Back in the misty half-forgotten time of early April when this little column began, the premise was that I would focus on a particular group of guys who were trying to transition across the line from prospect to big leaguer. There was one player I didn’t include in the group and maybe I should have.

Consider this:

Double A
Pitcher 1: 4.40 ERA
Pitcher 2: 2.71 ERA

Triple A
Pitcher 1: 4.31 ERA
Pitcher 2: 2.40 ERA

Pitcher 1 is Robert Stephenson. Pitcher 2 is Tim Adleman. The respective advanced stats are similarly oriented.

So why do we hear so much about Stephenson but not Adleman? It comes down to two things: stuff and age. Stephenson throws much harder and is significantly younger than Adleman.

And I understand that. You’ll never hear me claim that Adleman has the potential to be a number 1 starter, while Stephenson certainly has that potential. However, at some point, it ceases to be about what a player might do and starts to be about he is doing and has done. That point is the major leagues.

Stephenson, despite the much-heralded fastball, has never had particularly good numbers in the minors. He walks too many and even when he doesn’t, he can’t control his pitch count. Perhaps his last couple of games with the Reds have shown signs of a progression, but his overall results in the majors have been dreadful.

Adleman has never been a world-beater and never will be. His ceiling is number 4 starter. He doesn’t have the potential of Stephenson — but he does have results.

All this, believe it or not, has been a long intro to the guy I’d really like to talk about: Tyler Mahle.

You know who Mahle is because you read this site, but the scouting reports don’t think he’s much to sneeze at. Basically, Mahle has good command but doesn’t throw especially hard. His minor league numbers, however, have been fabulous. He’s struck out more than 8 per 9IP almost since he arrived, and this year he is destroying AA with a 1.19 ERA, 9.8 K/9, and 1.9 BB/9. All this while being 22 — which is 2 years younger than the average AA player.

There’s starting to be some noise about the over-valuing of stuff. The assumption is that someone must throw hard to be successful, but we all know how silly that is. We can all think of examples of pitchers who didn’t throw hard and were still great and of hard-throwers who never panned out. It may be that hard throwers are more likely to be successful, but I’d be curious to see someone do the work to determine whether it’s velocity or control that best correlates to success in the majors. Or, as Crash Davis said, “Christ, you don’t need a quadrophonic Blaupunkt! What you need is a curveball! In the show, everybody can hit a fastball!”

19 Responses

  1. sultanofswaff

    You also have to ask what the goal is and how you go about accomplishing it. To win a world series? To finish .500?

    We know this team can hit, play defense, and close out games. So yeah, a league average starting pitching staff could be enough to get you to the playoffs. This has been the template for many good Reds teams.

  2. citizen54

    Here’s another one

    Pitcher A FIP: 4.94 xFIP: 4.53 K/9: 7.00 BB/9: 3.5 Four Seam Velocity 91.64
    Pitcher B FIP: 4.87 xFIP 4.16 K/9 8.4 BB/9: 1.7 Four Seam Velocity: 90.18

    Pitcher A has been getting all the accolades. Pitcher B nothing since he is 4 years older.

    • Jason Linden

      Amir is a bit of a special case. He tends to have outings where he explodes every so often, but is other wise quite good. That puts him in a different category form Stephenson or Adleman.

      • citizen54

        I don’t know about quite good. I’d say average to below average with the caveat that he is still young and can get better. Outside of that one outlier game where he struck out 12 in 7 innings, he hasn’t topped 7 K/9 in any single game. He does have blowups but those blowups shouldn’t effect velocity or hard hit% and you could even make the case that his one great game and one stinker could cancel each out out. His four seamer has actually gone down since the beginning of the season and his hard hit % stands at 35%. Right now he looks like a pitch to contact mid to BOR guy. I have been impressed with his command though.

        My main point though was that Adleman, has even outperformed our supposed best starter so far. And ya the SSS disclaimer applies here.

  3. Jeff Gilbert

    Saw Mahle pitch a bunch at Dayton last year. In control and pitches like a pitcher. Schofield, his manager, was high on him too. Hope he makes it. We need a variety of arms, not just fireballers going on the DL.

    • Nick Carrington

      But older scouting reports have him throwing slower. I think he has gained some velocity in the last year.

      • IndyRedMan

        Supposedly Mahle was clocked at 99 on the last pitch of the perfect game! Who knows but he should be AAA pretty soon at the rate he’s going!

      • Dewey Roberts

        I saw Mahle pitch the next start after his perfect game and he threw 6 shut out innings. He is very impressive.

  4. Redgoggles

    I think Adleman is the perfect AAAA guy, who can fill in for the injured SP that always seems to happen (or limit innings for the youth.) I’m just not real comfortable slotting him into the #2/3 hole where he is now.

  5. bouwills

    Your post makes perfect sense. Just like to add ……until there are 5 guys PERFORMING better than him…………

  6. Eugeniologist

    I would say that Stephenson is still highly rated because if he was moved down, then rankings would be admitting they were wrong before he even played in the majors.

  7. mdhabel

    According to Pitchf/x data from 2007 to current, for qualified pitchers, here are correlation coefficients with FIP:
    4-seam fastball velocity = .1754
    Zone% (Pitches in the strike zone / total pitches) = .0015

    not sure if there would be a better stat for control but it appears higher velocity is more indicative of a good pitching performance than throwing more strikes

    • cfd3000

      That’s a big spread, but may not be the right comparison. What’s the correlation on BB% or BB/9? Maybe it’s splitting hairs but unless a guy throws about 97 or above speed alone doesn’t really matter – it’s command, changing speeds, movement. And yes, I’m probably just a little frustrated after last night’s debacle with 37 walks and eleventy-three HBP.

      • mdhabel

        yeah that might make more sense. Zone% by itself definitely doesnt feel right because that doesnt tell you if they are throwing strikes and getting outs or throwing strikes and getting clobered. The fact that it is so close to 0 means it is some of both going on.

      • mdhabel

        BB/9 = .0723 so higher than Zone% but not as high as velocity

        The other one I looked at was O-Swing%, which was .2531, which makes sense because if a pitcher is good enough to get batters to swing at bad pitchers, they are going to have more success.

      • cfd3000

        So in some ways the takeaway is nothing new. Look for the guy with excellent velocity, who gives up relatively few walks, and has nasty breaking stuff that gets hitters swinging at pitches outside the zone. Why didn’t we think of that sooner? Here’s one case where the data doesn’t really reveal anything too surprising… Thanks for digging that out!

  8. Tom Mitsoff

    if Adleman had only one or two seasons of team control, I could see considering him in the same light as Feldman, Storen or Arroyo — as a filler piece. But he has five years team control left after this season. Look at every other MLB team, and there’s not one on which he wouldn’t be at least the fifth starter. Until there are five other starting pitchers in the organization who prove they are better than him on a consistent basis, he should start every fifth day.

  9. Hingle McCringleberry

    The problem with Stevenson is nobody in the organization can teach him how to pitch. The reds are bad at development. It might pay off hiring Jose Rijo to teach him how to throw a good slider and circle change.

    This is why I didn’t like when cueto was traded. These guys could learn from cueto. To throw more strikes, he stopped throwing and started to pitch. To compensate for the slower speeds he started to change his delivery. This is why leake and cueto were the ones to keep and Bailey was the one to boot.

    The organization has made some strides but overall jocketty still has his thumb prints all over these moves.