One of the few bright spots to come out of an otherwise very disappointing 2020 season for the Angels was the emergence of Mike Mayers as a reliable weapon out of the bullpen.
Claimed off waivers by the Halos from the Cardinals following the 2019 season, Mayers utilized a new cutter and a revamped mindset on the mound to work his way up to high-leverage spots during the COVID-shortened season. He gave up just three runs over his last 25 appearances that year, eventually earning the role of closer and winning AL Reliever of the Month in September.
This breakout performance firmly entrenched Mayers as an important member of the Angels’ bullpen heading into 2021, and for the first month of the season, he picked up right where he left off. He managed to secure a victory in relief during the Halos’ Opening Day win against the White Sox, and he gave up runs in just two of his 12 appearances across the month of April. One two-home-run hiccup against the Rangers aside, the righty looked to be establishing himself as a reliable arm once again.
A big pitch in a big spot from Mike Mayers, against a really good hitter. pic.twitter.com/d8jNciy2jX— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) April 25, 2021
Come May, though, and things started to go south for Mayers pretty quickly. He was placed on the injured list on the 3rd of that month with no designation but returned just two days later (we can infer that this was because of COVID exposure, but no positive test), and in his first outing back from that stint, he coughed up a 3-0 lead that starter Andrew Heaney handed him in the form of four earned runs with just one out recorded. The rest of the month looked a lot similar, with a three-run blown lead on the 21st and a narrowly-avoided five-run collapse orchestrated by him and Tony Watson on the 26th coming soon thereafter. By the time May was done, Mayers’ ERA on the season had ballooned from 2.77 to 5.11, and his reliability in high-leverage situations was starting to be questioned.
Mayers started to right the ship a bit over the season’s middle portion (albeit not without a few more backbreaking blowups along the way), posting a 3.53 ERA and 3.34 FIP in 24 appearances across June and July. This stretch coincided with a change in his pitch utilization, as he started to scale back the usage on the cutter that brought him so much success in 2020. After using his cutter around 24 percent of the time during his breakout, Mayers threw it twice as much to begin 2021, and this overexposure caused it to get hit around more and more as time went on. When June rolled around, though, he started to get back to 2020 levels of usage with it and increased how much he threw his four seamer and slider as a result.
This change especially started to pay dividends late in the season, as Mayers finally started to get back to that 2020 form that had been ever fleeting for most of 2021. From August 10 through the end of the year, he posted a 2.49 ERA in 21 games, striking out 25 batters over that span and walking just seven. Included in that was a pretty dominant stretch of games in September where he went nine consecutive outings without giving up a run, punching out 11 and picking up a win and three holds. This run brought Mayers’s ERA and FIP on the season to a respectable 3.84 mark, and his ERA- of 88 showed a guy that was pretty comfortably above the league average for pitchers even with all the ups and downs that his season consisted of.
72 Appearances (2 Starts) / 5-5 record / 3.84 ERA / 3.84 FIP / 1.29 WHIP / 75 IP (led all Angels relievers) / 71 H / 32 ER / 26 BB / 90 K / 11 HR / .250/.318/.430 slashline against / 1.5 bWAR / 30.3 percent called strike + whiff rate
Best Performance of the Year
Mayers’s best outing of 2021 came on June 11 against the Diamondbacks, where he was summoned into the sixth inning of a tie game to clean up a jam left for him by Chris Rodriguez. He got the first batter he faced, the dangerous Ketel Marte, to ground into a double play with two on and no outs and then struck out Asdrubal Cabrera to get out of the frame unscathed.
He pitched for another inning after this after the Angels retook the lead, striking out two more batters and keeping Arizona off the scoreboard once again. This was Mayers’s best performance of the year by win probability added, and it helped the Halos take home a 6-5 win in extra innings.
Outlook for 2022
Mayers was offered arbitration by the Angels back in November, so he’ll almost certainly be back with the team in 2022. He figures to slot in behind the freshly signed duo of Raisel Iglesias and Aaron Loup, likely leaving him as the 7th inning man barring any more bullpen additions post lockout. This role is probably the one the suits him the best, as it pushes him down a peg from where he was for most of last season while still putting him in a place that represents his skill level. As he’s shown for the last two seasons now, Mayers is at the very least a slightly above average reliever with flashes of more at times, so the fact that the Angels can trot out two (or more, if you believe in Austin Warren’s excellent 16 games last season) arms even better than he is makes their outlook for 2022’s bullpen look a lot better than it has in past years.