Cincinnati Reds: Don’t be in a rush to trade Tyler Mahle

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Tyler Mahle #30 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park on September 25, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Tyler Mahle #30 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park on September 25, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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The Cincinnati Reds reportedly signed Wade Miley last night, leading some fans to assume the front office will trade Tyler Mahle. I wouldn’t be so sure.

Several reports indicate the Cincinnati Reds have found their fifth starter. While not yet confirmed by the club, it appears as though Wade Miley has agreed to a two-year deal with the Reds. Several fans immediately speculated that Tyler Mahle would now be on the chopping block. I wouldn’t be so sure about that, in fact, I’d advise against it.

The Reds made a very nice pick up on Monday with the acquisition of Miley. The veteran adds playoff experience to the clubhouse and a left-handed pitcher to the rotation. Reports indicate that the deal is for two years with a club option for a third. The 2020 rotation will now include Miley, Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Sonny Gray, and Anthony DeSclafani.

If all five pitchers play up to their potential, Cincinnati has the makings of a very dangerous starting rotation. But what about Tyler Mahle? The California native went 3-12 with a 5.14 ERA in 2019, and was likely to be part of the 2020 rotation. Barring injury, however, it now looks like Mahle will be on the outside looking in.

However, don’t be so quick to dismiss Mahle. While the numbers may not look good, the right-hander showed improvement in many areas. According to FanGraphs, Mahle’s strikeout-rate increased from 21.7% in 2018 to 23.2% in 2019. Even more impressive was Mahle’s walk-rate, which dropped from 10.5% in 2018 to 6.1% last season.

While ERA has long since been the standard for judging pitcher’s, a more analytical approach uses xFIP (Expected Field Independent Pitching). Essentially, the stat takes the defense out of the equation, giving you an idea of what a pitchers ERA would look like based solely on his performance and not that of his teammates behind him on the diamond.

According to FanGraphs, Mahle’s xFIP is trending in a very positive direction. It’s dropped from 5.79 in 2017 to 4.45 in 2018, and even lower last year, as Mahle’s xFIP was 3.99. Honestly, based solely on that stat, Mahle has better numbers than Wade Miley, whose xFIP in 2019 was 4.52 according to FanGraphs.

Tyler Mahle was one of the Reds best prospects a few years ago, and he still possesses the ability to be solid piece of the starting rotation for years to come. Though his win-loss record doesn’t show it, Mahle has improved by leaps and bounds. His biggest sticking point, is Mahle’s propensity to give up home runs.

Last year, in 25 games, Mahle gave up 25 home runs. His 1.74 HR/9 led all starting pitchers, with Sonny Gray’s 0.87 being the lowest on the team. Mahle’s HR/FB ratio of 20.8% was not good either, and also led all starting pitchers on Cincinnati’s staff. Miley’s 15.5% HR/FB ratio would’ve placed him right behind Gray’s 13.0% and ahead of DeSclafani (16.2%) and Castillo (17.9%).

According to FanGraphs, Mahle has two minor league options remaining, meaning the Cincinnati Reds can allow him to begin the 2020 season at Triple-A Louisville while still maintaining the ability to give him a spot start should the need arise. At 25-years old, Mahle is still very young for a pitcher and is still pre-arbitration eligible, not even slated to enter free agency until after the 2023 season.

While Mahle did not have a stellar 2019 season, let’s not forget that Bauer fell on his face after being traded to Cincinnati. Castillo, who went to his first All-Star Game last season, became woefully inconsistent in the second half. Then there’s Gray, who put up fantastic numbers in 2019, but was one year removed from a 4.90 ERA with the New York Yankees.

With Anthony DeSclafani and Trevor Bauer entering free agency following next season, attempting to trade Tyler Mahle would be a very unwise move. While Tony Santillan, Hunter Greene, and Nick Lodolo all figure to be part of a future Reds starting rotation, none of them have played beyond Double-A.

Adding Miley cements Reds rotation. Next

Don’t forget, last season, Mahle was slated to begin the season in Triple-A Louisville as well, but an injury to Alex Wood forced the right-hander into the rotation. While the possibility exists that the Cincinnati Reds could look to trade Mahle in an attempt to add an offensive weapon, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of logic behind that idea.