Wade Miley made a strong case for biggest surprise of the season. The 25-year-old lefty had a exceptional rookie season, nearly beating the much-hyped Bryce Harper for the NL Rookie of the Year award. Miley’s season comes as even more of a shock considering he was never a strong prospect in Arizona’s system. Miley got by last season with a mixture of just enough strikeouts, exceptional control and, probably, a little home run luck. That skill set will lead to success in the majors, but it leaves little room for error.
Miley’s rookie season draws some interesting comparisons.
The chart shows pitchers with similar approaches during their age-25 seasons who produced nearly the same value as Miley last season. On that list, Mark Buehrle, Brad Radke, Javier Vazquez and Jon Matlack all went on to produce a couple more seasons with similar value throughout their careers. Though, it should be noted that Vazquez is a bit of an outlier among these pitchers as he was the only one to significantly improve his strikeout rate from that point on. Odalis Perez had a few more decent years in him, and Jordan Zimmermann looks to be on a promising track, but is still young. Alejandro Pena, Atlee Hammaker and Mark Mulder fell off a bit following their age-25 season. Mulder remained effective, but his performance fell in his later seasons. Milone’s inclusion on the list shows just how much home runs hurt a pitcher’s value. He and Miley had similar years, but Milone gave up far more home runs. He produced significantly less WAR because of it.
The key with the guys who had successful years is that they were able to maintain their excellent control numbers. When you walk so few guys, you can get by with a below average strikeout. The concern with Miley is that he loses some of that ability to pound the strike zone and turns into Mulder, who started to fall off after age-25. Miley did not show this level of control while he was coming up through the minors, so it is a significant concern going forward. Of course, there’s a chance that he figured out a way to pound the zone and will continue to be effective, but expecting some regression is probably the smart move.
The other concern, which was referenced above, is home runs. We don’t really have a great grasp on how many home runs Miley will give up per season, but there’s a sentiment that he was fortunate to only surrender 14 last season despite pitching half his games in Chase Field. While it’s an extremely small sample, Miley did allow six home runs in just 40 innings with the Diamondbacks in 2011. It at least shows that Miley has gone through a stretch where he’s been homer-prone. And if we look back at his comparables, it would seem that Miley is in for some home run regression as well. Miley’s career 0.77 HR/FB rate ranks as the third lowest among all pitchers on that list. One of the pitchers near the bottom, Hammaker, lowered his home run rate by pitching as a reliever, his rate as a starter was higher. Even among the most successful pitchers on that list, like Radke, Buehrle, etc., gave up a higher rate of home runs than Miley has thus far in his career. Pitchers that don’t have great strikeout stuff tend to get hit pretty hard when they don’t hit their spots. Miley could be in for a higher home run rate next season as well.
It’s seems likely that Miley will see some struggles in both, or at least one, of those two areas next season. If it’s both, Miley probably won’t be a very useful pitcher next season, in both fantasy and in real life. Regression in one area still makes him useful, but will drive down his value pretty significantly. Miley deserves to be ranked among pitchers with similar skill sets next year, not based on his performance during his rookie season. That makes for a decent end of the draft selection, but he’s not a guy you’ll want to spend a significant pick on. There’s still some hope for Miley to carve out a solid career, but he’s not as good as last year’s numbers suggest.