by Will Overton
Going into last season we heard an awful lot about the pitching prospects coming up through the Diamondbacks ranks. We heard about Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and even Patrick Corbin. We didn’t hear as much about Wade Miley who surprised everyone with his big season.
Now the question is how real was it and can he do it again? In fact, can he become even better or is he a flash in the pan? The esteemed Professor named Miley as one of the Diamondbacks top five prospects for last season, but for the most part his rise to the majors was pretty quiet. So maybe it was just one of those lucky seasons.
Let’s look at the numbers Miley put up this season before we discuss how sustainable they are:
194.2 Innings Pitched
Those are some pretty impressive numbers for a 25 year old rookie. And he was incredibly consistent as well. Apart from a rough September in which he had an ERA of 5.90 he didn’t ever see his monthly ERA rise above 3.46. September was indeed rough but considering he threw nearly 200 innings, much more than he’s ever thrown before in a single season, it may have been a case of fatigue.
One of the best things you got from Miley this season was the wins. Anytime you can pull 16 wins out of a rookie you have to like what you’re getting. The problem is wins are so unpredictable. What Miley does that works to his advantage is he has incredible control which in turn keeps pitch counts down and allows him to go later in the games, giving himself a better chance to pick up a win. In 22 of his 29 starts Miley managed to go six innings or more. So while wins are unpredictable, Miley at least gives himself the best chance to get one.
But, because wins are so unpredictable we need to analyze what else Miley brings to the table. In fantasy baseball players tend to go straight to the K totals to judge a players value, but there really is more to it. Miley exhibited an ability to be an excellent ratios pitcher. Too often strong ratio pitchers get ignored in fantasy because they aren’t the sexy picks, but let me tell you, trying to overcome a deficit in ERA and WHIP is not easy and it’s always nice to have a couple good ratio guys.
Are the ratios sustainable though? The fact that Miley only walked 37 batters certainly helps his WHIP, and he’s shown great control throughout his minor league career. He has never posted a sub 2.0 BB/9 rate like he did last season, but we don’t have a serious reason to believe he can’t maintain a rate right around 2.0. He also didn’t get all that lucky in terms of allowing base runners. The BABIP against Miley was .293 which isn’t completely unreasonable. Miley is a pitch to contact guy so there’s always the possibility of an elevation here, but I don’t anticipate any kind of major implosion.
In terms of ERA I like his chances of maintaining a low 3.00 ERA in his career. Miley’s 72% LOB isn’t extraordinarily low by any measure, and the fact that he gets a lot of groundballs works in favor. Miley has a strong knack for keeping the ball in the park, an important trait to have in Arizona, and his pitching style is conducive to keeps runs off the board as well. His pitching style reminds me in a way of Kyle Lohse the last couple of years once he has figured out who he was as a pitcher.
The big question still looms though, is there strikeout upside? I just compared him to Kyle Lohse in the last paragraph, but the one thing that can separate Miley from someone like Lohse is if he can develop a better K rate. Miley struck out 6.7 per nine last season which isn’t an awful rate. What is encouraging though is that he got a little better as the season went on.
In the second half Miley’s K rate rose to 7.1 per nine, and he even hit double digits in his last start of the season. Miley was never Nolan Ryan in the minor leagues, but in two out of three season he had a K/9 rate of 7 or better and I think that seems to be a fair place to consider him landing going forward in his career. Given Miley’s apparent ability to work late in games and throw a lot of pitches, a 7.0 K/9 rate could lead to close to 160 K’s in a season. When you’re counting total K’s does it really matter if your pitcher gets 160 K’s in 170 IP or 200? Not at all, except in this case you don’t get 90 walks to go along with it.
It’s way too early to tell, but I suspect Miley will be written off a bit going into next season either as a flash in the pan or a guy who can’t get K’s. If you’re smart you won’t be one of those people. I don’t think Miley has fantasy ace in his future, but he’s got the makings of a solid pitcher you can trust, and that goes a long ways in fantasy baseball.