Pitcher Spotlight: Wade Miley’s Ridiculous Season

I can’t believe I’m going to write this.

Wade Miley has a 2.12 ERA this season.

It’s just a 63.2 inning sample across twelve starts, but that’s still over a third of a season’s work with sparkling results, including a 1.18 WHIP.

Will this stick? In all likelihood, no. His 4.59 SIERA is nearly 2.5 points higher than the marvelous ERA, inflated by a minute 6.1% HR/FB rate, .260 BABIP, and 80% LOB rate. These numbers are all due to fall as the sample rises.

But this isn’t to say that Miley has had a remarkable season simply by being in the good graces of Lady Luck. Miley has completely revamped his approach:

Wade Miley’s Pitch Usage
Year Four-Seamer % Cutter % Sinker % Changeup % Slider % Curveball %
2017 21.9% 11.9% 31.5% 10.7% 13.7% 10.3%
2018 13.3% 39.6% 9.3% 16.9% 4.8% 15.9%

Everything has changed. I’m not kidding, each pitch in his arsenal has taken a sizeable leap or tumble in its pitch usage, from a massive reduction in sinkers and four-seamers in favor of cutters, while his slider is being marginalized by his changeup and curveball.

It’s hard not to look at this and wonder if there’s something to it. An element in his radical change that dictates legitimacy. Yes, Miley has had plenty of good fortune but what if there is more to his success?

Allow me to go through each of these pitches in his repertoire and see if we can find a hook to latch onto.

Fastball

This has to be the first place to look as four-seamers and sinkers have been reduced from over 50% usage to under a 25% clip. It’s a monumental shift in approach and I couldn’t help but nod my head at his conscious change looking at the numbers:

Wade Miley’s Fastballs 2017
Type Usage BAA ISO Zone % SwStr% pVal
Four-Seamer 21.9% .333 .247 45.7% 5.1% -12.3
Sinker 31.5% .290 .131 35.4% 4.5% -1.5

Simply bad. His sinker was a little better, though allowing a .290 BAA on nearly of your pitches spells disaster, especially when hitting the zone a putrid 35.5% of the time.

The pitches were terrible. Atrocious. Embarrassing. Bad. Now that he’s pulled back both pitches significantly, we’re seeing different results from each:

Wade Miley’s Fastballs 2018
Type Usage BAA ISO Zone % SwStr% pVal
Four-Seamer 13.3% .269 .077 51.1% 11.3% -0.7
Sinker 9.3% .400 .100 31.2% 6.5% -2.8

The sinker is still weak, but that .400 BAA is from just 10 ABs – a very small sample – as he’s throwing it under 10% of the time. Good, let’s keep it low. Meanwhile, his four-seamer’s whiff rate has more than doubled to an impressive 11.3%. This isn’t a result of a shift to elevated heaters – he’s sitting pretty middle-middle – but rather its mix with his breakout pitch of the year, the cutter.

Cutter

I’ll talk a bit about the secondary stuff after this, but it should be clear that the heart of Miley’s sparkling season is a sudden embrace of his cutter. This GIF should illuminate its secret to success:

Miley establishes the high cutter to start the at-bat, saving his four-seamer as the final putaway offering. It’s not the sole path to his 2.18 ERA, but an expression of the difficulty to differentiate between the two, especially when starting in similar locations. Both pitches are making the other one better.

That explains the sudden burst of whiffs from his four-seamer, but let’s talk about the cutter itself. Its 2018 numbers may startle you:

Wade Miley’s Cutter 2018
Usage BAA ISO Zone % SwStr% pVal
39.6% .189 .113 47.5% 6.8% 8.6

Don’t think of it as a secondary pitch, think of it as a heater. A heater that he throws about 40% of the time and returns an incredible .189 BAA, en route to a fantastic 8.6 pVal. It continuously pumps out positive results, so much in fact that its pVal has risen in eight of his last nine games. He is feeling it.

I would be surprised if its dominance continues, though. A .202 BABIP and 8.7% HR/FB are a bit questionable, even if 35% IFFB rate is present and demanding we consider its ability to jam batters.

At the same time, we need to consider what kind of regression we really expect. Is it all the way down to his four-seamer and sinker levels of 2017? Definitely not, this is much better offering than that. A drop to, say, .250 BAA is still wildly better than previous seasons and would suggest the ability to be serviceable in 12-teamers.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We haven’t talked about secondary pitches yet.

Secondary Pitches

Right, there was a shift in his back-pocket weapons as well, with a stronger emphasis on changeups and his slider being replaced by the harder cutter.

His slider was…okay last year. Hard to depend on for strikes with a sub 30% zone rate and middling 34% O-Swing, while he only got swings and misses 12% of the time. As mediocre as it gets, really.

On the other hand, his curveball and changeup have been not stellar, but effective:

Wade Miley’s Secondary Pitches 2018
Usage BAA ISO O-Swing Zone % SwStr% pVal
Curveball 15.9% .171 .049 38.0% 37.1% 10.7% 3
Changeup 16.9% .261 .087 41.6% 33.1% 14.8% 2.8

I can’t say I’m too surprised to see the low ISO and BAA marks given how well Miley has performed. It does scream “overperforming” in a terrible way, since the below-average swinging strike rates and low ratio of zone rate to chase rate dictate decent offerings instead of two positive pitches tallying a near 6.0 pVal.

There isn’t added break to these pitches, nor are their locations all too different. The biggest effect is that they are being used instead of a worse offering while getting a bit of good fortune as well. And with a cutter and four-seamer combination that is working, these pitches are just a little more effective.

Conclusion

I haven’t mentioned Miley’s strikeout rate yet, simply because he doesn’t have a pitch that would define him as a strikeout pitcher. He’s fanning batters at a 16.7% clip and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon, which means the whole shtick is a little…fragile. I could believe that Miley could sit around a 3.50 for an extended period of time if I believed that once his cutter regressed that his secondary stuff would work through their times of higher dependency. But I don’t see that here. In the end, he’s a pitcher who’s made some tweaks that could speak to a 4.00 ERA arm – still an improvement from the atrocity that is Miley’s 2017 campaign – but a far cry from his 2.12 ERA and 1.18 WHIP thus far.

The final question is this: if a pitcher has been fortunate this long, at what point can we label him as a fortunate pitcher moving forward, forgoing the SIERA/FIP numbers that expose his good luck? The answer is never. It’s the gambler’s fallacy, and while we so badly want it to be a good play moving forward, I can’t endorse Miley as a strong option for those in your playoffs.

It’s been a good run Miley, but all good things must come to an end.





Nick Pollack is the founder of PitcherList.com and has written for Washington Post, Fantasy Pros, and CBS Sports. He can be found making an excessive amount of GIFs on twitter at @PitcherList.

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Ryan DC
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Ryan DC

Double-check that last chart, you re-pasted his 2018 cutter chart. Otherwise a great post!