It’s no secret that this season hasn’t exactly gone as hoped for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans. Coming off of back-to-back ALCS appearances and returning a mostly similar roster, the club currently sits at 61-72 and are only the in the wild card race if you squint really hard. Poor performance is certainly deserving of some blame (I’m looking at you, Jose Bautista and Marco Estrada), but the bigger story this season has been injury. An entire roster (plus two) have made disabled list trips. The club has used six catchers, five second basemen, 13 starters, and Josh Donaldson has started three games at shortstop. It really has been something of a comedy.
The club has also used 22 relief pitchers, but here there have been some nice surprises. Danny Barnes, Ryan Tepera, and Dominic Leone entered the season as afterthoughts, but all three have established themselves not only as major league relievers, but as viable late-game options. There may be a new name to add to this list as well.
Tim Mayza opened a lot of eyes right at the beginning of spring training (including yours truly) after a dominant run, but was sent back to New Hampshire to begin the year. After a rough start to the season, the power-armed lefty righted the ship before earning a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo. After allowing just two runs in 19 2/3 innings with the Bisons, Mayza got the call to join the big club.
It has been something of an up and down debut for Mayza, as he has allowed 11 hits and two home runs in 7 1/3 innings, but the high end skill level has also generated 13 strikeouts in that time. If he had enough innings to qualify, his 33.8 % miss rate (percentage of misses on swings) would rank 11th in baseball. His overall swinging strike rate of 17.9% would be tied for third. In short, he misses a lot of bats.
The combination of power and bat-missing stuff led BP Toronto reader Murphy Bruno to ask how Mayza and Cleveland ace reliever Andrew Miller compare as pitchers. The short answer is…they don’t really. Miller throws his fastball a bit harder, his slider a lot slower, and gets way more break on that slider. But this question led me to see if there really is a good comp for Tim Mayza.
In order to do that, I looked at fastball velocity and movement, slider velocity and movement, and overall swing and miss rates.
First, the fastball:
Per Brooks Baseball’s PITCHF/x leaderboards, there have been 81 lefthanded relievers since 2007 whose fastball averaged within 1 mile per hour of Mayza’s heater. That’s obviously way too big of a sample. When we eliminate those whose fastball has over two inches more break either horizontally or vertically, that list gets a little bit smaller:
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That’s still 44 names though, so we need to narrow this down a bit further. Next up is the slider, Mayza’s big time out pitch. This is where things become much clearer. In the PITCHF/x era, there have been 11 pitchers who throw their slider harder than Mayza. That’s it. As a result, simply looking at velocity leaves just six players from our fastball comp list: Mike Dunn, Rex Brothers, Rob Rasmussen, Hung-Chih Kuo, Jordan Norberto, and Chad Bell. That list includes top lefty relievers (Dunn, Kuo when healthy), a first year player (Bell), a couple of flameouts (Rasmussen, Norberto), and an enigma (Brothers) so that doesn’t help us too much.
Thankfully, we still have the movement to look at. As I mentioned above, the Miller comp really didn’t work partially because the slider break was so different. So taking those six names and applying a 1” difference rule, similar to the one that we applied to the fastball, we lose all but two pitchers, Rasmussen and Brothers.
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Now that we have such a small sample we can do some simple, direct comps.
The velocity chart doesn’t clear up a whole lot. Rasmussen’s fastball is closer, but Brothers’ slider is closer. The break suggests something else though, so let’s try a different approach:
The first noticeable change comes with the overall break difference between the fastball and the slider. Rasmussen doesn’t meet a 1” threshold on overall break difference, which suggests there may be a noticeable difference in stuff. This still isn’t enough to disqualify him, though.
But we have one more thing to look at. As I mentioned earlier, it was those swings and misses that caused me to look at Mayza in the first place, so we can’t very well ignore that here:
That ends the Rasmussen “hopes.” Despite similar stuff, the former Blue Jays didn’t have nearly the bat-missing abilities of either Brothers or Mayza. So in the end, we come up with a pretty close to perfect comp with Rex Brothers. Their fastballs are only 3/4 of a mile per hour apart, the sliders even less than that, and the shapes of both pitches are very similar. Their groundball rates are also reasonably similar if you look at Mayza’s minor league track record (though Mayza’s tiny sample in the bigs is very different from his past). Add in the similar contact rates and you end up with two very comparable pitchers.
As previously stated though, Brothers is something of an enigma. He once held a ton of promise, even serving as Colorado’s closer for a while. In his first three seasons in the big leagues, Brothers put up a 2.82 ERA (in Coors!) with 218 strikeouts in 175 2/3 innings. He had occasional control issues (82 unintentional walks in that span), but he was unequivocally a dominant, late-inning reliever. Things haven’t gone quite as well since then. Brothers was actually released by the Rockies following a poor 2014 and an up and down 2015. He pitched the entire 2016 season in the minors before re-surfacing this year with the Braves where he is once again struggling (7.63 ERA despite 22 Ks in 13 1/3 innings).
That comparison obviously doesn’t look ideal for Mayza, but with a closer look, the years where Brothers struggled the most (2014-2016) were when his stuff took a noticeable dip (his fastball fell to an average of 93.5 mph during that span). As a result, he stopped getting as many punchouts in those years (8.1 k/9 in the big leagues).
The Tim Mayza we’re seeing is actually much closer to the Rex Brothers of 2011-2013, along with a sprinkling of 2017. If he can refine things just a bit, we could definitely see an ace reliever the likes of which we saw with the Colorado lefty in the early parts of the decade. If not, we’re still likely going to see a guy who can be trusted to face lefties with the understanding that there could be an occasional blow up. Either way, despite his early struggles, Tim Mayza looks every bit the part of a major league reliever.
Lead Photo © Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Statistics updated through games of Tuesday, August 29th