Tyler Lyons, Alex Reyes and a Potential Tag-Team Closer Setup for the Cardinals

As far as we know, the Cardinals haven’t settled on a closer for 2018. Not unless Todd Worrell is coming out of retirement, or something.

In a slow moving offseason of low on activity, there’s still plenty of time to acquire a solution. It really depends what the Cardinals want to do … or how much they’re willing to pay. It depends on their patience and how they weigh short-term desires with a longer-view approach. It depends on how they see their own pitching prospects.

If president of baseball ops John Mozeliak and GM Michael Girsch are inclined to spend, free agents Greg Holland and Addison Reed are still available. (As of this writing, anyway.) Trades are possible, especially if the Cards are willing to satisfy Tampa Bay’s rather high demands for closer Alex Colome.

Perhaps management is reluctant to give a big-money deal to Holland, or to overpay for Reed. The Cardinals are excited by the potential of the power arms that are punching out hitters on the way to St. Louis. From a practical standpoint, why spend a ton of money to go for Holland and block the entry of a Ryan Helsley or Jordan Hicks? Hey, I’d much prefer to have an established closer who brings a strong history to the role. The pressure of closing can crack pitchers. Just because a dude throws 98 mph, it doesn’t mean he can handle the mental strain of getting the 25th, 26th and 27th outs to ice a victory for his team.

There are some in-house options. Again, I’m not saying that this is what I would do … or even endorse. But it’s not exactly insane to think about the job being handled by relievers who already work for the Cardinals.

And no, I’m not talking about Adam Wainwright … look, 2006 was a long time ago. Waino is 36 and coming off elbow surgery and two rough seasons. He doesn’t throw as hard, but that hasn’t always been necessary for Wainwright. His famous Curve Ball is a killer, right? Well, it has been. But in 2017, opponents punished the Wainwright hook for a .282 average, .443 slugging percentage, 4 homers, 5 doubles and 2 triples. RH batters crushed Uncle Charlie for a .552 slug and .362 average in ’17.

I’m not talking about Brett Cecil, or Sam Tuivailala, or John Brebbia, or Matt Bowman.

I’m not referring to Luke Gregerson, the recent free-agent signee. Gregerson will be 34 in May. Last season his most important pitch, the slider, averaged 82.2 mph for the first three months of the season, and dropped to 81 mph over the final three months. And Gregerson’s sinker also lost velocity.

Let’s narrow the focus instead of putting 223 names out there. We aren’t taking the Census here; we’re looking for legitimate closer candidates.

I’m zeroing in on two guys.

There’s the lefty that who continues to be overlooked by many. Or so it seems to me, anyway. He’s the lefty with surprisingly wicked wipeout stuff. A lefty who used to be slapped around by RH batters that used a platoon-split advantage to spark fire and smoke with their bats.  But this lefty has reversed the trend.

There’s the nasty RH pitcher who missed all of last season to rehab from elbow surgery. In 2016, when he came to the big leagues on a vapor trail of fastball heat and prospect hype, the big man brought the heavy artillery.

The lefty is Tyler Lyons.

The right hander is Alexander Reyes.

Why Tyler Lyons? 

— In 144.1 innings of big relief, he has a 2.74 ERA, a healthy 27.6 percent strikeout rate, a fine 3.76 K-BB ratio, and has limited opposing hitters to a .620 OPS.

— Last season Lyons faced 206 batters as a reliever; it was the first time he’d pitched exclusively in relief for a season. And Lyons took to the role, holding hitters to a .206 average, .301 onbase percentage, .307 slugging percentage, and a .608 OPS. His strikeout rate, 31 percent, ranked 25th among big-league relievers who worked at least 50 innings. Lyons strikeout rate was superior to that of the aforementioned Holland.

— Lyons took aim at RH batters with his increasingly dominant slider in 2017. Facing 135 RH batters for the season, Lyons kept them down to a .224 average, .311 OBP and weak .319 slug. And here’s the most impressive thing: Lyons struck out 34 percent of the RH hitters he confronted last season. Needless to say, that’s exceptional. The Lyons slider was so vicious, I think he had to register it with local law enforcement and get a license to carry it to the mound. One problem: gotta cut down on the walks; last season’s overall 9.1 percent BB rate was too high.

Why Alexander Reyes? 

— I’m sorry but is this a trick question? Let’s begin with this: when he’s on, Reyes makes RH batters look like overmatched, lunging, imbeciles.

— In his first adventure in the majors in 2016, Reyes was a hammer in relief and also started five games. He struck out 27.5 percent of his batters faced. He was dinged for one homer in 189 plate appearances against him. And he also induces ground balls! His GB rate was 43 percent in 2016.

— Overall Reyes was scratched or a .201 average, .298 OBP and .280 slug.

— Reyes struck out 35 percent of RH batters faced.

— As a reliever, in 17.1 innings of small-sample performance, Reyes had an 0.52 ERA, whipped up a 33.8 percent strikeout rate, and allowed a .140 batting average with a .269 OBP and puny .228 slug.

There are potential problems and concerns.

First, the Cardinals will move slowly with Reyes this season. The plan, at least right now, is to roll him out in May, in a bullpen role. After a year of down time, he’ll have to show he’s fully healthy, viable and sharp. And while LH batters didn’t exactly bash Reyes —  .243 average, .672 OPS — he didn’t have the knockout strikeout rate against them in ’16 … a K rate of 18 percent.

But I can envision this scenario: Lyons and Reyes forming one helluva tag team to close out games with a volley of strikeouts.

Or the Cards could just sign Greg Holland.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Miklasz – What’s This Nonsense About a “Window” For the Cardinals?