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Tyler Lyons: The St. Louis Cardinals' second choice to replace Adam Wainwright

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Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

In a KMOX interview on Sunday, St. Louis Cardinals general manager indicated that Tyler Lyons will start on Tuesday. Lyons becomes the second lefty in as many times through the rotation to take the turn left vacant by ace Adam Wainwright's season-ending Achilles tendon injury. The Cardinals added Tim Cooney to the 40-man roster and gave him the first crack at replacing Wainwright, but demoted the southpaw after a 2 1/3-inning start against the lowly Phillies.

It was somewhat surprising to see the Cardinals cut bait on Cooney after just one start, even though the club had a need for relief reinforcements after the bullpen covered 6 2/3 innings after the rookie's early exit from his big-league debut. Manager Mike Matheny's explanation of the organization's decision to promote Cooney offers us a clue as to their impatience. As shared by Brian Stull at STL Baseball Weekly, Matheny focused almost exclusively on spring performance with respect to Cooney:

"Watching how he’s been throwing and also the kind of season he had not just last year, but how he threw in the spring," explained Matheny on the decision. "There were a lot of things–he had a real good spring for us. I tell them too, what you guys do when you get an opportunity to pitch in front of us creates opportunities and I think he’s made the most of it in the spring and is throwing the ball so far this year and we’ll give him a chance to show what he can do at this level."

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"He was more aggressive," noted Matheny. "A year ago, I thought he was picking a little bit and getting himself into tough counts and then having to find the middle of the plate–typical stuff that you see with a young pitcher feeling he has to be perfect. Really liked how he was going about every outing he had."

Apply this to Cooney's Thursday start. Picking a little bit? Check. Getting into tough counts? Check. Then having to find the middle of the plate? Check.

Whether the Cardinals should be making big-league roster decisions based on springtime performance is a debatable question. Whether they should give up on a young pitcher after one MLB start is another. Assuming this is what they did and have done, the improvement Matheny described Cooney as having shown during spring camp was washed away by three runs off seven hits and a walk in 2 1/3 innings. It's on to Plan B, or Starter No. 7, in the 2015 rotation. Now it's Lyons's turn to try to replace the Cardinals' indispensable ace.

Over the last two seasons, Lyons has notched 89 2/3 innings with St. Louis as a replacement starter and in relief, posting an unsightly 4.62 ERA (127 ERA-) and 3.70 FIP (100 FIP-). In my assessment, Lyons has better stuff than Cooney—which is represented by their respective Triple-A peripherals. Lyons has posted an 8.5 K/9 to a 1.9 BB/9 in 291 1/3 Memphis innings to Cooney's 6.8 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 over 175 1/3 Triple-A innings to date. Even so, Cooney's 3.80 Triple-A ERA is a bit better than Lyons's 3.89.

ZiPS likes Lyons better than Cooney, with their respective zWAR totals differentiated by their innings totals.

Player

G

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

ERA

FIP

zWAR

T. Lyons

26

22

132.1

7.01

2.45

3.94

3.92

1.4

T. Cooney

25

25

149.1

6.33

2.35

4.10

4.14

1.4


All in all, there's a good case to be made that the Cards should have anointed Lyons the Waino replacement from the outset. Now he'll get that chance. At least until Marco Gonzales's shoulder stops barking.

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