Detroit Tigers fans are growing impatient with top prospect Casey Mize as he continues to struggle in his first taste of big-league action. The reality is that this is common with pitching prospects, and aces can take some time to develop.
It’s no secret that Casey Mize has struggled through his first six starts. He’s faltered to the tune of a 6.08 ERA and 1.48 WHIP and has been outclassed by fellow rookie Tarik Skubal. His well-regarded fastball command has largely escaped him, as has the sharp bite on his slider. The splitter that many have called the best in the game has spun some hitters into the ground but remains inconsistent like the rest of his game right now.
These are all legitimate concerns. It was frustrating to watch Casey Mize unravel due to poor fastball command against the Cubs in late August after hearing about his plus command. It was equally frustrating to see him spike splitters into the ground repeatedly over his last few starts as he struggled to get the feel for the pitch. Likewise, it is disheartening that he has given up a home run on each of his five pitches in his pitch mix, as well as additional extra-base hits against all but the slider in only six starts.
However, none of these things are damning for a pitcher who seemingly had none of these issues prior to his call up. Casey Mize is still getting hitters to whiff against his offspeed pitches at a respectable rate, inducing a swing and miss rate greater than 24 percent on the splitter, curve, and slider. The batted ball data on his fastball is also encouraging, as hitters are hitting just .150 with an expected batting average of .178 against the four-seamer. His struggles are consistent with those of an inexperienced pitcher trying to find his footing against high-quality hitters.
In fact, it is not uncommon for future ace pitchers to struggle at first. You don’t need to look far to find a few aces that the Tigers have already faced this year who struggled mightily to start their career.
Lucas Giolito is similar to Mize in that his success does not typically come from blowing hitters away. Instead, he relies on two plus out-pitches in his slider and change-up to supplement his 94-96 mph fastball.
Giolito got some innings in 2016 and 2017 with varying degrees of success. However, when White Sox fans expected him to explode onto the scene in 2018, he was abysmal. His 6.13 ERA in 32 starts put him among the worst starting pitchers in the league. His season included a clobbering at the hands of the Grayson Greiner-led Tigers offense in early September.
It wasn’t until last season that Giolito really became the ace that Chicago fans had expected him to be when they acquired him for Adam Eaton in 2016. He tinkered with his pitch mix, ultimately scrapping his sinker, and refined his fastball command. He also began having more success with his secondary pitches, as his whiff rate on those offerings jumped significantly. Now, Giolito is the unquestioned ace of the competing Chicago White Sox and is one of the best young starting pitchers in all of baseball.
Jose Berrios, the Twins’ first-round pick in the 2012 MLB draft, flew through the minors before making his MLB debut at age 22 in 2016. He was miserable that season, posting a 8.02 ERA and giving up 12 home runs across 14 starts. His sinker was hit hard and he didn’t miss enough bats with his offspeed pitches.
The following season, Berrios started to figure it out. He worked to command his curveball down in the zone and threw his sinker less in favor of a four-seam fastball. Fast forward three seasons, he is one of the best pitchers in the American League and the leader of the playoff-bound Twins’ pitching staff.
Corbin Burnes may be a bit of an unfamiliar name for Tigers fans. His transformation has occurred recently, and the sample size of his new success is quite small. However, Burnes is a testament to just how much growth a young pitcher can have in one offseason.
Burnes was by far the worst pitcher in baseball last year. His 8.82 ERA and1.87 WHIP were ugly, and he ranked dead last in just about every underlying metric. He refined his stuff in the offseason with the help of the Brewers player development staff. He now relies heavily on a cutter/sinker combo that seemingly leaves hitters paralyzed at the plate.
Time will tell if Burnes is a true ace, but he is currently the driving force behind the Brewers’ postseason hopes. His ERA of 1.98 is top five in all of baseball, and his 13.32 strikeouts per nine innings is not far behind. This is the type of offseason development that Tigers fans would love to see from Casey Mize.