Scott’s Miscellany – How Much Better Would Wade Miley Be with Hanley at First?

The title of the article is an allusion to Schott’s Miscellany, which you should definitely check out if you never have and feel compelled to know that a group of larks is called an exaltation or that a member of the 32nd degree of Freemasonry is known as a Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret.

— How Much Better Would Wade Miley Be with Hanley at First?–

Wade Miley was one of the major pieces of the Red Sox’s solid depth over an ace plan for the rotation entering the season. Like many of their players, Miley has struggled. After setting a career high with 8.2 strikeouts per nine in his last season with the Diamondbacks in 2014, Miley has regressed back to 6.7 strikeouts per nine this season, similar to his 2012 and 2013 production. Meanwhile, his ERA (4.51) continues to trail his FIP (3.91) and xFIP (4.10), as they did in 2014. At a broad view, Miley is not an attractive fantasy option, even in AL-only formats.

With a closer look, Miley does start to look better. For one, he is up nearly a strikeout per nine and down half a walk per nine in the second half compared to the first half. And for another, left fielder Hanley Ramirez is expected to move to first base for 2016 and possibly even later this season.

According to Defensive Runs Saved, Ramirez has cost the Red Sox 19 runs in left this season. That is the most of any player at any position. Ramirez himself provides a cautionary tale against assuming that a poor defender will be fine when he moves to a position down the defensive spectrum, but the primary player he will replace at the position, Mike Napoli, provides a basis for optimism. Napoli cost his teams 26 runs as a catcher between 2010 and 2012 and then saved Boston 19 runs at first base in the three years since. First base requires a different set of skills—such as scooping throws in the dirt—and relies less on range and throwing ability, two areas where Ramirez struggled in both left field and the left side of the infield.

With a bit of research, I became optimistic that Miley could see significant improvements just by removing Hanley from left field. It turns out that Miley has allowed the sixth-highest batting average on balls in play on air balls to left—as determined by who fielded the ball—and the fifth-highest slugging percentage among qualified starters this season.

Highest BABIPs on Air Balls Fielded by LFers, 2015
Pitcher BABIP Rank SLG Rank
Francisco Liriano .722 1 .917 3
Jon Niese .721 2 1.047 1
C.J. Wilson .660 3 .894 6
R.A. Dickey .623 4 .925 2
Alex Wood .622 5 .844 10
Wade Miley .613 6 .902 5

That leaderboard is dominated by left-handed pitchers, and I was concerned that was a confounding variable perhaps related to the increased likelihood they would face right-handed hitters who I thought might be more likely to make hard contact to left field than left-handed hitters. Rather than dive into that, I decided it made the most sense to simply compare Miley’s BABIP and slugging allowed to the three outfield positions to see how different he looked with the Red Sox this season than with the Diamondbacks in previous seasons.

Wade Miley’s BABIP and SLG on Air Balls Fielded by OFers
Left Field Center Field Right Field
Season BABIP SLG BABIP SLG BABIP SLG
2012 .603 .851 .402 .600 .346 .505
2013 .547 .734 .412 .639 .363 .495
2014 .596 .737 .438 .663 .309 .436
2015 .613 .902 .333 .474 .407 .638

From 2012 to 2014 with the Diamondbacks, Miley was fairly consistent to all three outfield positions. The biggest standout was in 2012 in left field—the only year that he had Jason Kubel (-5 DRS) there for the bulk of the season. Meanwhile, this season, Miley has seen major improvements in center field, where Mookie Betts has saved 10 runs, and major declines in left field and right field. Hanley explains the decline in left while the lack of David Peralta and Gerardo Parra explains the decline in right. All of those unusual season-position rates match up well with the defensive narrative.

What makes this so compelling is not just the addition-by-subtraction Hanley’s absence should create; it is the presumably full-time addition of Jackie Bradley Jr. to the outfield. Per DRS, Betts is the sixth-best defensive center fielder this season, but Bradley was the third-best last season despite fewer than 1,000 innings at the position. Those two plus Rusney Castillo, who has saved the team five runs in just over 300 innings in right field this season, could create a defensive outfield that rivals the Royals’.

So far this season, Miley has allowed 62 air balls to be hit to left field. Hanley has converted 38 of those balls into outs. If we estimate that Bradley/Castillo would be able to convert five additional balls into outs, then that difference approximates to about five runs—accounting for the fact that most of those balls would become either doubles (about .75 runs) or outs (about -0.30 runs). That would be enough to drop Miley’s ERA from 4.51 to 4.22. Nine extra outs would drop Miley’s ERA below 4.00.

In the end, Miley likely cannot blame the entirety of his difficulties on Hanley’s poor defensive performance. Still, replacing him with Bradley in the outfield could dramatically improve Miley’s numbers going forward. Meanwhile, he had already started to show some signs of improvements from his poor first half. That is enough to convince me to take a shot at a bounce-back season for Miley in 2016 in deeper and AL-only formats.

We hoped you liked reading Scott’s Miscellany – How Much Better Would Wade Miley Be with Hanley at First? by Scott Spratt!

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Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt

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Does this account for the Green Monster? In a related note, what is considered a ball fielded by an outfielder? Does a ball bouncing off the wall count?