Mike Mayers is striking out everyone. Well, not exactly everyone. But we don’t really know how he's doing it.
Mayers has never had much success piling up strikeouts at the MLB level. For his career through May 31st of this year, Mayers had struck out only 11.9% of the hitters he’d faced. This season, he moved to the bullpen and saw a strikeout "bump" to 15.2% of the batters he faced. That ranked in the bottom 10% among relievers.
Flip the calendar to June, and the former quad-A pitcher is suddenly a strikeout machine. There are 89 relievers who have thrown 10 innings through May 31st and since June 1st. I ranked those pitchers by their change in strikeout rate from the first period to the second. Jordan Hicks, who raised his strikeout rate from 13.3% to 37.0%, ranks first. Mike Mayers, who raised his strikeout rate from 15.2% to 36.8%, ranks second. Among all 108 relievers with 10+ June innings, Hicks’ strikeout rate ranks twelfth and Mayers’ ranks fifteenth.
In fact, over their last ten respective games as of this writing, Mayers has actually fanned batters at a higher rate than Hicks:
For most of my analysis, I try to look at baseball as more science than art. Naturally, my first question(s) after seeing Mayers strikeout increase was simple: How is he doing it? What's he doing differently than before?
Pitching is a lot more art than science, though. Sure, we have pitch tunneling, spin rate, and a ton more data now, but there isn’t one thing that makes a pitch or group of pitches work well. Hit a ball 100 mph at a 25 degree angle, and you’re likely seeing extra bases, if not a home run. Throw a ball 99 miles per hour painted on the inside edge, and you might give up a home run to a guy with a history of struggling against high velocity. Pitching is hard. Analyzing pitching is hard, too.
Some of Mayers strikeout gains are probably thanks to his recent velocity spike – over his last ten games, he’s throwing something more like 96.5 instead of 96.0. Most of those gains were over the last two games or so when he started pumping 98. I don’t know how much of a difference that makes, but it doesn't explain much here: Mayers' strikeout increases started well before he found that extra fastball velocity.
An increase in his slider velocity actually correlates a lot better with his increasing strikeout rate. Maybe that’s it. Maybe he’s been aided by less frequent travel between St. Louis and Memphis recently. Perhaps he’s still a bad pitcher in the midst of a hot streak just by pure random chance. I don't know, and I haven't identified anything that really jumps out at me.
Almost certainly, it’s a combination of factors that are difficult to pinpoint. Regardless of causation, we’d all agree that inducing more swinging strikes, allowing less contact, and striking out more hitters is a very positive thing. Hopefully Mayers keeps it up.
Now that trading season is officially upon us, maybe we actually care abut playoff odds now. Only six days ago, the Cardinals odds bottomed at 31.7%. Now, however, after winning four in a row against the Brewers and Indians while the Cubs lost four in a row to the Reds and six of seven overall, the Cardinals odds sit at 42.6%. They're back in the thick of the race, which might indicate they should look to be aggressive on the trade market.
Among fans, however, much of the love gained by smashing Corey Kluber around was lost when the St. Louis offense was stymied by rookie Shane Bieber. It seems like this happens a lot. Shane Bieber isn’t your average rookie, however, having dominated every level while rocketing through the Indians system thanks to an insane K/BB ratio and a consistent avoidance of dingers. The Cardinals are probably, hopefully, fine.
Recent words written about baseball that are worth reading
The Story of Hanley Ramirez, the Drug Kingpin Who Never Was by Sheryl Ring of Fangraphs. As much as athletes are under the public’s watchful eye, we can never really know everything about them. Former NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez is the iconic example in my recent memory, but many others have fit the bill over the years. Enter this story on Hanley Ramirez, in which he was linked to a drug ring he's not actually involved with and a Dominican murder he didn't commit after answering a Facetime call from a friend in trouble.
The Luke Heimlich case and why one of baseball team’s pursuit is full of logical landmines by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports. I don’t know enough about this situation to provide much intelligent commentary, but what I have observed is truly appalling. Jon Tayler of Sports Illustrated provided another detailed look this week, and I’d recommend reading his piece, too. His conclusion is clear enough from the title: There Is No Moral Justification for the Royals or Any Team to Sign Luke Heimlich.
John Mozeliak’s motivations and inner thoughts often remain an enigma to those of us on the outside. He’s cryptic on the radio, he’s cryptic in the paper, and now he’s cryptic in podcasts. Ben Godar of Viva El Birdos dives in between the lines to decipher “What can the recent #MoSpeak tell us about the state of the Cardinals?”
That’s a wrap for this edition of the 10.5. Alex should be back next time, but it was a pleasure filling in.