Though Tyler Mahle’s win/ loss record left much to be desired there’s still plenty of evidence he can become a mainstay in the Cincinnati Reds rotation.
Heading into the 2019 season, it appeared Tyler Mahle may be the odd man out of the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation. Luis Castillo and Anthony DeSclafani, holdovers from the 2018 season, had nailed down spots, while the offseason acquisitions of Sonny Gray, Alex Wood and Tanner Roark made Mahle’s roster spot tenuous at best.
Unfortunately for Wood, and the Reds, a back injury would sideline the left-hander for the better part of the season. Wood only started seven games in 2019, allowing Mahle to lay claim to the final spot in the starting rotation.
Coming off a 2018 season that saw Mahle go 7-9 with a 4.98 ERA, it was reasonable for Reds Country to expect better numbers entering the 2019 campaign. I can’t imagine anyone could foresee Tyler Mahle ending this year 3-12 while compiling a 5.14 ERA over 25 starts. Even though the numbers on the surface are ugly, if you dig a little deeper there are some encouraging signs.
Mahle, who just turned 25-years old on Sunday, established career-highs with 129.2 innings pitched and 129 strikeouts this season. The California native also posted a career-best 1.31 WHIP. This is a direct result of Mahle becoming more consistent throwing strikes.
Tyler Mahle reduced his BB/9 rate by nearly half from 2018 to this year. During his rookie season, Mahle was walking 4.3 hitters per nine innings. This year his rate was just 2.4 free passes per nine, while sporting an impressive 9.0 K/9 rate.
Even more encouraging is Mahle’s 3.79 strikeouts to walk rate. Mahle led the Cincinnati Reds staff in this category and ranked 19th among all National League starting pitchers who tossed a minimum of 120 innings.
What led to the jump in strikeouts? First, Mahle saw a significant increase in his fastball velocity. This year his average fastball was clocked at 93.3 mph as opposed to the 92.4 mark of last season. Next, Mahle introduced a curveball to his repertoire, which he rarely used the previous year.
Throwing his newfound curveball 23.1% of the time, Mahle was able to effectively change speeds and keep hitters off balance. His curve had an average velocity of 80.5 mph. If you can get an 13-MPH difference between your fastball and curveball, you’re setting yourself up for success. One has to believe, as he works with pitching coach Derek Johnson, the curveball could become an essential weapon in Mahle’s arsenal.
Despite these positive strides, Tyler Mahle must learn to keep the ball in the yard. He surrendered 25 homers in 2019 and averaged 1.7 round trippers per nine innings. That number must improve going forward.
Nearly half of the home runs Mahle allowed, 12, came with men on base. To compound the issue, 14 of Mahle’s 34 walks on the year came with the bases occupied. Limiting the big inning has to be a priority for the right-hander heading into 2020.
While I’m not advocating Tyler Mahle be handed the fifth spot in the rotation for 2020, he’s undoubtedly the front runner. Although there are many positive trends within his numbers, Mahle’s ability to keep the ball in the park and limit the damage of the big inning will be paramount in determining his future as a starter for the Cincinnati Reds.