Lyles reinvents himself into $16M pitcher

December 16th, 2019

ARLINGTON -- Right-hander was 27-46 with a 5.28 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP over 115 starts through the first eight years of his career. His relief ERA was also 5.28 from 2011-18.

Lyles' former batterymate, Yasmani Grandal, said that the Rangers don't need to worry about that.

"You're not looking at the same guy," said Grandal, who was Lyles' catcher during a terrific 11-start stretch for the Brewers after being acquired from the Pirates ahead of the Trade Deadline last season. "He's completely different now the way he is throwing."

Lyles was 7-1 with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP during that two-month stint, with Grandal behind the plate for most of his starts. That's the pitcher the Rangers are hoping to get after signing Lyles to a two-year, $16 million contract, which was announced on Friday after Lyles completed his physical.

Lyles will receive a $2 million signing bonus and a $7 million salary for each of the next two seasons.

The Rangers see Lyles and right-hander Kyle Gibson -- signed earlier this month -- as fitting on the back end of a rotation led by Mike Minor and Lance Lynn.

"Just like the direction they are headed," Lyles said. "There are a lot of positives. They were one of the teams that showed the strongest interest. Everything sounded great to me. Along those lines, in 2020, I thought it would be a great spot to be in with Mike, Lance and Kyle, be a part of a veteran rotation. I felt I could help out, so it was a good landing spot."

The Rangers got a front-row seat to Lyles' transformation with the Brewers when they went up against him on Aug. 11 in Milwaukee. Lyles held Texas to one run on three hits over seven innings. He walked four and struck out nine in a 1-0 loss to Minor. It was his only loss in 11 starts for the Brewers.

"Jordan Lyles was a guy we identified that he found something last year," Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. "When we faced him, we said, 'OK, he has made some really good adjustments to how he's using his pitches.' That was really intriguing for me going forward. He's always had good stuff, but now we feel like he can sustain the quality that he had for the second half of last year."

The difference for Lyles last year with both Pittsburgh and Milwaukee was a greater reliance on his straight fastball and getting away from his sinker. He was especially reliant on the sinker during his three-plus seasons with the Rockies while trying to compete at the hitters' paradise known as Coors Field.

In his final season with Colorado in 2017, Lyles threw 30% fastballs and 24% sinkers. This past season, he threw 49% fastballs and had totally ditched the sinker by the end of the year. He also relied on a sharper curveball and his changeup improved as the season progressed.

Opponents hit .235 off Lyles' fastball and .216 off the curve. He also had a career-high 9.32 strikeouts per nine innings last season.

Lyles especially flourished with Milwaukee because he worked well with Grandal behind the plate.

"He was a big factor, just trusting him," Lyles said. "Just trusted what fingers he puts down. He is really good at pitch framing. Everybody knows that. That led to a really good run we had together."

Grandal gave Lyles credit for simply trusting him behind the plate.

"I feel like it was his ability to be open-minded," Grandal said. "He was all in from the first day he got there. He told me, 'I just want you to take me to where I want to be.' One day I was throwing down a number that wasn't what he wanted and he really didn't care. A lot of times when you take that stress out of a pitcher, it makes him that much better."

Grandal, who is now with the White Sox, thinks Lyles should do well with veteran Jeff Mathis behind the plate for the Rangers.

"They'll make a great combo," Grandal said. "A lot of times, guys like to throw to veteran guys so they don't have to think. So it seems like Lyles has had more success when he is not thinking about anything. We just gave him a game plan and he executed it."

The Rangers also announced on Friday that left-handed reliever Jeffrey Springs has agreed to a Major League contract. Springs went 5-2 with a 4.90 ERA and a 1.66 WHIP in 43 games for the Rangers the past two seasons. He averaged 8.8 strikeouts, 5.2 walks and 9.8 hits per nine innings.