And just like that, the Houston Astros ended their long, torrid, up-and-down romance with Jordan Lyles. Lyles has been an extremely frustrating player over the course of his professional career. Depending on who you asked - and when you asked them - he was either a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher just waiting to bloom, or he was a once-touted prospect who'd done nothing but fail at the major league level.
The least-surprising thing you've heard since this trade went down: I am a Jordan Lyles fan. Heck, the very first article I ever wrote for TCB was about Lyles.
Certainly, I'm not unique in this regard. Almost anyone who's followed the Astros minor leagues since before they were good finds themselves in the same situation. In an era where we can argue at length about just how many Astros prospects will land in the Baseball America Top 100 list, it's easy to forget that Jordan Lyles was once just about the only player we had to dream on.
So when it seemed like the world was against the youngster, I was the first in line to remind anyone who would listen that we were watching a good pitcher struggle. A pitcher who'd been called up too early. Of the six high school pitchers taken in the first round in 2008, Lyles (the youngest) has thrown more innings than all of them combined - and that's even if you count Gerrit Cole, who didn't sign out of high school.
But that's the problem. Jordan Lyles was called up too early. That doesn't just have an effect on how people perceive him - watching him struggle at the big league level, rather than excel in the minors. It also has an effect on how much money he makes. To put it bluntly, Lyles is going to start getting expensive sooner than he's going to start being good.
Earlier this year, I began to wonder if I was wrong about Lyles. Maybe I was too close to him. I'd cheered when he was drafted. I'd watched him dominate as a 17-year-old in the Appalachian League. I'd watched him put up almost four and a half strikeouts for every walk he issued as an 18-year-old in Lexington. I'd seen him ranked as the 42nd-best prospect in baseball, before his age 20 season.
Was I guilty of the ultimate Prospect Hound Sin - evaluating major leaguers by their minor league performances?
After watching Lyles fail to progress visibly in 2013, I turned to Baseball Prospectus' Doug Thorburn and Paul Sporer, who included my question about Lyles in their TINSTAAPP podcast.
My question was simple, if a bit whiny:
Welp, it finally happened. After years of defending Jordan Lyles against the seeming hordes of naysayers - age, age, age! - I think I've finally reached the end of my rope. At what point do I just realize that I, too, should probably just say nay? Since he was prematurely called up to the big leagues, the hopeful eyes of the Houston fanbase have been waiting for Lyles to take that first real step forward... but, inevitably, he always seems to hit a wall and give up a crooked number, whether it's in the first inning or the fifth.
Am I wrong, or is there still some hope for Jordan Lyles? Is this a guy who could still become a #3 or - heaven forbid - a #2? Or is he destined for mediocrity? Or, at best, a spot in a bullpen or at the back end of a major league rotation?
I encourage you to listen to the full answer at the link provided above. They gave many of the same caveats that those of us who've watched him come through the system have said - chiefly, he's still incredibly young.
Sporer and Thorburn had some nice things to say about Lyles, who they view as still having a chance to become a solid #4 pitcher, with a #3 ceiling with a great deal of development. They suggested he scrap his slider (or his "slutter," as they termed it) and simplify his arsenal. Better to have command over three pitches than five pitches that you can't command. Also, they pointed out that he has a tendency to miss high, elevating his pitches, which don't move enough to fool most hitters, which is why a lot of his mistakes end up as souvenirs.
Certainly, Coors Field isn't going to be a great home for a guy who misses up in the zone, but Lyles has shown promising peripherals for a while. He's just failed to take that extra step forward. His 2012 and 2013 seasons had almost identical innings counts, which makes them easy to compare, and the trend was in the wrong direction on almost every applicable statistic.
For all of us who followed him when the Astros system was barren, Lyles is something of a folk hero. It's a little sad to see him head to a different fanbase, where he'll no doubt run into constant Tyler Chatwood comparisons. Rockies fans, treat him well. And I hope he puts it all together for you. For a short while, he was all we had to dream on, and it feels like the end of an era.