Jordan Lyles' 2019 season is a perfect reflection of the Pirates' starting rotation overall: Historically dominant out of the gate, and historically hittable ever since.
He salvaged his career as a reliever last year by revamping his pitch mix -- four-seam fastballs high in the zone, hammer curves at the knees -- and appeared to translate those results to an expanded starting role with Pittsburgh this spring. Signed to a one-year, $2.05 million deal over the winter, he was touted as one of the biggest free agent bargains in the game and another example of the Pirates finding value from a veteran pitching reclamation project.
And then, he hit the wall. Hard.
Already nearing his innings pitched total from last season (75 frames in 2019, 87.2 in '18), Lyles has been crushed since late May while also dealing with a lingering left hamstring injury. Over his first eight starts, spanning 47.2 innings pitched, Lyles had a 1.89 ERA with 9.3 strikeouts, 3.2 walks and 0.9 home runs per nine innings pitched. His fielding independent ERA (FIP) -- a more accurate measure of pitching performance that's based on strikeouts, walks and homers allowed -- was 3.34. Since then, Lyles has lasted just 29.1 innings in seven starts. He's still missing bats (10.1 K/9), but he has lost the strike zone (4.6 BB/9) while serving up a staggering 2.5 home runs per nine frames. Lyles' ERA over that seven-start stretch is 10.13 (second-worst in the majors among pitchers with 20+ innings pitched since mid-May) and his FIP is 6.14. Even in a rotation stretched too thin by injury, Lyles must have a short leash at this point.
Let's take a closer look at the differences between a dominant Lyles, and the guy getting drubbed over the past couple of months.