Cincinnati Reds right-handed pitcher Tyler Mahle has probably been the best Reds starter through the first month of the season (which is saying something given it’s a rotation that also boasts Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray). Through five starts and 25.2 innings, Mahle has a 1.75 ERA and a 2.81 FIP. He’s allowed only two home runs, while walking 11 and striking out 36 batters. His eye-popping 35.3% strikeout rate is currently among the top ten percent of major league starters in the entire league. His two most recent starts have been the most impressive of this young season. At home against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Mahle pitched 6.2 shut out innings while allowing two hits and striking out nine. On Monday at Dodger Stadium, he gave up one run on five hits in five innings.

Mahle hasn’t always had this type of success. He burst onto the scene in 2017 with a 2.70 ERA, albeit in a limited 20.0 innings. Over the next two years, he struggled as he adapted to the league, with his ERA hovering around 5.00 and his FIP in the mid-4.00 range. So what was he doing at that time, and what is he doing differently now?

2018 / 2019

While the Reds called up Mahle in 2017, 2018 was his rookie season.. That year, Mahle threw more fastballs, 67.7% of his pitches, than at any other point in his career. He also gave up 22 home runs in 112 innings, including eleven off his four-seam fastball. Not only did he give up the long ball, hitters were not missing his pitches. Mahle got only a 29.4% whiff rate on his slider, and even less than that on his fastball at 22.4%.

He improved his pitch mix during the 2019 season, but was still throwing his fastball a lot more than other pitches at 57.1 percent. Something odd happened though. He abandoned his slider for a cutter and threw both his curve ball and his split finger significantly more than in 2018. This resulted in his worst season in the big leagues. Mahle ended with a 5.14 ERA and a 4.66 FIP in 129.2 innings, surrendering 25 home runs in the process. For what it’s worth, he did have the lowest walk rate of his career that year at 6.1%.


A flip switched inside Mahle during the 2020 shortened season. He began to experience increased velocity and even better, an increased spin rate on nearly all of his pitches. Hitters were swinging and missing a lot more. He had a 41.5% whiff rate on his slider, a 22 percent increase from the last time he threw the slider in 2018 and his fastball whiff rate increased from 21.3% in 2019 to 31.6% in 2020. Mahle also gave up the least amount of home runs he had up to that point, only six in 47.2 innings.


Mahle continued on the success he built in 2020 by starting 2021 using mostly his fastball and his slider. The velocity for his fastball is higher this season at 94.7 mph than in any of the previous three years. He’s also not throwing his fastball as much to right-handed hitters, only mostly left-handed hitters, while his slider is about evenly distributed among the two. This coincides with the fact that he’s mixing his pitches better. His fastball usage is down to 55.9% and his slider usage is up to 31.4%.

Mahle has also increased his spin rate from previous years. As seen on the chart below, he increased his spin for two pitches; however, he has rarely thrown his curve ball and has yet to throw one in 2021. The spin rate on his fastball has jumped significantly in the last two years, and it’s paying dividends for him. He’s making batters swing and miss more than ever before, as his 31.4% whiff rate indicates, and 22 of his 36 strikeouts have come via his fastball against 59 batters. Last year, he had 30 strikeouts off his fastball against 106 batters.

In conclusion, Mahle has become more comfortable throwing his off speed pitches, and it’s led to better pitch mixing. Combined with the increased spin rate and velocity on his fastball, most likely learned from pitching coach Derek Johnson, he’s improved his best pitches in his effort to become one of the best pitchers.  He truly is an evolving player, steadily working on his craft to keep getting better each season.


Statistics from Fangraphs and Baseball Savant.

17 Responses

  1. Klugo

    He throws strikes. He doesn’t paint himself into corners.

  2. CFD3000

    What I’m seeing is a guy whose “stuff” continues to improve, and who has also improved his command and his understanding of how to pitch to get major league hitters out. Mahle is clearly a solid starter and on track to be an ace on this staff. If the Sonny Gray from yesterday afternoon is up to full speed and here to stay for the rest of the season, they stabilize the rotation. And if Castillo returns to all-star form, the Reds are suddenly a formidable team. It should be fun to watch – bring on summer baseball!

  3. AllTheHype

    His split was nasty in the last outing to LHBs, and he was throwing it for strikes, which is hard to do with the split. LHBs had no choice but to swing at it.

    Nice article but would have liked to see more talk about the split, which he only throws 12.7% overall but nearly double that rate the third time thru the order.

    • RojoBenjy

      He seems to have some baseball smart

  4. Dewey Roberts

    Tyler is the best pitcher to cone through the Reds farm system since Bailey and Cueto. I saw him pitch several times at Pensacola. I have always said that he would be a great pitcher in the majors.

  5. RojoBenjy

    Nice summary, Ashley.

    I remember that in 2017 they pulled him out of AA to the bigs.

    Does he also work out with Kyle Boddy at Driveline?

  6. Tyler Burdett

    Nice article. Its been fun to watch Mahle’s emergence over the last couple of years!

  7. MuddyCleats

    Good article on Tyler; he deserves it! Likewise, it’s nice to have something positive to reflect on. Reds haven’t developed many of their own SP over the years so it’s nice to see them put one more on the plus side. Good news is, Reds have a number of others lined up – here’s hoping we’ll see others find the same or better success

    • CFD3000

      Here’s hoping that Antone, Lodolo and Greene all join Mahle as excellent starting pitchers drafted and developed by the Reds.

  8. ClevelandRedsFan

    Mahle has both a no hitter and a perfect game in the minors. His perfect game was the first since 1970!

  9. Rednat

    i felt the turning point of his career was the final game of the 2019 season. he pitched well and got the win against the pirates (i think). he proved to himself that he could survive a full major league season and was a big confidence builder in my opinion. i think Sal Romano is another guy that just needs a confidence booster and he could be a very solid starter as well

  10. Rowdy Red

    You’ve always got a good chance for a W when Tyler is on the mound,that is if Bell don’t pull him and start inserting Sal,and Doolittle instead of Sims, and Antoine.

  11. MK

    Cardinals must have naked pictures of the Commissioner’s wife. Bryce Harper gets a pitch in the face, then next hitter Didi gets one in the ribs then there is warnings given and no ejections. Girardi is ejected. Cardinal must have hired Clint Hurdle as a pitching consultant. I hope Cardinals hitters need to start wearing Kevlar soon.

    • MBS

      Thats so weird, the Cardinals would never intentionally hit a player.

    • Bob Adams

      what does this have to do with the Tyler Mahle article?

  12. TR

    Tyler Mahle has matured and taken on some pitching poise. He reminds me of a solid Red’s pitcher in the 1950’s, Brooks Lawrence. Mahle is a pitcher who can get the Reds double digit wins most years.

    • Maloney63

      Whoa, a Brooks Lawrence reference! That came out of left field! I know him from collecting 1950s Reds baseball cards!