In a roster with so many sparkling names in the bullpen, the fact that Tyler Lyons was named by manager Aaron Boone to occupy one of the spots against the Minnesota Twins raised some eyebrows.
Lyons was scooped up by the Yankees in August, after pitching with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 2019. In three games with the Bucs, he posted an ugly 11.25 ERA in four innings pitched, with six hits allowed and three walks. He struck out five, and his WHIP stood at 2.25.
After a few weeks at the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, Lyons was among the first round of September call-ups. In just one month, he showed Boone enough to warrant a spot in the ALDS roster against the AL Central champions.
The recipe for success
In 11 games with the Yankees, Lyons pitched adequately: he had a 4.15 ERA in 8.2 innings, with a WHIP of 1.04, two bases on balls and 12 strikeouts. He had some troubles with the long ball (three taters allowed) but he, once again, looked like a major leaguer.
For much of his career, Lyons has been effective thanks to his slider. In 2016 and 2017, his best statistical years, he put up 7.6 and 9.9 runs above average with the pitch (per FanGraphs) and used it frequently, especially in 2017.
In the three games he pitched with the Pirates this year, he threw sliders just 35.7% of the time. The Yankees seem to have identified that his success will go hand in hand with that of his slider. In the month he has been with the team, Lyons has increased its usage to a whopping 57%. It seems to have paid off so far.
Occupying a precious roster spot
The fact that Lyons made the roster over other Yankee hurlers is somewhat surprising, but the decision is understandable. After all, Lyons might make more sense than other left-handers in consideration for a spot, such as Stephen Tarpley and Nestor Cortes Jr. because of his experience with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was an effective hurler for the first five of those six years before things went south in 2018.
Of course, not much is expected from Lyons this time around, not in a bullpen that hosts names such as Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, Jonathan Loaisiga, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green. He may very well be the low-leverage guy that takes the hill when a game is blown open, to rest his high-profile peers.
But that role is often more important than it seems. And this time around, the Yankees might have prioritized Lyons because he is a lefty and, unlike Tarpley, can throw more strikes, which is a desirable trait for mop-up duty. Additionally, Tarpley may not be fully healthy, according to Boone.
And, given that the Yankees’ pitching corps have more than enough men capable of throwing multiple innings (Cessa, Green, Happ, and Loaisiga come to mind) Lyons seems to be a better fit than Cortes.
Lyons against lefties
The small sample size available in the season indicates that Lyons, against lefties, has been extremely 2019: homer-prone, but strikeout-heavy. He has allowed three of his four dingers vs. left-handed hitters, but he also has a whopping 18.56 K/9, with just 1.69 BB/9.
For his career, Lyons’ numbers against left-handed batters are quite impressive. He has held them to a .208 average, with a .288 OBP and a .344 slugging percentage.
His OPS against lefties is a paltry .631. Considering that the Twins have some dangerous left-handed bats like Eddie Rosario, Luis Arráez, and Max Kepler, he might be of use depending on the spot and on whether the top high-leverage are unavailable.