After we got out first glimpse of Tarik Skubal last night (read my GIF Breakdown of his performance here), the Tigers debuted their second highly touted prospect pitcher in as many nights, with Casey Mize taking the hill against the Chicago White Sox.
There are a few items to note from the former #1 overall pick’s time in the minor leagues. He’s had a string of injuries limiting his volume across his career, but it hasn’t stopped him from being a command-focused arm with a great cutter and vicious splitter. I’ve been itching for a command-focused pitcher to wow me and I was hoping Mize could fit the bill.
Here is what I saw in Casey Mize’s MLB Debut.
His first pitch came in at 94 mph, missing the outside edge to Tim Anderson. He went back for a second attempt, this time with a bit of run over the plate that led to a lazy fly to left for his first out in the bigs.
With one down, take a look at his first pitch to Yoan Moncada:
That’s 93 mph down the heart of the plate, with a decent amount of ride. I’m inclined to think this is a four-seamer as he comes a little on the side of the ball (after watching more later, this is his two-seamer) and it makes me understand why he’s not a major strikeout arm. With ride, you get contact, not whiffs.
Mize continued the at-bat with a pitch that made me make an audible sound:
Okay, I get this. I absolutely adore high-and-tight cutters and this one was elegantly placed along the inside corner. Not a ton of bend into the bat, but that’s tight break spotted with precision. I want more of this.
At 0-2, it looked like he overthrew his famous splitter and I mean overthrew. The pitch hit the grass and bounced away to the backstop. Instead of reverting back to a heater or cutter, Mize was stubborn and attempted the splitter a second time and it was gorgeous:
Poor Moncada. He should have known better than take the first pitch before getting served a perfectly spotted cutter and this devastation. It’s a splitter alright and I understand why everyone was so amped about it. I wonder if he can always throw it like this and if he can…oh boy.
Jose Abreu stepped in next and saw a similar first pitch heater away that landed for ball one. He went inside next with a two-seamer that rode plenty but fell too far inside. I like the intent to jam and move on both sides of the plate, though I wonder if focusing north with heaters and south with splitters is the way to go given how much my heart skipped watching Yoan Moncada’s defeat.
At 2-0, Mize shook off a cutter, then shook off a fastball away for an inside heater that he didn’t quite execute:
I understand all of this, save for the fastball away. A cutter would have been a great mix-up 2-0 pitch, especially given Mize’s ability to command it already. A fastball properly inside would have worked well, too, though, and Mize simply left this one too far out over the plate. Love the idea, though.
Mize learned his lesson and started Eloy Jimenez with a first-pitch cutter that nipped the top of the zone for strike one:
I wanted to GIF this because I think we’re going to see it a lot. I call it the Collin McHugh approach as it’s what propelled McHugh’s successful 2014 campaign – high cutters that earn called strikes a ton as they fall back into the zone. Anibal Sanchez did the same during his 2018 renaissance, too.
At 0-1, Mize turned back to the two-seamer and fired a fantastic fastball:
I love this pitch. It’s a free strike most of the time as it should return a foul ball just like this one – it’s simply too hard to resist with as much movement Mize is getting. It’s why the #1 stat I look for on sinkers is O-Swing%. If they aren’t featuring sinkers just off the plate and getting weak swings like this, they’re doing it wrong.
At 0-2, I found myself needing to make another GIF – it was Mize’s first true breaking pitch of the game:
Okay, so it looks like he has a cutter and a slider (in retrospect, this is likely a curveball), with the latter looking pretty mediocre. Or at least this one was too loopy and floated off the plate for an easy take. Great location off the plate, but it didn’t have the crazy bite we want from a breaking ball.
Now at 1-2, Mize went back to the splitter and sadly it bounced just like the first one. That’s a splitter for you – filthy when it works, but you never know what you’re gonna get.
At 2-2, Mize surprised me, turning to a cutter, especially one that had a decent amount of horizontal break. Take a look:
Not your typical whiff pitch and I’m a bit surprised that it worked. It didn’t have much break, but it was located just off the plate and Eloy was protecting the zone a little too much. It worked, but I ain’t too thrilled about it.
