2015 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide: Wade Miley, Sleeper?
You’d be forgiven if you saw Wade Miley in the title and skipped right over this post. In 638.2 career innings over four seasons he’s the owner of a career 3.79 ERA and 7.03 K/9. He’s played in anonymity in Arizona since 2011, and he had arguably the worst full season of his career in 2014.
But if you dig a little deeper, behind the baseball card stats, you’ll see there’s some promise left for the 2008 first-round pick. For the rest of this post I’m going to disregard Miley’s 40 innings from 2011 and focus on his three full seasons. Miley posted a career-worst 4.34 ERA last year. He also had career-worsts in walks per nine (3.35) and home runs per nine (1.03). So why am I writing about him? Well, he also had a career-high strikeout rate and several indicators that he should be able to improve on his 2014 performance and possibly be better than his 2012-13 seasons.
Miley struck out 8.18 batters per nine last season, a marked improvement from 6.6 in 2012 and 6.5 in 2013. A one-year fluke you say? Not really. Throughout Miley’s career he’s been a four-pitch pitcher, but last year he changed his approach.
Miley always used his slider as a knockout pitch, but he upped his usage of it in ’14 when he was ahead of the batter. When he had two strikes he increased his usage from 43 percent against lefties and 30 percent against righties to 49 and 36, respectively. Miley’s whiff rate with his slider stayed constant from 2012-’13 to last year, but he induced more grounders and hitters hit fewer line drives and fly balls with it. His sinker – arguably his worst pitch whiff-wise when you factor in how many times he threw it – got better whiffs by five percentage points and more ground balls by almost six percentage points in 2014. His change also went up four percentage points in whiff rate. So the increased use of his slider helped Miley increase his strikeout rate as well as increase the effectiveness of his other pitches.
Miley has also added velocity in the past few years – most notably to his slider and curveball – and the separation between his fastball velocity and changeup velocity has hovered around the coveted 10 mph difference most pitchers want.
Miley has always gotten ground balls at a great rate, as he ranks seventh among qualified pitchers in the past two years at 51.6 percent – right below his new teammate Rick Porcello. That will help him at Fenway Park and against the better offenses in the American League. Using his sinker less and his slider more has increased the ground-ball rate on each of those pitches each year since 2012.
So his knockout slider is great at missing bats and inducing grounders, and his sinker, which has seen its effectiveness come and go, has become better at inducing grounders as he’s thrown it less often.
The last couple things I’ll touch on are just some “luck” statistics. Nothing but positives happened to Miley’s pitch selection last year, yet his home run per fly ball rate was at a three-year-high despite giving up fewer fly balls then he has in his career. The Diamondbacks’ and Red Sox’s respective home stadiums have the same overall park factor, but Fenway Park has a 95 park factor for home runs compared to Chase Field’s 104. Miley should see better offenses, at least just due to the DH, but his ground ball rate and what should be a good Red Sox defense behind him should help him there when it comes to home runs and BABIP.
Speaking of BABIP, Miley’s .317 number last year was over 20 percentage points higher than anything he’d done in the past two seasons despite very little change at all on his ball-in-play rates. Boston should have a very good infield defense and a very speedy outfield defense this season, so I think his BABIP should go back to under .300 this year.
According to NFBC data, Miley is going 99th among starters and 360th overall in drafts this season. You have to invest very little in him this year, and he should be able to produce an ERA under 4.00 with a strikeout rate close to one per inning to go with a ground ball rate right at 50 percent. Like I said in the intro, I get it if you think Miley’s boring, but he’ll get more media attention this year, and you’ll get to see his success more often just due to being in Boston. Don’t be left out due to past mediocre performance as he’s changed his pitch selection and has room to grow.