Just 5 days after being drafted #1, Casey Mize took the mound in game one of the Super Regional. He wasn’t his normal self: in just 5 innings, Mize gave up 6 earned runs, walked 4, and hit a batter (all season highs). It’s clear Mize struggled in the Florida midday heat, too.
Against Florida, Mize couldn’t get command of his fastball and even when he was in the strike zone, he was missing his spots constantly. You can get away with that vs Army, but it doesn’t fly in the Super Regional especially against the nation’s top team.
Auburn coach Butch Thompson was onto something in early May when he altered Mize’s schedule in order to manage his workload. It’s clear Butch saw something we didn’t: his ace was starting to wear down and the program needed to get him on a set schedule.
Mize went from first-game starter to Friday starter (Auburn finished the season with 3 of 4 series begin on Thursday). Instead of bouncing from 5 to 7 days rest, he’d be in a normal 6-day routine. Since Butch noticed the issue, Mize’s performance has fallen off considerably. In his last 4 SEC starts, he’s given up 30 hits and 20 earned runs in 23.2 innings. Mize’s overall ERA has jumped almost a run in that span.
Was there one overriding factor that changed Mize’s season? There are plenty of legitimate theories, including:
- Is it the pressure of being the potential #1 pick?
- Is it the pressure of trying to perform how you think the #1 pick should?
- Is it just the fact that the 4 teams he faced down the stretch – Ole Miss, LSU, A&M and Florida – are all damn good teams?
I think they are all factors. But you cannot discount the fact that it’s a long season and Mize has handled a heavy workload leading the Auburn staff. Mize has the most starts and has thrown the most innings (114.2 innings) in the SEC.
Add the workload, the stress of carrying a team, the draft expectations, and Auburn’s deepest NCAA run since 1999 and you get a pitcher who is trying to do a little too much. Mize’s velocity hasn’t dropped but then again, with four pitches he doesn’t rely on pure power to shut down hitters.
Mize is a pitcher first and his location and control are what makes him great. Worn-out pitchers lose command and then try to nibble around the zone. Tired arms produce pitches that flatten out – even their fastballs don’t hold up in the zone. It all results in what you saw against Florida: increased walk rate and hitting the barrel of the bat more, giving up more hard contact.
Nothing from the last month diminishes what Casey Mize has done in this season. He’s been the catalyst that brought back Auburn baseball. I would love to see him get another shot this year in Omaha but for his career’s longevity, I hope I don’t see him on the mound again until Spring Training next year.