When Tyler Mahle was in the minor leagues he was dominant. And at times that word wasn’t strong enough to describe his game. Like the time in which he threw a perfect game in Double-A that required all of 88 pitches. Or the year before that when only a hit batter kept him from a perfect game in Daytona.

But that dominance came in a way that wasn’t always something that seemed like it would fully translate to the Major Leagues. Despite dominating in the Minor Leagues during the 2017 season between Double-A and Triple-A where he posted an ERA of 2.06 with 30 walks and 138 strikeouts in 144.1 innings, here’s what I wrote in his scouting report following the season that year:

For Tyler Mahle he lives and dies with the fastball. Sometimes that can be to a fault. The right hander throws a lot of fastballs. It’s not Tony Cingrani level, but it’s higher than normal. With all of the different ways he can use his fastball, though, it’s giving hitters different looks despite them falling under the “fastball” category. How his secondary stuff plays against Major Leaguers will be the most interesting part of his future development. As things stand right now, I expect his strikeout rate to decline and his walk rate to increase a little bit from his minor league time. The secondary pitches just aren’t put-away caliber and while he can pound the zone, big leaguers will be able to spoil things that minor leaguers couldn’t.

The right-handed pitcher earned a spot in the rotation in 2018 out of spring training. At times he dominated – like in his first start of the year against the Cubs. And he was quite good through the first 15 starts of the season. He posted a 3.89 ERA in that stretch. But he struggled after that, ultimately being demoted to Triple-A in early August. Over his final eight starts with the Reds in 2018 his ERA jumped up to 7.84 and his walk rate ballooned as he walked 21 batters in 31.0 innings.

Some of that very well could have been injury related. Tyler Mahle was dealing with some shoulder fatigue late in the season that could explain how his second half turned out. But he also thinks there’s another reason that could explain some of it. Bobby Nightengale of The Cincinnati Enquirer notes that the now 24-year-old believed he was relying too much on his fastball. And that he’s dropped his slider to throw his curveball more.

It came down to living off the fastball, I think,” Mahle said. “There were days, just like everyone has, that the other pitches would come around, but for the most part, I was just pitching on one pitch. You can’t do that, especially in the big leagues with everything they have now. Guys know you are going to throw it

With baseball going more and more towards offspeed pitches, Tyler Mahle threw his fastball 68% of the time during the 2018 season with Cincinnati. Among the 140 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2018, that ranked as the 11th highest rate in baseball. That doesn’t necessarily work against everyone. J.A. Happ, Tyler Glasnow, and Brad Keller all had a higher fastball rate and performed well.

For Tyler Mahle it may have been the combination of such a high fastball rate to go along with a poor breaking ball. As noted, he has scrapped his slider to go with a curveball instead. Going back to the scouting report I wrote following his 2017 season, here’s what I said about the slider:

The pitch he goes to most of the time out of his secondary offerings, the slider works in the mid-to-upper 80’s. It’s an average offering a large majority of the time. Every so often it will show good, hard biting action that would give it above-average looks – but he rarely finds the strikezone when it’s at it’s best.

Not every pitcher in baseball throws a slider. But among the 140 pitchers with at least 100 innings in 2018, 107 pitchers did feature a slider. Among the group, Tyler Mahle’s slider was the 9th worst according to Fangraphs based on the value per 100 sliders thrown. It simply was not a pitch he found any kind of success with.

Likewise, his change up was also a pitch he didn’t find much success with. Using the same metric as above, Tyler Mahle’s change up was the 7th worst in baseball among the 135 pitchers with 100 innings who threw change ups. He also scrapped that pitch. Instead he will be focusing on a splitter.

The splitter was a pitch he actually started using down the stretch after his demotion to Triple-A. He only made one start in Cincinnati after moving to the pitch, but it shows very different action than his change up did. Using the charts available at Brooks Baseball, here’s how his pitches moved on the vertical and horizontal planes each month during the 2018 season at the Major League level.

I circled the splitter in green. The algorithm marked the pitch as a change up, but it’s clearly a very different pitch. There’s more bite to the pitch. There’s more cutting action to the pitch.

