Fact or Fiction examines the performance of a player, good or bad, and determines whether he'll continue his success this season or if he has just been flukey-good. Today's Fact or Fiction looks at Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley.
Though he's fresh off of an All-Star Game appearance, Diamondbacks rookie lefthander Wade Miley has gathered surprisingly little fanfare or recognition in the early going here in 2012. Miley was not a highly-touted prospect like Bryce Harper
or even teammate Trevor Bauer
, yet he has had the second-best ERA among MLB rookie qualifiers (behind Oakland's Jarrod Parker
) and is tied with Rangers righthander Yu Darvish
in wins (with 10).
He has also outperformed Arizona's 2011 breakout ace Ian Kennedy
and off-season acquisition Trevor Cahill
and has helped his team maintain a near-.500 record this year, despite problems of injury and underperformance throughout the clubhouse. He entered 2012 as just the 9th-best prospect in the D-Backs organization, according to Baseball America
Miley was a 2008 first-round compensatory draft choice out of Southeastern Louisiana University and went 43rd overall that year. His brief pro debut and his 2009 season at Single-A and High-A resulted in just a 7-11 win-loss mark and a 4.25 ERA, with 113 strikeouts and 156 hits allowed in 139 2/3 innings (31 games, 24 starts). Some sources (including Baseball America
) pointed to poor conditioning and a drop in velocity as reasons for Miley's rough seasons in 2008 and 2009.
Even in these early professional innings, Miley maintained low walk numbers (with just 2.45 walks per nine innings pitched) and he has mostly continued that throughout his career. His walk-per-nine (BB/9) numbers this year rank among the best in the league at 1.78. This is pretty direct evidence that, despite throwing mostly in the low-90's (miles per hour), Miley's fastball control has been a massive asset through the first half of his first full MLB season. Analytical sites like Fangraphs
and Brooks Baseball
differ in their classification of Miley's stuff: one lumps his fastballs together
as a single offering while the other draws a distinction between a fastball and a sinker
. Either way, a combination of movement, ability to hit spots, and natural deceptiveness in delivery have undoubtedly worked in his favor this year.
This pitch classification data also shows that Miley relies on his fastest pitches near 80% of the time. Unlike a lot of young pitchers, he isn't forced to rely on locating underdeveloped off-speed stuff for outs. His slider and changeup both come in about ten miles per hour under his faster selections and, while neither looks particularly dynamic right now, they provide him with adequate swing-and-miss pitches when needed. His changeup seems to have high-end potential, though he's used it very sparingly thus far in his young career.
Miley's continuing success will hinge on three major factors. The first is his ability to continually locate his high-velocity pitches. So far he has not had too much trouble doing this, but as the season wears on fatigue or other factors might make him try to be "too perfect" with the location of these, which can increase a walk rate when a pitcher tries to "nibble" too much on the edges of the strike zone.
The second mark of Wade's continuing success will be the development of his off-speed pitches. If he can utilize these pitches more and build up his meager 2012 line of 6.43 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) while still limiting walks, he could become a near-elite type of big league hurler. Lastly, Miley's conditioning through a full big league season could be the ultimate determinate of whether or not he is a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starter. He struggled through a pair of rough outings just prior to the All-Star Game and notched a win in a so-so start on July 16th (5 2/3 innings, 8 hits, 3 earned runs, but zero walks), so some of these things could already be effecting his game.
As a whole, Wade Miley has all the tenets of a solid mid-rotation starting pitcher. His ERA and WHIP numbers should tick up a bit as the season wears on, but his ability to limit walks and improvement in his off-speed pitches should help him solidify a major league track by the end of the 2012 campaign, and he has the look of a guy who be a pretty good (but not great) big leaguer. From a fantasy angle, he could become much more of an asset if he can improve his strikeout numbers, but for now his value is purely in his ERA, WHIP, and win numbers. If those stats worsen, he may end up as a fringe player in many leagues.