust .304/.380/.488 this season. The best starting pitchers in the hitter-friendly circuit have been former Texas Rangers right-hander Yohander Méndez, who is 7-0 with a 2.78 ERA, and Cuban left-hander Yoennis Yera, who is 8-2 with a 3.01 ERA. The Australian Baseball League announced its schedule for the 2022-2023 season, which gets underway on the second weekend of November. The ABL is returning after a two-year hiatus and will comprise eight teams. ——— Spencer Strider was featured here at FanGraphs earlier this week, with the subjects at hand being a pair of his previous outings, and the effectiveness of elevated fastballs. Left on the cutting room floor from my conversation with the Atlanta Braves right-hander were his thoughts on two other subjects: BABIP, and a team that’s done a frustratingly-good job of laying off his high heaters. “I don’t look at my BABIP over small samples, because that’s something that tends to correct,” the analytically-savvy hurler told me. “But I do over larger ones. I have a very low FIP (1.97). If I have a very low batting-average-against, I want to know if I’m earning these these outs or if I’m getting lucky. If I’m getting lucky, that’s a trend I can expect to change. I need to know that, So far, my BABIP and my batting-average-against have been pretty correlated. My (.299) BABIP isn’t lower than the league average by a significant margin.” The team that most stands out for its ability not to chase his high-riders is the same one that tagged him for four runs over two-and-two-thirds innings on August 7. Of the six hits Strider allowed that day, half were well struck, while the others had xBAs of .060, .170, and .220. “The Mets put together phenomenal at bats,” said Strider. “When they fall behind, they’re both patient and foul off a lot of balls. You can can only throw so many pitches in a sequence before something unfavorable can happen. BABIP is going to be around .300, so you can only get so many balls in play before some of them end up falling for hits. That’s what makes them really good; they put balls in play and are able to take advantage of that. “They are clearly very aware that teams struggle with laying off my fastball,” continued Strider. “That’s been their approach. It’s something I’ll have to figure out.” ——— FARM NOTES Logan O’Hoppe has four home runs in six games since joining the Double-A Rocket City Trash Pandas last weekend. Acquired by the Los Angeles Angels from the Philadelphia Phillies at the trade deadline, the 22-year-catcher has a 147 wRC+ and has gone deep 19 times on the season. Chandler Redmond left the yard four times for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals on Wednesday night. The 25-year-old first baseman’s round-trippers included a solo shot, two- and three-run homers, and a grand slam. St. Louis’s 32nd-round pick in the 2019 draft has a 102 wRC+ and 17 home runs on the season. Sandro Gaston leads all Dominican Summer League hitters with 11 home runs. The 19-year-old Cuban-born catcher/first baseman in the Houston Astros system is slashing .328/.427/.702 with a 185 wRC+ in 157 plate appearances. Bryan Woo has fanned 48 batters and issued just six walks in 34 innings between three levels in the Seattle Mariners system. Currently with High-A Everett, the 22-year-old right-hander — a sixth-round pick in last year’s draft out of Cal Poly — has a 2.91 ERA and a 3.09 FIP. Mitch Bratt has a 2.35 ERA and a 3.21 FIP to go with 76 strikeouts and 20 walks in 61-and-a-third innings for the Low-A Down East Wood Ducks. The 19-year-old left-hander from Newmarket, Ontario, Canada was drafted in the fifth round last year by the Texas Rangers. ——— The Athletic’s Kaitlyn McGrath was the featured guest on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and among the subjects addressed by the Toronto-based writer was the issue of non-vaccinated players’ not being allowed into Canada. I asked McGrath for a north-of-the-border perspective on the obviously-not-understood-by-all dynamic. “I think the Toronto media is a little bit tired of that storyline to some extent,” said McGrath. “It happens every series where a new team comes in and there are some guys that can’t play. Then some of the US media go on about how the Blue Jays are at such an advantage… [and] it doesn’t completely capture the entire picture. On the one hand, yes, sometimes teams are not sending 100 percent of their team to Toronto. On the other hand, the Blue Jays