The Orioles, in need of starting pitching help, have just made a trade for Wade Miley. The prospect that they traded, Ariel Miranda, isn’t considered a particularly good prospect. Rather, this trade seems to be about cash. The Orioles are on the hook for Miley for the remainder of 2016 and owe Miley $9M for 2017. If Miley is decent, then $9 million will be a bargain. But if Miley does poorly, then $9M is a lot of cash to throw away. The Orioles will have a considerable amount of cash invested in Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Yovani Gallardo next year and will be in trouble if none of the three can produce. (Data for this post is from ESPN Stats and Information and Brooks Baseball.)
Miley has had a poor 2016 season, with a 4.98 ERA and 4.75 FIP, but had been relatively decent the past three years with a FIP in the 3.90 range. This season, his strikeout and walk rates have been similar to his three year average as has his BABIP, but batters have just been crushing his pitches and hitting them out of the park as he’s allowed a 16% HR/FB rate. If that’s bad luck, then he’s due for some positive regression. Otherwise, it’s bad for a pitcher to be home run prone in Camden Yards.
So far in 2016, out of 93 qualified starters, Miley ranks 65th in wOBA in at-bats that end in either a walk, strikeout, or hit by pitch; 79th in at-bats where the pitch put into play is thrown in the strike zone; and 26th when a pitch put into play isn’t thrown in the strike zone. In contrast, from 2013-2015, out of 201 qualified starters, Miley ranks 122nd in wOBA in at-bats that end in either a walk, strikeout, or hit by pitch; 126th in at-bats where the pitch put into play is thrown in the strike zone; and 133rd when a pitch put into play isn’t thrown in the strike zone. Overall, he ranked 134th from 2013-2015 and 74th in 2016. The bottom line is that he’s always been a below average starter but has been even worse this year because batters are pounding his pitches that are thrown in the strike zone.
Against left handed batters, Miley primarily throws a fastball, followed by a slider, curveball, and changeup. Miley started throwing the curveball against lefties in 2015 and prior to that relied on a fastball and slider combo to combat left handed batters. The problem was that he wanted to use his slider as an out pitch, but it resulted in a swinging strike less than 20% of the time in 2013-2014 and now less than 15% of the time in 2015-2016. In each year from 2013-2016, batters were more likely to put a slider into play than swing and miss. As a result, the slider really wasn’t good enough to be the out pitch every pitcher needs. His curveball suffers from the same problem against left handed batters. It improved significantly in 2016, but it still only results in a swinging strike 13% of the time. He rarely uses his changeup against left handed batters because the pitch is terribly ineffective.
Against right handed batters, Miley primarily uses a fastball, changeup, slider, and curve with heavy use of the slider in two strike counts. The problem is that his slider has digressed since 2013-2014. In 2013-2014, Miley had a 20% swinging strike rate with the pitch while opposing batters only put 16% of sliders into play. In 2015-2016, Miley has a 17% swinging strike rate with the pitch while opposing batters put 19% of the pitch into play. Meanwhile, his curveball is largely thrown in the strike zone and generates single digit swinging-strike rates. His changeup is effective against right handed batters as it generates a 30% called ball rate, a 33% strike rate (15.4% swinging strikes), and a 24% in play rate.
Going forward, if Miley wants to be successful he’ll need to change his strategy. Opposing left handed batters struggle against his curveball when they put the pitch into play, with only a .256 wOBA in 2016. So, it makes sense for Miley to use a fastball, slider, and curveball against left handed batters with the knowledge that he’ll need to use his slider to strike batters out. But he also needs to start helping himself. Opposing left-handed batters have chased 44.6% of sliders outside of the strike zone in 2016, but he’s thrown 49.5% of sliders inside the strike zone. With two strikes, he’s thrown 46% of sliders inside the strike zone. It’s hard to get swinging strikes when a pitch is in the strike zone. If he’s going to be successful, he needs to be able to throw his slider largely outside of the strike zone and still get batters to swing. Otherwise, he’s going to continue to have below average strikeout rates against left handed batters and will struggle to be serviceable.
Against right-handed batters, Miley needs to scrap the curveball. He isn’t able to use the pitch to get swinging strikes, it results in significantly more balls than strikes and right-handed batters crush the pitch when they put it into play. Opposing right-handed batters have a .464/.464/.857 line against it in 2016 and have had an OPS at or above 1.000 against the pitch each year from 2013-2016. Relying on a fastball, changeup, and slider combo will help him significantly. Miley does a good job throwing his slider out of the strike zone, and thereby is able to use it to get swinging strikes. However, Miley may want to consider throwing his changeup out of the strike zone more often so he can use that pitch in two strike counts also.
All in all, I don’t think that Miley has good enough stuff to be an above-average starter. His fastball isn’t particularly good as a starter and he doesn’t really have good secondary stuff. I’d imagine he’s far more likely to see success in the pen than as a starter. As such, I'm not really a fan of the trade. The Orioles really need Miley to at least be mediocre as a starter and I don't think he's that good. I suspect that he turns into another Gallardo or Jimenez.
On the other hand, he was reasonably successful from 2012-2015 while throwing around 200 innings a season. If he can give the Orioles 70 average innings this year, and another 200 average innings next year, then the Orioles will be happy with his performance and it will be worth the price they paid. He’s done it before, so it stands to reason he can do it again.
But if he wants to improve his chances of doing so, he’s going to need to show that he can throw more balls. He needs to try something different to get more strikeouts because what's he doing now isn't going to work.