Count on Casey: Mize is a Building Block for Detroit Tigers

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - MAY 17: Casey Mize #12 of the Detroit Tigers pitches during the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on May 17, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - MAY 17: Casey Mize #12 of the Detroit Tigers pitches during the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park on May 17, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

Casey Mize had a great month of May for the Detroit Tigers pitching staff.

It wasn’t long ago that Detroit Tigers fans embodied the famous meme from The Office where the lead character, Michael Scott, was urging his subordinates to stay calm upon learning there was a fire in the building. It’s what every fan was doing after Casey Mize’s 2020 campaign which featured mixed results and many early exits. We were all telling others to keep calm because, in reality, our own heart rates were not at rest with his performance.

It was never fair to judge Mize after his first seven big league starts in a pandemic year in which he never threw in an actual game, save spring training. The numbers were so bad, though, that many began to wonder. Over a hit per inning given up. Over four walks per nine innings pitched. No start beyond 5.1 innings. A 6.99 ERA. It was never fair, but for a pitcher who was the first overall selection and threw a no-hitter in Double-A Erie already, the fans’ bar was out of his reach.

This wasn’t some injustice by the numbers, either. Mize didn’t pass the eye test in 2020–with two chief issues that compounded the other’s problems. First was his command. Mize was always well-regarded as a plus command guy out of the University of Auburn, where he walked just 16 batters across 114 innings his junior year. By contrast, Mize walked 13 in just 28.1 innings across his 2020 campaign.

Mize also didn’t seem to have a certain pitch going for him on any particular night. Sometimes it was locating the fastball, other times it was the splitter. Sometimes the slurve didn’t have bite. Other times the cutter didn’t move. It is certainly a luxury to have so many pitches to choose from, but in reality, waiting to find out a pitch isn’t working until the heart of the order is less than ideal, which caused command to suffer along with, ultimately, results.

Mize is reformed with the Detroit Tigers in 2021–in some ways a man of old, in others a baptized baseball pitcher. He’s walking nearly a batter less per inning, allowing nearly three less on average, and continuously conquesting further into contests. In some ways, it’s who Mize always has been: a true command pitcher who will leverage weaknesses to induce weak contact to propel the period of time he pitches within games.

In other ways, Mize and Fetter have concocted a pitch mix potion overhaul to get pitchers out at the highest levels. After all, the things he could get away with in Erie, Pennsylvania aren’t always likely to play in the big cities. He scrapped his cutter; a pitch which proved inconsistent as I detailed in a piece here; and added a variation of his splitter. The outcome remains the same, the path for which to get there is drastically different from when he was busting left-handed bats with his cutter on the farm.

It did not happen in the timeline we expected, nor the path to get there necessarily, but Mize is precisely who we thought he was. A 1.4 bWAR just two months into the season. Here are his May statistics, from Baseball-Reference:

Is it just one month out of one year that I am cherry-picking? Sure. By innings, it is less than the sample I considered to be too small in 2020. The difference is that Mize has made changes that have caused this more desirable outcome. He now shows the impressive command and each offering compliments the other in the context of getting big-league hitters out.

I have played a fun game in my mind over the past few seasons of, “Who is on this team today that is on the next competitive Detroit Tigers team?” I have struggled to come up with more than two or three names at any given time. But Casey Mize is more than being on the next Detroit Tigers playoff team. This is a building block arm that the Tigers can build around and compliment as they enter their next competitive window. He has the work ethic, the demeanor, and most importantly, the stuff to lead the next talented Detroit Tiger team.

It’s understandable if anyone would like to tell me to calm down a la Michael Scott, but all my chips are in on Casey Mize.