Wade Miley: NL Starting Pitcher

Last season, en route to their surprise division championship and NLCS appearance, the Diamondbacks got 24 starts out of the rather unheralded Josh Collmenter. As a starter at the back end of the rotation, Collmenter could hardly have been better for the Diamondbacks, giving them a 1.07 WHIP and 3.38 ERA over 154 innings, but he left fantasy owners in something of a conundrum. Yes, his rate stats were a great asset, but he had more than five strikeouts in a start just twice during the season; in the vast majority of his starts, he struck out four or fewer hitters.

Collmenter scuffled at the start of 2012, opening the door for another 25-year-old unheralded starter to take a turn in the Diamondbacks’ rotation. Wade Miley might be a few inches shorter and a few pounds lighter than Collmenter is, but he does a pretty good impression of Collmenter in a pinch. Like Collmenter, Miley’s WHIP is under 1.10, his ERA is substantially better — 2.53 compared to Collmenter’s 3.38 — but their K/9 parallel nicely as neither one could break 6.0 per nine innings.

There’s nothing in Miley’s profile that would lead an observer to conclude that he’s a bundle of strikeouts waiting to happen. His minor league high in K/9 for any level where he made 10 or more starts was 7.8, which wouldn’t be a bad mark at all if he could bring it directly to the majors, but few and far between are the players who can strike out hitters at the same rate in Double-A and in the majors without a single strikeout lost. He’s missing a few bats, but with a SwStr rate under 7 percent, he’s actually missing fewer than average.

So, the strikeouts aren’t coming any time soon, meaning Miley’s value to fantasy owners depends on two things: His rate stats and his wins. Chasing wins, as we all know, is futile at best, which leaves Miley’s rate stats as the key to his value going forward. His FIP is a little higher than his ERA at 3.21, but even if he were to fully regress to that point, he’d still be valuable to most owners. Pitching is good this season, but a 3.21 ERA would still be one of the 35 best marks in baseball, so I’m not overly concerned about his potential regression there.

His 4.3 percent HR/FB rate would actually be more worrisome to me if he didn’t allow so much contact. If he had a higher strikeout rate and needed to miss more bats than he does to be effective, I’d guess that soon would come a start where he simply wouldn’t miss the bats necessary and that rate would jump quite a bit — though I’d hardly be surprised if Wednesday night’s game against the Rangers in Arlington was unkind to his HR/FB rate. As it is, getting weak contact is his shtick, and while there’s still the potential for his location to betray him rather spectacularly, the difference between his good stuff and a hanger isn’t going to be nearly so obvious as when a pitcher like Johan Santana, who has been burying changeups in the dirt all game, suddenly leaves on belt high.

Miley doesn’t walk a particularly great number of hitters, something that’s obviously to his benefit, and certainly something that’s an ancillary benefit of working almost exclusively in the periphery of the strike zone. His low walk rate will help keep his WHIP in check even if his hit rate, which seems to be his most vulnerable peripheral, begins to regress. His BABIP is .257, and while some pitchers can live in that area, I just don’t see anything about his batted balls that indicates his ability to keep his BABIP that low for another 15 starts or more. I don’t see him as a candidate for a murderous regression, but something in the .280-.290 range would represent both a substantial rise relative to his present BABIP and a relatively predictable amount of regression.

To paraphrase Denny Green, Miley is what we thought he was. He’s never going to be a big fantasy contributor, not with a strikeout rate so low, and may well join Mark Buehrle in the realm of players who are simply much better for their actual teams than they are in fantasy. Nevertheless, his low WHIP and surprising success has made him something of a hot commodity, owned in nearly 70 percent of ESPN leagues, which is a shame since he’d be an excellent streamer option if he were more widely available. If I owned Miley, I’d be looking to shop him before regression kicks in. His current level of performance is closer to his ceiling than his average; it’s time to sell high.

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Dan enjoys black tea, imperial IPAs, and any competition that can be loosely judged a sport. Follow him on Twitter.

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Would you start Miley tonight @Tex?