Tyler Mahle, bless his soul, blanked the Chicago “Cubs Gonna” Cubs for 6.0 innings this past week, allowing only one pseudo-hit to Javier Baez. It was a masterful performance, with a dollop of drama and a whole heaping serving of legacy-building. There was the Anthony Rizzo hit by pitch, replete with Chris Welsh’s underrated “you don’t actually want to drop that breaking ball on the back foot” joke. There were the strikeouts — lucky number seven of ’em — with Mahle leaving four different Cubs stuck with the bat on their shoulder and their hat in their hands. And then there was the poise, of which battery mate Tucker Barhart could only say, “It’s special, it’s something you can’t teach.”
Mahle — I’ve said it before and I will say it again — has just begun his ascension to the
coveted dignified distinction of Cincinnati Reds’ ace.
Before I continue to make my pitch for president of the Tyler Mahle Fan Club, here’s a quick year-by-year breakdown of Reds’ aces for the past 15 years:
- 2018: Homer Bailey (probably?)
- 2017: Scott Feldman (but Luis Castillo in our hearts)
- 2016: Dan Straily (this team is so weird)
- 2015: Johnny Cueto (but Anthony DeSclafani post-trade deadline)
- 2014: Johnny Cueto (finally, stability)
- 2013: Mat Latos (this one hurts)
- 2012: Johnny Cueto (he rides again!)
- 2011: Johnny Cueto
- 2010: Johnny Cueto
- 2009: Bronson Arroyo (An argument can be made for the long-haired bandit being the 2010 ace as well, but I believe 2010 was Cueto’s ascendancy to the throne.)
- 2008: Edison Volquez (what a time to be a Reds fan)
- 2007: Aaron Harang
- 2006: Bronson Arroyo
- 2005: Aaron Harang
- 2004: Paul Wilson
- 2003: Paul Wilson (my childhood was so disappointing)
The most important takeaways: The mid-aughts sucked, for a brief time the Reds had dueling aces in Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang, and Johnny Cueto is perfect.
Basically, Tyler Mahle doesn’t have too arduous a journey to the throne: 20 quality starts and a winning record ought to do it. But I think we would all rather Tyler churn out enough quality starts to make the non-quality outings surprising. 20+ wins and a sub-3.00 ERA would also make his case all the more convincing.
But enough hyperbole, might as well look at Mahle’s numbers to prove my point:
I know, I know — ERA is a flawed stat dependent on many factors outside of a pitcher’s control. There’s the quality of the defense, various park factors, the tilt of the earth toward the sun, voodoo, etc. But I generally think of ERA in a binary: Consistently above 3.5, meh to bad to please just stay away from the mound; consistently below 3.5, pretty dang good.
In addition to never posting an ERA above 3.5, Mahle has done so over 150+ innings at two different levels (A, AA), which should eliminate any small sample size concerns. Will his 2.08 MLB ERA last? Probably not — it is only 26 innings after all. But if he only regresses to a 3.50 ERA over the course of the season, I will stand by my ace claims day-in and day-out.
For further statistical convincing, Mahle’s MLB BB/9 currently sits at 4.50 whereas his AAA BB/9 clocked in at 1.97 and his AA total was 2.13. This kid is precise with his craft, as we saw in his 2018 debut, and by no means is that accuracy a fluke. Stuff will always have a higher ceiling than control, but you never see an ace succeed on stuff alone.
None of which is meant to disparage young Mahle’s stuff. His fastball sits 93-94, which won’t overpower anyone but, if he can continue to paint the edges, it will get the job done. And pairing that fastball with a plus-slider and changeup will allow Mahle to take over games from the beginning, and reinventing his approach as the lineup turns over two, three, four times. In Mahle’s own words to Mark Sheldon, “The slider and changeup came later — maybe the last couple innings. For the most part, I was able to take over the game, kind of, with my fastball.” 6 innings of one-hit ball and all the kid had was a fastball — ace stuff indeed.
Finally, if you’re still not convinced, just look at the game face this kid has developed over the years:
Sometime during his two months in AAA when he refused to be photographed, Tyler Mahle saw something that changed him. The smile of a naive youth disappeared, and a hardened man emerged. Tell me that’s not the look of a bona fide ace. There’s not a tooth in sight! Tell me Tyler Mahle isn’t ready.
Granted, if you’re to believe C. Trent Rosecrans, Mahle’s new game face has sapped his game of emotion. “Even-keeled” is what C. Trent called him, though supporters may called him “poised” while detractors would reach for “boring.”
But if lack of emotion is the biggest knock against young Mahle, I think his future partner-in-crime, comrade-in-arms, uppercut to his left jab, future No. 2 to this ace in the making might just provide enough personality for the both of them:
— Hunter Greene (@HunterGreene17) April 4, 2018
"Two-way players are real," Mike Scioscia said in his pregame remarks earlier. "Shohei Ohtani is real, and strong, and he's my friend."
— Jon Tayler, Smiling Politely (@JATayler) April 4, 2018
And because of Shohei Ohtani, believe it or not, tanking actually works in fantasy baseball too!
After a strong 2-2 start to the 2017 fantasy season, my Kangaroo Court Fees went 2-17 to finish 4-19 and last in the league! Which means — you guessed it — I got to draft Shohei Ohtani first overall in our annual, three-day, waiver wire bonanza. And you know who’s the second-leading scorer with 53 points in my opening round matchup? That’s right: Shohei “It’s not fair the Angels have both me and Mike Trout” Ohtani.
While the dust hasn’t quite settled on Week 1, I am taking a 625-600 point lead into the weekend’s series, so maybe this will be my year. Lead the Court Fees into the promised land Shohei, you’re our only hope.
Now, I wonder if Shohei can help me make up some ground in this author views contest…