When Billy Hamilton smoked a line drive into the Great American Ballpark left field seats yesterday, I officially started to become concerned with the 2018 version of Tyler Lyons. After all, the switch hitting speedster Hamilton possesses a career .322 slugging percentage. He is known for his speed, not his power. I was already put off by some other Lyons appearances so far this year, but this one was enough for me to want to dig into what was going on.
Cardinals Twitter is known for making jokes about how often Matt Bowman pitches, but quietly its Tyler Lyons who leads the team with 9 appearances out of the bullpen for the 2nd place Cardinals. He currently sits with a 5.40 ERA and a 4.41 FIP. He has been scored upon in 3 of his 9 appearances and has only had 1 clean inning where he hasn’t allowed a baserunner. He has struck out 8 batters over his 6.2 innings of work, but the walks are a concern here. He is walking batters at a 9.4% clip which would be a career high for the lefty. I am not implying there is an overuse issue here, but if Lyons is going to be the “high leverage” guy out of the pen, he has got to perform better than this.
That was the bad, what about the good. Is there any good so far in Lyons’ 2018 season? The answer is, kind of. He is still striking out batters at an above average clip of 25%. While this is down from his breakout 2017 campaign of 30.9%, it is still more than sufficient out of the bullpen. His BABIP sits at .368, but that’s down over 100 points from the .473 it sat at before yesterday’s outing. The 3 ground balls he induced after the Hamilton home run really took a chunk out of that high BABIP. That right there is where the optimism lies. He has a 31.6% groundball rate, which is down from 41.9% in 2017. If he can get that ground ball rate back to normal and not allow the fly balls as often as he has so far in 2018, that BABIP should come crashing down to his career norm of .276.
So far he has been a tad unlucky in 2018, but bad luck mixed with walking batters leads to the poor results he has had. The Cardinals need Lyons to be the 2017 version. Especially with him currently being the only left handed option out of the pen due to injuries to Ryan Sherriff and Brett Cecil. He needs to be the sure thing that Matheny can turn to when things get messy in the middle to late innings. It’s still very early and the BABIP should come down, but if it doesn’t and he continues to allow base runners at the clip he is now, then it’ll be time to worry about whether 2017 was the outlier and 2018 is really what Lyons is.