How Does Wade Miley Do It?

Wade Miley is an inspiration to left-handers everywhere. He hasn’t actually been a good pitcher since 2013, when he was slightly above average (109 ERA+), after placing second in Rookie of the Year award voting in 2012. In the four seasons since then, he has averaged a 4.82 ERA (85 ERA+) with 1.459 WHIP. To his credit, he has averaged 178 innings pitched per season over that span, and a pitcher who will take the ball and consistently eat up 150-200 innings has value to enough teams that Miley has earned over $20 million in his career.

Pitching for the Orioles in 2017, Miley has been as consistently mediocre as ever. Over 149 innings (30 starts) with an 8/13 win/loss record, he has an ERA of 5.32 (81 ERA+) and 1.698 WHIP. Although he has historically been middle of the pack for walks, his 2017 BB9 of 5.1 is not only by far the worst of his career, it is by far the worst in the majors for qualified pitchers. He has a pronounced platoon split, with right-handed batters OPSing .868 against him while left-handed batters OPSed .621.

What he throws. Miley has a complex repertoire consisting of six pitches: Two fastballs — four-seam fastball (“FF”) and two-seam fastball or sinker (“FT”) — plus a cutter (“FC”), slider (“SL”), curve (“CU”), and changeup (“CH”). Remarkably, his pitches are all fairly distinct for each other in terms of speed and movement, rather than blurring into each other as often happens when a pitcher has this many variants.

None of his pitches are exceptional. His fastball velocity is decent, but not great, averaging 91.5 and 90.6 mph for the four-seam and two-seam respectively, with peaks of just over 95 mph for both. His curve has mainly 12-6 action, with little horizontal movement and moderate vertical break. His slider, cutter, and changeup are all average, or somewhat worse than average for velocity and movement. His four-seam fastball does have good “rise” (relative to the course it would follow from gravity alone), but his two-seam fastball also has significant rise, which is the opposite of what most pitchers want from the two-seam. Instead of “sinking”, Miley’s two-seamer differs from his four-seam fastball mainly by having more horizontal movement, and unlike many pitchers who rely heavily on a sinker, Miley gets only slightly more ground balls than average (49.9% ground balls, vs. the league average of 43.1). His best ground-ball pitch is actually his four-seam fastball, which has a 50% ground ball rate (league average for four-seam fastballs is around 35.7%).

Pitch usage and trends. Miley’s main pitch is his two-seam fastball, which he throws 37% of the time. His remaining pitches are used roughly equally, ranging from 9.8% (curve) to 17.6% (four-seam fastball). His changeup is used only to right-handed batters, and is more common when behind in the count. Left-handed batters see more four-seam fastballs and cutters, to make up for the lack of changeups.

Miley has been using his cutter more this year than in previous years (14.9% this year; 7.4% last year, which was in turn an increase over previous years). Much of this has been in the second half of the season; MIley’s pitch usage has changed dramatically over the course of the 2017 season, with the cutter abruptly becoming his most common pitch (28.5% of pitches after the All-Star break; 6.9% before) and his changeup and slider being virtually abandoned.

Pitch value. Despite his overall lackluster results, none of Miley’s pitches are particularly bad individually. By total bases yielded per 100 pitches, all of his pitch types are just about average or even slightly better than average, while by balls per 100 pitches all are just slightly worse than average. His platoon split is easy to see; left-handed batters have a much lower TB/100 against all of his pitches except for his cutter. The changeup doesn’t really count, since he has thrown only two changeups to left-handed batters this season (one fly out by Joey Votto, and one ball to Logan Morrison), but none of the 31 curves he has thrown to lefties has been hit either.

  Pitch location. Miley only throws one pitch, the four-seam fastball, that is consistently in the strike zone. His four-seam fastballs form tight clusters on the inside of the strike zone to right-handed batter, outside to lefties. His two-seam fastballs are the opposite — outside to righties and often out of the strike zone, inside and usually below the strike zone to left-handed batters. His changeups, thrown to right-handed batters only, often target the very bottom of the strike zone but also frequently drop below the zone.  

Miley’s cutter, slider, and curve all form clear clusters, typically right at the edge of the strike zone or just below it.

The tight location clusters of all of Miley’s pitches suggest good command, which doesn’t square well with his very high walk rate. Miley seems to have intentionally chose to nibble at the edges of the strike zone, probably because all of his pitches are very ordinary in terms of movement and velocity. If he was more aggressive in the strike zone, his walk rate might drop, but at the expense of his hit rate. Considering that Miley has survived through seven season of major-league baseball in spite of his lack of quality pitches, his strategy seems to be working.  

Featured image courtesy of baltimoresun.com

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