On the surface this may look like yet another plea to keep top prospect Jordan Lyles in Oklahoma City longer to fully develop, but that has already been done several times over and is not what I set out to do. Instead, I am simply trying to see how Lyles’ minor league stats stack up to other top pitching prospects whose names we do know, and have experienced some success at the major league level. I chose ten other high school drafted pitcher’s that were at one time or another considered an elite prospect for their respective clubs to compare minor league statistics and see where Jordan Lyles place is amongst the pack.
The chart below shows minor league statistic averages for the ten pitchers selected before their first trip to the major leagues. All minor league stats listed were gathered from baseball reference’s website.
Out of these ten pitchers the average amount of games started in the minors was 69, and the average amount of innings pitched in the minors was 390. Only three of the ten threw less than 300 innings and of those three only Josh Beckett threw under 200 innings. The three pitchers that threw under 300 innings, Gooden, Sabathia, and Beckett all had the highest K/9 ratio, which was over 11 for all three pitchers. This probably would have leveled off if these three had pitched more innings at the higher levels of the minors. Of the three nobody pitched at a level higher than Double-A, and none of the three pitched a complete season of Double-A ball. Dwight Gooden made the jump from A-ball to the majors. Out of the pitchers that threw over 300 innings, Tommy Hanson had the highest K/9 ratio of 10.7, followed by Jeremy Hellickson at 9.8, and Roy Oswalt at 9.73. What I found most surprising is that out of the ten pitchers sampled Roy Halladay had the lowest K/9 ratio at 6.42, and he also had the highest ERA of the group at 3.98.
How does Jordan Lyles measure up to this group?
Lyles is in the middle of the pack in both games started and innings pitched. His K/9 ratio is 7th, ahead of Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson, Madison Bumgarner, and Jon Lester. He is also in the middle of the pack in both BB/9 (5th), and HR/9 (tied for 6th). On the downside Lyles is 10th in ERA, just finishing ahead of Roy Halladay. Lyles also finishes dead last in hits allowed per 9 innings, and allows almost 2 more hits per 9 innings than the average of this group.
How long is long enough?
Out of this group Lyles falls right in the middle of minor league innings pitched and has had success, which leads us to the question how long until Lyles makes his major league debut. To help answer this I decided to compare where Lyles sits at the highest level of minor league ball to the rest. Josh Johnson, Dwight Gooden, CC Sabathia, and Josh Beckett never pitched at the Triple-A level and therefore were not included in this chart.
At the Triple-A level Lyles ranks last in ERA and H/9, and is in the bottom 3 in K/9 and BB/9. Considering the company, Lyles has not performed terrible at the Triple-A level, but with more time he could probably get back to the level of success that he experienced at the lower levels of the system.
How did success in the minors translate into success in the majors for these pitchers?
The last question that I will look at is how long it took these pitchers to be successful at the major league level after experiencing a good amount of success in the minors. Besides Madison Bumgarner and Jeremy Hellickson who are experiencing success but have less than 1 year of service time, all of these pitchers experienced success in the majors relatively fast. After parts of 2 seasons in the majors in 2006 and 2007, Jon Lester put everything together in 2008 and posted a WAR value of 5.1. Josh Beckett was limited with injury issues in the early going, but experienced success when he was healthy. In his first three years in the majors his K/9 ratio never dropped below 9, and averaged an ERA of 3.50. Similar to Beckett, Josh Johnson also had his share of injury troubles, and only pitched more than 150 innings once in his first 4 seasons before remaining healthy and posting a 5.6 WAR in 2009. Both Roy Oswalt and CC Sabathia hit the ground running and posted a WAR above 4 in their first full season. Tommy Hanson experienced success in a partial season in 2009, and also posted a WAR above 4 in his first full season in 2010. Of the pitchers mentioned, Roy Halladay struggled the most, and took 4 seasons before he posted a WAR above 4. Dwight Gooden was in a category all by himself and posted a WAR of 8.6 in his first season in the majors.
Jordan Lyles may not have as much success as any of these pitchers on this list in the majors, but his minor league numbers are at least comparable to them. While Jordan Lyles is projected to be a number 2 or 3 starter by most, it is good to see that he stacks up decent when compared to some of the other elite pitchers that were drafted out of high school. I would love to see the Astros take an approach that is similar to the approach the Rays took with Jeremy Hellickson, and allow him to fully develop in the minors before bringing him up. After all, Lyles is only expected to get better with time, and he is already starting to show signs of adjusting at the Triple-A level.