Wade Miley‘s surprise season has many wondering how exactly the 25-year-old starter has transitioned into one of the top starting pitchers in the National League. While his SIERA of 3.71 and xFIP of 3.68 point to his 3.02 ERA being at least somewhat inflated, Miley has still shown that he can be a very effective pitcher who can control his pitches with striking regularity.
Below are two charts detailing Miley’s two-seam fastball against both right-handers and left-handers this season.
As you can see, Miley basically has one spot he attacks with his two-seamer. He features his two-seamer to right-handers more prominently than he does to left-handers, but he attacks the low and away portion of the zone (from a right handed hitter’s perspective) with a rather high level of consistency. Despite attacking one particular part of the zone against hitters of both handedness, hitters have just a .304 wOBA against him. His command of the pitch has allowed him to throw the pitch for a strike over 67% of the time, his highest of any pitch. While this pitch has been effective, it has not been his most effective. The above chart simply shows the consistency with which he can throw the pitch.
The next offering is where Miley is getting the great results, his slider. PITCHf/x labels it as a curveball, but in watching Miley’s outings, it is pretty obviously a slider. The charts below point this out as well, as the consistency with which he its the low and in portion of the zone (again from a right handed hitter’s perspective) correlates with what a pitcher would want to do with a slider more so than a curveball.
Here we can see that Miley is pounding that portion of the zone against lefties and righties alike, much like with the two-seamer. The results have been tremendous, as he has allowed just a .187 wOBA against his slider all season, with 33 of his 85 strikeouts (39%) coming from this pitch. Given that the pitch is thrown just 15% of the time, that’s a rather high percentage.
“Miley attributes his success to pitching aggressively and trusting his array of pitches, which lately has featured a much-improved hard slider. He credits teammate Paul Goldschmidt for the latter. They faced each other back in college when Miley pitched for Southeastern Louisiana and Goldschmidt played for Texas State.
“We carpool a lot and were driving to the park a little while back and he said, ‘Man, you used to throw your slider a lot harder back in college,’ ” Miley said. “That got me thinking and so I started experimenting with throwing it as hard as I can. I was able to feel it and throw it for strikes and I’ve just kind of ran with it.”
The velocity has certainly improved with the pitch, as he has upped it roughly four miles per hour from last year, while most of his other pitches have increased only about one mile per hour. Miley’s ability to generate swinging strikes with the slider has been vital. The pitch has landed in the zone just under 38% of the time, but has been thrown for a strike 66% of the time. Additionally, his out of zone swing percentage with his slider is 34%, while none of his other pitches are above 26%, and his outside of zone contact rate is only 62.5%. Hitters of both handedness know where Miley will throw the slider but have difficulties laying off of it and do not do much with it even when they do make contact.
Even though he has seen a high rate of success with his slider, he is utilizing the pitch in the appropriate situations, so upping the frequency is not necessarily be recommended. In 1-2 and 2-2 counts he throws it over 32% of the time, and over 20% of the time on 0-2 and 3-2 counts. Contrast those rates with the aforementioned overall slider frequency of roughly 15%, and you can see that the pitch is obviously his out pitch.
Though his slider has proven to be a solid strikeout pitch, Miley’s top asset has been his command. His 5% walk rate has been the big driver of his success, but his ability to generate enough strikeouts to post a 3.70 strikeout-to-walk rate points to a high likelihood of him remaining a quality starting pitcher. While an expected regression is likely to occur, especially given his low .271 BABIP and 8.0% HR/FB rate, he should still be a very effective starter due to the consistent control of his slider and two-seam fastball.
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