Going into the trade deadline on Tuesday, the Twins’ most significant need was obvious. They needed pitching. They were very successful in doing that, trading for relief pitchers Jorge Lopez and Michael Fulmer and starting pitcher Tyler Mahle.
Since the departure of Wes Johnson on June 30, the Twins’ starting pitching has been abysmal. Their 6.28 ERA is 28th in the league, their 5.25 FIP ranks 29th, and their 8.8 BB% is 28th. To compete in the playoffs, they must improve their starting pitching.
Usually, trading three top-20 prospects for a starting pitcher with more losses than wins and an ERA in the mid 4’s does not sound like a great idea. Although Mahle doesn’t look great on the surface, he is much better than these numbers indicate.
Bad Luck Ballpark
To start, Mahle pitched at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, which is the second worst park to pitch in, according to ESPN. When Mahle has pitched at home this year, he is 2-5 with a 4.76 ERA while allowing nine home runs in 64 innings. In road games, he is 3-2 with a 3.83 ERA and only three home runs allowed in 40 innings. Target Field is the second best park to pitch in, so Mahle will go from being at a heavy disadvantage to a severe advantage simply by changing home stadiums.
Mahle is one of the unluckiest pitchers in the league, partially due to playing in Cincinnati. Mahle sports a 4.40 ERA, which is problematic. However, his expected ERA is 3.20, a full run below his actual ERA. This shows that he is due to have some regression and will eventually lower his ERA due to playing in a pitchers’ park. Among Twins starters, Mahle has the lowest expected ERA and the lowest expected batting average against (.206).
When asked about the Mahle trade, Carlos Correa knew he would be effective. “I checked his Baseball Savant, and there’s a lot of red,” said Correa. Mahle’s Baseball Savant percentile rankings are shown below, and Correa was right.
Mahle does a great job of missing bats, ranking in the 70th percentile in strikeout rate and the 67th percentile in whiff rate. He is also in the top 25 percent of pitchers in the expected weighted on-base average, expected ERA, expected batting average, and expected slugging percentage. Mahle also has the best strikeout and whiff rate of any Twins starting pitcher. The Twins badly need a starting pitcher who can miss bats, especially when three regular Twins starting pitchers are in the bottom 30 percent of all pitchers in strikeout rate (Archer, Bundy, Smeltzer).
Seventy-nine of Mahle’s 114 strikeouts this year have ended with a fastball, as that is his best pitch. Mahle’s fastball has a Stuff+ ranking of 119, which means it is 19 percent above league average when factoring in velocity, movement, arm angle, and release point. Opposing hitters are batting .200 with a .371 slugging percentage against his fastball, but the expected average is .167 with an expected slugging percentage of .293.
In a playoff series, it helps when you have a pitcher who can strike out opposing hitters at will. Mahle may not have the strikeout stuff of pitchers such as Corbin Burnes and Gerrit Cole, but he has shown time and time again that he can miss bats and rack up strikeouts when needed.
Another benefit of Mahle is that he can go deep into games. Mahle has gone at least five innings in 12 of his 13 starts and into the sixth inning in 11 of his 13 starts. With an improved bullpen, Mahle could save arms and go deep into games, potentially letting the Twins rely on their top bullpen arms of Jhoan Duran and Jorge Lopez and saving some other arms.
Under the new playoff format, the Twins will likely be in a wild card series which would play a best-of-three series. Before the trade, the Twins would have started Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, and Chris Archer in a series. Now, they will throw Mahle, Gray, and Ryan.
Pitching wins championships in baseball, and the Twins have added their ace in Tyler Mahle, who I believe should be the Twins’ game one starter in a playoff series.
Who do you think should be the Twins’ game one starter? Mahle, Gray, or Ryan? Leave a comment and start a discussion.
Thank you for reading, and Go Twins!