A Bad Argument for Michael Wacha Over Tyler Lyons

No need to rush it. - USA TODAY Sports

I missed this column from Bernie Miklasz but it's frustrating to see such a disservice done to Tyler Lyons. It's an abuse of stats in the most mundane of ways and, given other articles he's written, something that feels disingenuous in it's obvious mistakes. To start Miklasz sites some of the least predictive statistics to make the case agaisnt Lyons:

But Lyons had a 4.47 ERA in Triple A, for goodness sake. In his last four starts he's allowed 14 earned runs in 21.2 innings. He's been struck for a .306 batting average this season. I'm not seeing Joe Magrane II here.

Lyons had a .372 BABIP against. Lyons has a nearly 48% groundball rate which is better than the PCL average. His line drive rate is in line with averages for the league as well. So there's compelling evidence that Lyons is getting unlucky. It's also important to remember that ERA can be useful as a descriptive tool in terms of what happened but it's limited in it's usefulness as a predictive tool because it incorporates all kinds of luck components and team defense aspects that the pitcher has no control over.

The better tool to use is a fielding independent pitching metric like FIP. Tyler Lyons is sitting at a 3.20 FIP right now which is, again, better than the PCL average. This is largely because Lyons continues to display excellent control with a K:BB rate nearly at 4:1. This is in line with his performance at lower levels as well.

Meanwhile, Michael Wacha is clearly the sexy pick of late. After being drafted and pitching as a reliever, he was dominant. He struck out 40 in 21 innings, was a dominant groundball pitcher and only walked 4. That's undeniably impressive.

It's also been something he hasn't replicated as a starter this season. Wacha's groundball rate has been 32%, his strikeout rate is no better than Lyons and his walk rate is higher than Lyons. Two statistics that are better predictors of future ERA than present ERA are SIERA and FIP. In both instances, those statistics favor Lyons by a wide margin.

There's a compelling argument for Michael Wacha but it revolves around a less objective and quantifiable aspect of scouting. Wacha's ceiling is considered to be higher than Lyons. Wacha has a bright future but the future is not now.

Wacha is clearly the best pitcher down there, clearly the one with the brightest future, clearly the one that figures to be in the STL rotation for a long time. But this is the second time the Cardinals have bypassed him in favor of another option to start a game or games.

That's simply not an argument backed up by the stats right now. Michael Wacha has seen the best results during his starts but with a miniscule BABIP, there's been a huge portion of that success which is difficult to attribute to Wacha directly. There is not a strong objective case that Michael Wacha projects better at this point in the season than Tyler Lyons.

And that's part of what makes the service time scaremongering that Miklasz engages in towards the end of his article so perplexing. Even the briefest look beyond the surface level statistics will indicate that Tyler Lyons has had the better process this season even if he hasn't seen the same results.

Maybe Miklasz is right. Maybe the Cardinals don't want to start Michael Wacha's service time yet. If that's true, it certainly isn't because Wacha has outpitched Tyler Lyons this season because there's no compelling basis for that claim. Good on Mozeliak for pushing back too:

It’s managing our decisions for what’s best for the club and what’s best for the individuals in their own silo of development.

There's no reason to pillory the club for making what is a smart decision both for today and tomorrow. And there's no reason to act like Tyler Lyons hasn't earned this. He has and good for him that he's getting this opportunity.