After one frame, I love that we’ve already seen the full utility belt. Don’t save anything! Get every out you can. His splitter is 1/3 at the moment but it was a beautiful single pitch. His fastball is being commanded well, the sole slider we saw was a bit questionable, and that cutter is going to be a life-saver for stealing strikes and generating outs. I’m liking this.
Leading off the second, Mize fired 94 mph near the heart of the plate and Encarnacion fouled it straight back. That’s a bit concerning as a fouled back pitch = a batter has their timing down on your fastball. Mize wisely goes to a breaker next, but it sails high without a flinch from Edwin. Mize turned to that cutter at 2-0 and it was a lovely McHugh slider/cutter that nipped the top of the zone for strike one.
At 2-1, Mize was still worried about Edwin’s timing on the heater and went to the breaker. It wasn’t great:
I’m going to assume this was the same breaker (slider? curveball?) we saw in the first inning and yeah, it’s not what you want. This pitch should be away and it came without heavy break. It’s easily Mize’s fourth pitch and I’m a bit surprised he went with it in a 2-1 count.
Nomar Mazara followed and saw a 95 mph first-pitch fastball. He liked it:
That’s an identical heater to the first pitch he threw to Moncada and I bet Mazara took that into account. Mize hasn’t thrown a well-spotted heater to a left-hander yet and I can’t but wonder if that’s a weakness.
He went back to the heat against Danny Mendick and missed away for ball one. Needing a strike, Mize turned to his great cutter and it served him a gift:
That’s what a great cutter does. It returns outs and strikes constantly. Mednick looked for a heater, thought he got it, and its vertical break earned Mize a much needed out at third base. Expect a ton of these.
Zack Collins stepped in and saw a first-pitch heater. Still not a great one, but a little higher and more away than the previous ones to Mazara and Moncada. Speaking of Moncada, at 0-1, Mize went to the inside cutter, but this time it sailed up. And what do you know, for his third pitch against a lefty it was a splitter…again. And then the fourth pitch was a splitter…again:
It really is wonderful when it works. He’s thrown five thus far and they’ve all been located down. If you miss with a splitter, it better be down. I love the fact that this was the exact same sequence he used to get Yoan Moncada, though I wonder if he’s saving that splitter just for left-handers. Don’t do that Mize! It should debilitate right-handers as well.
Two strikeouts in the books and one out to go in the second, Mize threw a 90 mph cutter that missed upstairs and I loved that he turned to it again, confident he’d execute this time around. He nailed it, earning a strike, and I’m enamored. This cutter is wonderful and continues to do him favors.
At 1-1, Mize dialed it up to 96 mph to end the second inning, earning a late swing to send the ball down the line:
It’s good to see 96 mph heat, and while this pitch wasn’t dotted along the outside corner, that extra velocity did enough to close the books on his second frame.
A run in the books and a valuable lesson learned: don’t get beat on your fourth-best pitch. No wonder he didn’t throw another breaking ball the rest of the inning.
We’re back to the top of the order with Tim Anderson at-bat. Instead of falling behind before featuring his cutter, I’m glad we saw a first-pitch cutter to get to 0-1:
I’m telling you, this pitch is golden. It won’t get a huge amount of whiffs, but it’ll get foul balls like this, called strikes, and outs galore. Everyone wants this pitch in their arsenal.
And then Mize followed it with exactly the kind of sinker I want to see, earning strike two:
You see a foul ball. I see a free strike. I LOVE THIS. I’m enamored and all that’s left is…
YES. A righty-on-righty splitter for the strikeout! Uggggggh what an amazing at-bat. Watch the entirety of this sequence again:
This will always work. Always. I’m so happy to see you execute a righty-on-righty splitter and please do this all the time, Mize. Please.
Okay, okay. Now against Yoan Moncada a second time, he started him off with a breaker at 81 mph that fell out of the zone. Yeah, just stop throwing it. Everything else is way better.
Behind 1-0, I was a bit surprised to see a splitter, but he earned a foul ball on the pitch as it fell a bit too far in. 96 mph down the middle but elevated enough to return a foul ball and a 1-2 count.
