After his breakout season, Angels reliever Mike Mayers deserves your attention.
I could have titled this “The Mayer of Breakout City”, but I decided the Mike Myers (the actor) reference was more appropriate, as Mike Mayers (the Angels pitcher) does in fact make me groovy.
Since making his debut in 2016 with the St. Louis Cardinals, Mike Mayers has had a rough start to his Major League career. As a member of the Cardinals, from 2016-2019, he pitched 80.2 innings, registering an ERA of 7.03, a WHIP of 1.70, a FIP of 5.19, and a K/9 of 7.86. These numbers are worthy of a demotion or release, which is exactly what the Cardinals did.
The Angels took a flier on Mayers, claiming him off waivers from the Cardinals in November of 2019. The move has paid off valiantly for both the Angels and Mayers. The plan for Mayers was that he was going to compete for the final spot in the Angels bullpen. However, not everything goes according to plan. This season, Mayers has not only secured a bullpen spot but has established himself as the best reliever on the Angels.
Since joining the Halos, Mayers has put up elite numbers, a 2.10 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 2.18 FIP, and 12.7K/9. Against Mayers, opponents have produced a slash line of .162/.231/.252.
Unfortunately for the Angels, with a 9-5 loss to the Dodgers on September 25th, they were officially mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The Angels had been teetering on the brink of elimination for a few weeks, and manager Joe Maddon did everything he could to remain in the playoff conversation. One of those strategies was to use Mayers as much as he could, and then some. Thus far in September, Mayers has pitched in 18.2 innings, which is a huge uptick from the 8.2 innings he registered in August.
Before Friday’s loss, in which Mayers surrendered 2 earned runs over 0.1 innings, he had been untouchable. The last time he had given up a run was August 24th, where he was tagged with 1 earned run over 0.2 innings. Even more impressive, he has only given up a run in one other appearance before that, where he allowed 4 earned runs over 0.2 innings on July 29th. It is a testament to Mayers’ performance that he has still put up outstanding numbers despite the 4-run hiccup, especially in a shortened season.
He recorded his first save of the season on September 21st and followed it up by recording another one the next day. The Angels have recognized that Mayers has turned into their most reliable and lethal option out of the pen, increasing his playing-time and role. He has been seeing more time in high-leverage and late-game situations.
Here’s a clip of Mayers’ retiring NL rookie of the year favorite Jake Cronenworth with a nasty slider to earn his second save.
sheesh, Mike Mayers pic.twitter.com/p3jkv0IoOz
— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) September 23, 2020
What Has Changed?
As a Cardinal, Mayers’ pitch repertoire consisted of a 4-seam fastball, a slider, and a changeup. He threw his fastball more than any other pitch, using it an average of 58% of the time.
This is the first year of his career in which his fastball is not his most used pitch. He has thrown his slider 38.6% of the time and his fastball 34.1% of the time. He has also scrapped his changeup altogether and has instead added a cutter, which he has thrown 24.5% of the time. On rare occasions, he also throws a curveball (2.6%), and a sinker (0.2%).
During the offseason, Mayers came across an Instagram post of the baseball Mariano Rivera used to trace his cutter grip in an effort to teach a young Roy Halladay. Upon seeing the post, Mayers practiced the grip for himself.
“It seemed very simple. Kind of really fit my mindset, where I just kind of grabbed the ball and let it rip. It had some cut to it, so I just kind of tinkered with that, but that’s basically how it started. It was on Instagram” – Mike Mayers
A signature pitch by two Hall-of-Famers is hard to replicate, but this season Mayers has done it justice. So the next time your partner complains that you’re spending too much time on Instagram, just tell them you are doing research to become a breakout star in the Major Leagues.
What is Stopping Him From Becoming the Best Reliever in Baseball?
I try not to be a negative person, but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I left out certain stats that I don’t like. When looking for negatives in Mayers’ performance, it’s incredibly hard to find. While his strikeout numbers have been elite, when players make contact, they have averaged 88.8 mph in exit velocity and recorded a BABIP of .242.
These numbers suggest that hitters are getting unlucky with their outs. They hit Mayers fairly well but it doesn’t result in base hits. If Mayers hopes to blossom into a weapon for years to come, he must keep recording strikeouts at an elite rate.
One thing to keep in mind is that with Mayers almost exclusively throwing his fastball, slider, and cutter, batted balls with produce higher exit velocities than changeups and curveballs. He throws the ball hard, averaging 94.2 mph on his fastball, and 90.2 mph on his cutter. When hitters make contact, their exit velocity will tend to be high.
Mayers and the Angels Moving Forward
Mayers started the year battling for a spot on the team. It’s incredible how fast things can change in such a short season, as now Mayers is being considered for the closer role. With the Angels bullpen in a state of turmoil, the time has never been better for a breakout star like Mayers to claim the closer role.
Hansel Robles started the season as closer, but has recorded a 10.43 ERA in 14.2 innings with 1 save and 1 blown save (50 SV%), and deservedly got himself moved to more low-leverage situations. Ty Buttrey was next in line, and neither he could solidify himself, as he has compiled a 5.81 ERA in 26.1 innings with 5 saves and 4 blown saves (55.6 SV%). The job is Mayers’ for the taking. The biggest competition for Mayers is the former starter Felix Pena. Since being moved to the bullpen, Pena has put up strong numbers for the Halos. He has an ERA of 4.05, a WHIP of 1.31, and a K/9 of 9.8 over 26.2 innings. Despite the strong campaign, I don’t see Pena winning the closer role, as he has blown 3 saves in 5 opportunities (40.0%).
The good news is that Angels have team control of the 28-year-old until 2024. It would be a good idea for Halos fans to be familiar with his name because they’ll be hearing it a lot in years to come.
With the Angels officially eliminated from the postseason, all eyes are on 2021. I expect Mayers to be the heavy favorite for the closer job heading into Spring Training. If he can maintain his success into next year, the Angels will finally have an elite-level closer and should be in a good position for a playoff run.