Reds pitcher Tyler Mahle’s future hinges on tonight’s performance vs Cubs

DENVER, CO - JULY 14: Tyler Mahle #30 of the Cincinnati Reds (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - JULY 14: Tyler Mahle #30 of the Cincinnati Reds (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

Reds starter Tyler Mahle has a chance to assert himself tonight.

Wade Miley was awful last night! Okay, with that out of the way, let’s focus on tonight. Starting pitching is the strength of this year’s Cincinnati Reds team. We saw Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Trevor Bauer dominate the competition during the Reds opening series. Unfortunately, it resulted in just one win. Tyler Mahle gets his chance tonight versus the Chicago Cubs.

After watching Miley sleep-walk through 1.2 innings of work last night against the Chicago Cubs, Mahle needs to bring his A-game to the ballpark tonight. The right-hander is filling in for injured starter Anthony DeSclafani, but a strong showing against good Cubs lineup could go a long way towards solidifying Mahle’s standing with the team this season and beyond.

What happened to Miley last night is anyone’s guess. Maybe the rain delay threw off his rhythm. Whatever the reason, the Reds left-hander was erratic, allowing six runs on four hits and hitting two batters in less than two innings of work. The Reds cannot afford to see another starter get rocked like Miley did.

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Tyler Mahle has an enigmatic track record since his time in the big leagues. His overall record of 11-23 is not impressive and Mahle owns a career-ERA of 4.88. That’s enough to give Reds Country reason to panic. However, the numbers that should have fans a bit more optimistic require a more thorough investigation.

If you still judge a pitcher by his win/ loss record, I apologize, but you’re never going to get the full picture. Even going by a hurlers ERA doesn’t tell the whole story. While these numbers should not just be dismissed, pairing them with other more recent metrics helps to give you a better idea as to why Mahle will be toeing the rubber tonight despite a sub-.500 record and an ERA of nearly 5.00.

Fielding Independent Pitching, or FIP, is the fancy new term that is beginning to take hold and replace ERA. FIP, according to FanGraphs, measures what a player’s ERA would look like over a given period of time if the pitcher were to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing.

A pitcher’s Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, or xFIP, takes that stat a step further, replacing a pitcher’s home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they should have allowed given the number of fly balls they surrendered. Both stats are designed to give you a better overall picture of a pitcher’s performance by removing variables such as defense and luck.

Mahle’s 3-12 record last season was not impressive, and neither was his 5.14 ERA. However, if you strip away some of the variables, you’ll see that Mahle’s FIP was 4.66 and his xFIP was 3.99. Both of those numbers look much better, in fact his there’s a difference of nearly 0.50 between Mahle’s ERA and FIP.

Another couple metrics to look at are Tyler Mahle’s strikeout-rate and walk-rate. Essentially, these statistics measure a pitcher’s strikeouts and walks per batter they face. These stats really help evaluate a player, as they hone in on the one-on-one matchup between the pitcher and the hitter.

Tyler Mahle really improved in these two areas last season, especially his walk-rate. After walking 10.4% of the batters he faced in 2018, Mahle turned that around and owned just a 6.1% walk-rate in 2019. That was better than Luis Castillo (10.1%), Anthony DeSclafani (7.0%), Trevor Bauer (9.0%) and Sonny Gray (9.6%).

Tyler Mahle went into summer camp knowing his role would be to piggyback off the start of a struggling pitcher. Last night’s performance by Wade Miley would’ve been the perfect opportunity for Mahle, but he’s slated to start this evening in place of DeSclafani. Instead, Tejay Antone picked up the pieces and did quite well.

Antone’s performance, coupled with three young pitchers in the Reds farm system (Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene and Tony Santillan) should light a fire under Mahle’s backside. With DeSclafani and Trevor Bauer likely heading elsewhere in free agency, Mahle is currently the leader in the clubhouse to take one of those open starter slots heading into 2021.

That said, if Mahle is unable to improve on those numbers from last season and falls back into old habits, he could be lapped by the likes of Antone, Lodolo and Santillan (Greene is likely two years away from his major league debut). This start matters a great deal to Mahle’s future with the Cincinnati Reds.

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Look for Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber to be in the lineup tonight. Both have gone 4-for-10 (.400) against Mahle in their careers and each has taken him deep. Tyler Mahle has a golden opportunity to assert himself as a player in the Reds rotation this season and beyond. Moreover, Cincinnati needs a win in the worst way after losing three straight games by a combined four runs.