We’re two weeks into the season, and I imagine this is not the start that the Yankees nor their fans envisioned. A mostly-listless offense is the main culprit, though 80 percent of the starting rotation also deserves blame. Brian Cashman assembled a staff of four-plus wide variance starters behind Gerrit Cole with the hope they could hit their top percentile outcomes, but so far that high-risk bet has not paid off.
As Joe detailed yesterday, the Yankees bullpen has been the saving grace of the team so far. With the starters not named Cole struggling to clear five innings per start, it will take a herculean effort by the relief corps to remain effective across the 162-game season. Don’t be surprised to see unexpected names pop up in important game situations (Albert Abreu anyone?)
Left-handed relievers make up a sizable chunk of the bullpen, ostensibly to combat the right field short porch of Yankee Stadium. The Yankees’ two most trusted relievers - Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman - are lefties, but there is also a contingent of southpaws behind them in the depth chart. Justin Wilson and Lucas Luetge have each appeared several times this season, to varying degrees of success. Tyler Lyons is another veteran lefty sitting in the alternate camp, awaiting his opportunity to crack the 40-man roster and contribute at the major league level this season.
2020 Stats: 1.2 IP, 21.60 ERA, 6.79 FIP, 9.11 xFIP, 0.00 K/9, 5.40 BB/9, 2.400 WHIP, 0.0 fWAR
2021 FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections: 13.0 IP, 4.85 ERA, 5.12 FIP, 8.78 K/9, 4.10 BB/9, 1.430 WHIP, 0.0 fWAR
The Yankees originally signed Lyons to a minor-league deal midway through the 2019 season. He has since been outrighted off the roster and signed to new minor league deals several times, most recently in January. He has never been much more than your typical September call-up type pitcher, added to the roster to fill garbage-time innings at the end of the regular season.
As such he has only pitched 12 regular and postseason innings over the last two seasons, usually when the team is winning or losing big. To his credit, he performed admirably in his 1.2 innings of work in the 2019 playoffs, holding the Twins and Astros scoreless while recording four strikeouts.
Lyons pitched his first six big league seasons with the Cardinals, and he was one of the Redbirds’ most effective relievers in that span, with a 3.35 ERA, 3.78 FIP, and almost ten strikeouts per nine in 161 innings. In 2016 and 2017, he achieved the most and second-most horizontal movement of any slider in baseball, helped by his low-three-quarters delivery and wide-arcing arm path across his body. I like to think of him as a left-handed Adam Ottavino, or rather, he was five years ago.
That version is likely long gone, as his velocity and spin have gradually declined each year. The four-seamer has dropped from a high of 91.4 mph in 2016 to just under 88 mph in 2020, while his slider’s horizontal movement as a function of velocity has been cut in half. It should be no surprise then that his average exit velocity, fly ball, hard hit, barrel rates all skyrocketed in 2020 while his whiff and put away rates plummeted.
Lyons will probably never get back to his glory days pitching for the Cardinals. Nonetheless, there is value in a veteran pitcher who can eat up miscellaneous innings to give the higher-leverage guys the night off. The Yankees will need their minor league depth relievers to step up at some point during the season, and I trust Lyons more than the unseasoned options at the alternate site. Unfortunately for the southpaw, the logjam on the 40-man ahead of him may prove an insurmountable obstacle.