Joel Sherman is reporting that the Pittsburgh Pirates are close to signing free agent right-handed pitcher Jordan Lyles, who split the 2018 season between the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers. The 28-year-old Lyles had a 4.11 ERA and a 4.08 FIP in 87.2 innings, with 84 strikeouts and a 1.27 WHIP this season. More on this shortly.

After the trade earlier today of Ivan Nova, the Pirates had an immediate opening on the Major League staff. Lyles has started in the past, though he has made just 18 starts total over the last three seasons and none with the Brewers after they acquired him off of waivers on August 5th. Lyles has a career 5.28 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and 4.50 FIP in 768.2 innings over eight seasons in the majors. We will have more thoughts on this shortly.

Jon Heyman says the deal is done pending physical:

UPDATE 3:02 PM: Analysis from Tim Williams…

This move comes on the heels of the Ivan Nova trade, but don’t expect the two to be related. Lyles doesn’t look like the replacement for Nova. Instead, he looks like the replacement for Edgar Santana and Chad Kuhl.

The Pirates lost both pitchers at the end of 2018 to Tommy John surgery, putting them out for 2019. That removes one of their better relievers from last year, along with a guy who would have been a fifth starter or rotation depth option. Lyles has started before, although the results weren’t good, so don’t expect him as more than a depth option.

As a reliever, Lyles looks like he could be a decent pickup. In 40.2 innings last year in relief, he had a 3.32 ERA, a 3.11 FIP, and a 4.26 xFIP, with a 9.74 K/9 and a 3.76 BB/9. His results weren’t as good in previous years, although he made some changes last year with his approach.

He was using his curveball more often last year, almost using it as much as his four-seam fastball. That was a good move, since the curve had a .573 OPS against. The fastball was hittable, with an .836 OPS against, but that was better than the results in previous years. He also greatly reduced the usage of his sinker, and the pitch improved, with a .490 OPS (compared to .936 the year before and .784 in 2016).

His strikeout numbers improved, and it would be easy to chalk that up to increased usage of the curveball. However, both of his fastballs received a higher swinging strike percentage in 2018 than they did in 2016/2017, so it appears he improved his stuff as well.

The Brewers declined an option for Lyles at $3.5 M, which means you can assume his deal is going to come in for less than that amount. The Pirates have Felipe Vazquez and Keone Kela locked in for the final two innings. They also have Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez returning after good years in the majors. The latter two give hope that this will be a strong bullpen if they repeat their success in 2019. However, it’s a good idea to add more depth to the group, since relievers can be volatile, and injuries can always deplete that depth, as we’ve seen already.

UPDATE, Wednesday, 8:55 AM: Jon Heyman says that the one-year deal is worth $2.05 M. It’s expected to be finalized on Friday.

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