Across two starts and 11.0 innings in the 2019 baseball season, Tyler Mahle has a 0.82 ERA. He has a 3.24 FIP, which isn’t quite 0.82 but is pretty darn good in its own right. He’s struck out 12 and walked four, giving up only seven hits with one home run. It was a solo shot. It’s the only run he’s given up.

Luis Castillo has been the best of the Reds starters, there’s no question about that, and Sonny Gray has probably taken second place despite his first start stumbles. But Tyler Mahle — you know, the guy supposed to start the year in AAA as the rotation’s sixth man — has easily been the third best.

Now, things change quickly and easily in the world of baseball. By the time Alex Wood is ready to come off the injured list — mid-May according to reports — Mahle could have fallen off the wagon or one of Anthony DeSclafani or Tanner Roark could have put it together. But for the moment, Tyler Mahle deserves a full season in the Reds rotation, full stop.

The question becomes: Who does Tyler Mahle replace?

Option 1: Tanner Roark to the pen

I’ll be upfront: I don’t think this is the best idea. Sending Tanner Roark to the pen assumes that Roark is a worse pitcher than Anthony DeSclafani. Statistically, that assumption does not hold up.

As you can see, Roark performs better than DeSclafani both overall and late into games. If DeSclafani had better numbers the third time through the order than Roark did, I could understand moving the latter to the pen and not the former, but it’s not the case. Tanner Roark may not have an outstanding skill set that get him into commercials and sell his jersey, but he does get outs.

If you’d rather a different metric than OPS, then Roark has a lower home run rate, an identical walk rate, and a slightly lower strikeout rate than DeSclafani for his career. He has a better career FIP and ERA than DeSclafani in more than double the innings pitched.

And Roark has been better in 2019. Through each of their three starts so far, Roark has clearly outperformed DeSclafani, accumulating 0.4 fWAR to Disco’s -0.1. Moving Tanner Roark to the pen would be like fixing gangrene in your left wrist by amputating your entire arm. Could work, but also why be so extreme?

Option 2: Anthony DeSclafani to the minors

Since we’ve established that Disco is the odd man out in the rotation if Tyler Mahle has earned his spot, down he should go. DeSclafani still has two minor league options, so a demotion would cost the Reds nothing.

Where DeSclafani has run into trouble so far this year has been with long balls. He’s served up four in 13.1 innings, double the rest of the Reds starters combined mark. Even in 51.1 innings, the bullpen has only allowed five home runs.

All four of Disco’s long balls have come against his fastball, which, as the graph below shows, he’s been leaving up.

When DeSclafani had success in 2015 and 2016, his fastballs lived down and away from right-handed batters, rarely coming near the top of the zone. Until DeSclafani can wrangle his fastball back toward the bottom of the zone, he’ll be letting up long balls for a while.

With a demotion, Disco becomes the new Tyler Mahle. Now, he’s the sixth man up if someone goes down or the rotation needs an extra of rest or whatever else can happen over the course of a long baseball season. Of course, this seems like the most logical course of action. Let DeSclafani figure out whatever has been hindering him. Unless…

Option 3: Trade Disco

There’s no urgency to shed pitching and the Reds don’t have a glaringly obvious area of need just yet, but Disco does hold a good deal more trade value than Tanner Roark does. For one, he has two seasons of team control left compared to Roark who’s a free agent at the end of the season. And second, DeSclafani is three years younger than Roark, making him more attractive for a potential resigning.

Now if this option does come to pass, don’t expect the Reds to get anyone of true value in return. A low-A flyer prospect potentially or perhaps a fringe major leaguer who could turn into something. While an extra year of team control is something, it’s not much for a player with Disco’s injury history. Also, just a section ago I recommended he be sent down to the minors, which is not something another team wants said about a potential trade target.

Of course, this entire exercise depends on Tyler Mahle maintaining his excellent performance. So far the stats are in his favor. His fastball has gained a tick, he’s living in the part of the zone that Disco has had trouble finding, and he’s upped his groundball percentage considerably.

But that’s just 11.0 innings. So much can happen in the next month before Wood comes back. But if somehow everything just stays the same? Well, Tyler Mahle might just be the next Reds ace.

13 Responses

  1. Colt Holt

    Don’t forget that there is another young pitcher who is pitching pretty well over 9.1 innings so far. If I am DJ and DB, I am looking at getting Robert Stephenson stretches out. Let him start throwing on a schedule with seeing the order a second time and see what happens. Even if disco were to go down, he may not be the sixth man come June 1st

  2. Brian

    The title of the article, “Why Tyler Mahle should stay in the rotation….” should be followed by a two word article that explains everything perfectly clear.

    Anthony Desclafani

  3. Doc

    Brian appears to be one of those people with the gift of being able to boil things down to the bottom line! Of course, Jenkins probably has a column length to fill, but he still wrote what Brian wrote so much more succinctly.

    Mahle will be challenged tonight.

    • Nick

      Why isn’t moving disco to the pen an option? As you point out his struggles are worst when he’s forced to see hitters multiple times, and as a reliever he wouldn’t have to do that. Could also provide him more time to work on mechanics/make adjustments, and boost his confidence which he seems to need.

  4. Tom Mitsoff

    It’s been very interesting to hear about the adjustments Derek Johnson has several of the pitchers working on. Stephenson’s mindset and delivery have been tweaked. DeSclafani’s delivery is being tweaked. There are certainly others who I am overlooking or have not heard about to date. This is the sort of impact we hoped that one of the top pitching coaches in the game would have on this group. If DeSclafani is still performing poorly when Wood is ready to be activated, he definitely should go down.

    In any case, if Mahle continues to deal the way he has so far, you don’t send him down if you truly are trying to win. Use your best five starting pitchers, no matter who they are.

  5. Ben Rubin

    Hard no to option 3. Pitchers get hurt. We will need more than 6 starters.

  6. davy13

    Why not use a 6 man rotation as another option? I already concede that it is probably not a good idea if not more teams would use it. I just want to read good arguments against.

    • Doug Gray

      Teams don’t use 6-man rotations because most teams don’t even have 5 good starting pitching options, much less 6. It also leaves your bullpen a tad short for how teams use bullpens today.

  7. Mike Adams

    Wesley, I thought last year Mahle has what it takes to be an ace.

    In Jason Linden’s post “Championship Track: Time to Find an Ace” of July 11, 2018 I replied in part to one of his comments, “But in my humble opinion he will be the Reds’ ace in 2020 unless they trade for one.”

    Like last year, Mahle needs to work on a few things but I haven’t changed my mind.

  8. Scott C

    I am disappointed in Desclafani’s results this year as well as many others, with that said, there are two points of good news with Disco: 1) He is pitching in April and 2) after the first inning in Mexico he was pretty much lights out. Yes he still threw a lot of pitches but the question remains, did he figure it out on the mound the other day?
    I think we are too often too quick to give up on a pitcher or player for that matter, very few come up to the bigs and have great success without a tumble or two. Very few come back from multiple injuries over a period of several years and suddenly it all fits together nicely again.
    Yes I do think Mahle deserves to stay in the rotation as long as he is getting results. It is a great problem to have.

  9. Steven D

    Does anyone know if the reds would get an extra year of team control in disco if Disco had to stay down in the minors for most of the year.

  10. Todd landess

    Mahle sucks too , watching him pitch against the dodgers in 2nd game of series he’s inept ,just plain sucks hope they trade him for something worth watching.

    • CMiller

      That has to be one of the most ridiculous posts I’ve seen in here. Mahle doesn’t suck at all. He had two bad innings last night, after coming into the game with the best numbers on the club. Mahle doesn’t suck; your post does.