have had to also ensure that everyone on their team is vaccinated. That was an endeavor they had to take over the offseason, over spring training, making sure that every single player on their 40-man — if they wanted to be part of the team — was vaccinated. “I’m a Canadian citizen and to travel to the US, I have to prove that I’m vaccinated in order to travel there,” McGrath went on to say.” A lot of players who are not American citizens have had to deal with that… There has been this storyline of ‘I don’t want Canada telling me what I can do,’ but the US has the same rules. It’s not just a Canadian thing. So there’s that hamster-wheel of a storyline as well.” ——— LINKS YOU’LL LIKE SportsNet Canada’s Shi Davidi took a detailed look at Blue Jays manager John Schneider, whose message has been resonating with Toronto’s players. The Score’s Travis Sawchik theorized that the new left-field dimensions at Camden Yards might be helping to fuel the Orioles’ unexpected success this season. Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri wonders if Washington Nationals left-hander Patrick Corbin is having the worst pitching season ever. At MiLB.com, John Liepa presented us with a brief history of the Blue Sox and Bunnies, teams that played significant roles in Iowa’s baseball past. At The Kyodo News, Jim Allen chronicled the 150-year journey of transformation for Japanese baseball. Solomon Bates signed with the independent American Association’s Sioux City Explorers on Thursday, two days after the 25-year-old former San Francisco Giants pitching prospect publicly came out as gay. Alex Reimer has the story at Out Sports. ——— RANDOM FACTS AND STATS The Cleveland Guardians (originally the Cleveland Blues) and Detroit Tigers have played each other 2,284 times since the franchises were formed in 1901. Detroit has won 1,142 of those games. Cleveland has also won 1,142. The Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and New York/San Francisco Giants have played each other 2,531 times. The Giants have 1,273 wins, the Dodgers 1,258 wins. Derek Jeter had 3,465 hits, 97 sacrifice bunts, and 58 sacrifice flies. Mike Bordick had 1,500 hits, 97 sacrifice bunts, and 54 sacrifice flies. Luis Arraez has 11 career sacrifice flies and no sacrifice bunts. Travis Jankowski has 11 career sacrifice bunts and no sacrifice flies. The Detroit Tigers have hit an MLB-low 66 home runs this year, with only Javier Báez (11) and Jeimer Candelario (10) in double figures. In 2004, a Tigers team that finished 72-90 went deep 201 times and had 11 players finish with 10 or more. Xander Bogaerts hit his 300th career double on Thursday, becoming the 11th player to reach that mark with the Red Sox. Bogaerts is the just the second to do so before his 30th birthday, Carl Yastrzemski having notched 312 on his way to a franchise-best 646. Bogaerts turns 30 on October 1. The Detroit Tigers swept a doubleheader from the St. Louis Browns on today’s date in 1937, winning by scores of 16-1 and 20-7. Gee Walker, Pete Fox, and Charlie Gehringer — the first three batters in the Tigers’ batting order — went a combined 21-for-29 over the two games. On today’s date in 2000, Rico Brogna hit a walk-off grand slam to give the Boston Red Sox a 7-3 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Brogna’s blast — his lone home run in a Red Sox uniform — followed intentional walks to Carl Everett and Nomar Garciaparra. On today’s date in 1954, pinch-hitter Hobie Landrith singled home Ted Kluszewski in the bottom of the 10th inning to lift the Cincinnati Reds to a 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Corky Valentine, a right-hander who Hank Aaron once called the most ornery character in the league — “I’m not saying he was a racist; I think Corky Valentine just hated everybody” — got the win in relief. Players born on today’s date include David Manning, whose big-league career comprised two pitching appearances for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2003. The right-hander had a 16.20 ERA and was charged with a loss in each of his starts. Also born on today’s date was Tommy Shields, whose big-league career comprised two games with the Baltimore Orioles in 1992 and 20 with the Chicago Cubs in 1993. An infielder who earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree in sports management from the University of Massachusetts, Shields is now the bench coach for the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.