We all knew that splitter was coming at 1-2, including Moncada, but he committed on the low pitch and grounded out to first. I have to hand it to Mize, he’s doing an excellent job keeping his splitter down and it’s doing wonders for him.
With two outs, Mize returned to the breaker again, this time effectively getting a strike as it fell into the zone for strike one against Jose Abreu. Not a bad get-me-over, but I just don’t think it’s worth the risk.
0-1 was once again that fantastic fastball:
It’s a free strike, every time. People are going to talk about the splitter and cutter, but Mize has routinely executed this early-in-count two-seamer off the plate and you don’t get to two strikes for that splitter to shine without pitches like these to get there.
Speaking of which, he went back to the splitter at 0-2 but didn’t get on top of it enough and it dove too far inside. So of course, he went back to it for the 1-2 pitch:
Yes, I’m going to keep GIFing up this splitter. It’s just too beautiful!
We’re through three innings now and yeah, I buy this. I think his four-seamer is a little hittable, but the two-seamer is great, splitter is filthy, and that cutter is doing everything it can to dominate early in counts. This is wonderful.
While he’s not on the same pitch count as Tarik Skubal was last night, Mize should be somewhat limited here, but hey, he’s only at 40 pitches as he started off Eloy Jimenez with a hittable fastball that was fouled off for strike one. An inside fastball that fell too far in to induce a swing followed, and at 1-1, it was no surprise to see the cutter, but it sailed up and away for ball two. Another cutter followed (of course), landing along the outside edge that Eloy bounced foul. It’s more reinforcement that this cutter is Mize’s workhorse for strikes.
Now with two strikes, Mize went for the splitter but bounced it well too early to bait Jimenez. In his first full-count of the game, it was another cutter, but this one a little harder with a touch more horizontal bite:
It’s a great pitch that got Jimenez to swing, and it normally earns an out. Sometimes baseball just doesn’t go your way.
The sole villain of the night stepped into the box as Mize served a low 94 mph two-seamer that Edwin Encarnacion knocked foul. He went back to the heater and missed away, but it got enough of the plate that Edwin swung straight through it, returning a quick 0-2:
Now with two strikes, Mize threw a pitch you wouldn’t normally think EE would swing at:
Here’s the thing. The first two pitches of this at-bat were two-seamers, running back over the plate after starting away. Now at two strikes, this cutter looks like it’s more of the same, but breaks in the opposite direction. Edwin realizes too late, and he’s done for.
It’s a classic approach I didn’t think Mize had in him. Guys like Tyler Chatwood and Yovanni Gallardo have made careers of this (I know, not the best examples), and to see Mize showcase this approach and have success is a pleasant surprise.
With one away, Mize started Nomar Mazara with a high cutter that misses the zone for ball one. At least it’s not a first-pitch two-seamer any more.
His next pitch was an executed cutter, falling down into the zone as Mazara fouled it off. Love. This. This is always a strike.
At 1-1, Mize mixed in a splitter that didn’t get a swing as it fell off the table along the outside corner. He turned back to the cutter and got the call as it just nipped the top of the zone. A two-strike count against a left-hander demands a splitter and honestly, there’s a sense that with two strikes, Mize could just keep throwing splitters until the batter gets themself out in some way.
Just watch and you’ll understand:
The first one darted away and Mazara somehow got a piece to stay alive. So Mize threw another out of the zone and it turned into an out. See? Just throw splitters with two-strikes. It works.
With two outs, Danny Mendick returned to the plate and saw the worst cutter Mize has thrown all game…and took it for strike one. Possibly looking for another, he was unable to handle the next 95 mph fastball down the middle, slapping it to first base for the third out.
I’m still loving what Mize is selling. It’s not overwhelming with fastballs, but his command of cutters and splitters creates a high floor. I wonder if we’ll see some strong high-and-tight four-seamers at some point.
We’re just over 55 pitches entering the fifth inning as Mize dropped a casual 77 mph curveball to Zack Collins for strike one. Fine, a first-pitch strike is okay with me, but let’s just leave those breakers for that.