With the fastball, while hitters seemed to know Tyler Mahle was going to throw it, he was still successful with the pitch. It rated out as an above-average pitch using the same Fangraphs metrics referenced above. It wasn’t dominant, but it did rank 57th out of the 140 pitchers. That could be a good sign of things to come.

In 2018 Tyler Mahle was essentially a fastball, slider, change up pitcher. The curevball and cutter seen on the chart above combined to account for 1.21% of all pitches thrown during his Major League season. In the upcoming season he’s going to be a very different pitcher, at least when it comes to what he’s throwing. The fastball is going to be there. But the curveball is replacing the slider, and the splitter is replacing the change up. Those two pitches were among the worst in baseball in their respective categories. Baseball is a game of adjustments. And 2019 for Tyler Mahle is one where he’s hoping to make them, and take a step forward.

10 Responses

  1. MK

    He was still throwing the fastball up in the zone today.

    • SultanofSwaff

      Indeed……. looks like the same guy as last year.

  2. andybado

    Mahle already has 4 years in which he has pitched 140+ innings; he’s 6-3 210. He has the build, stamina, and track record of success (and health) in the minor leagues to be a starter.

    I do not see Mahle as a bullpen guy at all.

  3. SultanofSwaff

    I dunno. His ability to work the inner/outer/upper quadrants are obvious, but IMO for him to have success he’ll have to spot his fastball down more often. Both with his fastball and flat-ish offspeed pitches, he’s not changing the eye level of the hitter much.

  4. Doug Gray

    This is all weird. Tyler Mahle is a big dude. He’s not as big as Sal, but Mahle’s 6′ 3″ and 210 lbs…. That’s absolutely the “size” of a starting pitcher in every single definition of the term.

  5. Optimist

    Of all the draft picks/prospects/under-27 pitchers the Reds have, isn’t Mahle the closest to being an ace? IOW, he has the best command, the best MiLB track record, he’s the youngest, and this article sounds like he’s close to having the 2nd/3rd/4th pitch necessary for a multi-year 200 ip/yr career.

    Sure, others (Castillo, BobSteve, etc., even Finnegan) may have better “stuff”, or a more dominant single takeout pitch, but Mahle seems like the only one who can have a 10 year career as a more than league average starter.

    • Indy Red Man

      Exactly! I remember when Cueto came up and tried to smoke it past everyone. I’m very high on Mahle with the control he had in the minors! I think he can be a rock solid #2-#3 eventually! I expect him to be the first man up when somebody gets hurt/falters. I’d be surprised if he’s not better then Roark in the end and maybe a couple of others.

    • Doug Gray

      I’ll say no. The reasoning is as I noted in the scouting report from after the 2017 season: He doesn’t have an out pitch. To be an ace you need one of those. Right now we are looking at a guy who had two of his three pitches among the absolute worst in all of Major League Baseball. Hopefully the scrapping of the change and the slider for the splitter and curve change that. But until we see them beyond February 25th…. I’m going to lean no. And the idea that Luis Castillo, who has been incredibly good outside of April 2018, is tossed aside in your mind with guys who don’t even belong in the conversation, is wild. Castillo has better stuff, by far. He’s got better control. He’s also shown he can dominate in the Major Leagues. He’s had one bad month in his career. It was a really bad month.

  6. matthew hendley

    Scooter defense has been improving steadily since the beginning of the last season. His bat far and away makes up for it. Peraza on the other hand, had an outlier season. I would wait the full year. See which way the trend is going for him and then decide. If he does not repeat I would immediately trade him, and offer the Job to JI. Scooter only has one real back up now, and that Is the guy playing center. DG I am sorry for the Hockey sticks bomb.

  7. frogem

    Peraza is so easily and often under appreciated. The guy will just turn 25 this April. He’s young. He’s made significant improvements offensively in the past few years, and the combination of his speed and contact rate (not-strike-out rate best in NL) are huge assets for this team going forward. I have no doubts Peraza’s defense will easily reach at least an average SS level, and his offense will far surpass the average SS level.