After missing with a fastball up-stairs, Mize threw he worst splitter of the game:
Yes, this is worse than those he bounced that is fell into the wheelhouse of left-handed hitters. It was the highest splitter he’s thrown today and properly slapped to the corner. It’ll happen.
Facing Adam Engel, Mize aimed to get ahead and got a strike with a 90 mph cutter over the plate. We’ve yet to see a hard hit off that cutter and I wonder if we’ll see much of any, really. It’s a great pitch.
The 0-1 pitch was something I didn’t expect. Instead of the two-seamer, we saw this curveball along the outside corner:
Well alright then. I didn’t think Mize had this in him. And I especially didn’t think he had this in him:
Whoaaa, I know it’s a ball and not close to being a strike, but I think this was the best look we’ve had at the potential break on Mize’s curveball. This could work if he locates this just about a foot closer to the plate and is way more aggressive than any other curveball we’ve seen prior. Okay, I may be rethinking the ceiling of this pitch. Still don’t love it, but there’s hope now.
At 1-2, he missed with a fastball up-and-away and I’m wondering if that splitter is next. Give the people what they want!
Nope, it was the hardest cutter he’s thrown all game at 91 mph:
It doesn’t look like the sexiest pitch, but this looks like a fastball high until the last moment, and when coming in at 91 mph, this is incredibly hard to connect with. Nice pitch, Mize.
The always tough Tim Anderson followed as the lineup turned over, and after a cutter missed away, he squeezed a single in between the hole into left field on a somewhat hittable splitter:
Anderson has shown us how good he is at predicting pitches and with a man on second and behind in the count, he likely guessed off-speed here. He got a hittable one, gave it a good swing, and earned a hit. Not a bad pitch from Mize, better hitting (and some luck) from Anderson.
A bit weird to see the only damage done this inning via the splitter, and I don’t think he pitched pitching poorly to allow that run. He went back to the cutter and missed high against Yoan Moncada, followed by a fastball over the plate fouled off for strike one.
Something to note: I don’t think I’ve seen a well-located fastball to a left-hander this entire game. It’s been solid cutters and splitters, but not one great fastball.
It was your standard lovely splitter under the zone for a whiff to get to 1-2, and as he threw a fastball way too high, Anderson easily stole second base. Mize really wasn’t doing a great job holding him on, even throwing to first while he was still on the bag before the previous pitch.
Now with a man on second and 2-2, Mize returned to the splitter, but it fell in the middle of the plate, allowing Moncada to foul it off. All three of Mize’s worst splitters have come in this inning.
We do it again at 2-2: he featured a 96 mph heater away that landed just off the outside corner. Best fastball to a left-hander thus far!
It was one more splitter at 3-2 and let’s make that four poorly thrown splitters coming in the fifth:
It’s sad to see Mize’s final pitch be such a poor representation of what we saw across the full game. This 73rd pitch was the last one of the night, officially welcoming Casey Mize to the majors.
Yeah, I’m a fan. Yes, his splitter command was a little volatile (splitters, it happens) and was the cause of his fifth-inning unraveling, but the pitch is destined for whiffs against batters on both sides of the plate. His four-seamer could use a little work, especially to left-handers, but his two-seamer did an excellent job jamming right-handers for free strikes constantly. His curveball is the weakest of his four pitches, but it had its moments as well and could turn into something more than just a cheap first-pitch strike down the road. And then there’s his cutter, a golden pitch if I ever saw one, stealing strikes at the top of the zone constantly and well commanded around the plate. I love this pitch.
There are some concerns about the consistency of that splitter and his inability to command heaters to left-handers, but Mize looked like a solid all-around pitcher. I don’t think he’s destined for a 25%+ strikeout rate given the lack of a terrifying breaker (his splitter just isn’t consistent enough to constantly earn a strikeout per inning), but his cutter and two-seamer approach keeps his floor very high.
I’m excited to watch more of Mize, especially when he’s going above 90 pitches in a start. He has the tools to survive in the big leagues and with a longer leash, already has the ability to perform well in the majors.