Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.
When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.
This time, I’m taking a look at Diamondbacks lefty starter Wade Miley.
Wade Miley has made five starts for Arizona after coming up from Triple-A, and he hasn’t been particularly effective. His 4.50 ERA has been acceptable, but he’s walked 14 batters while striking out 19 in 28 innings, putting his FIP at 5.03.
Soon to be 25, the lefthander obviously has some work to do to become a solid MLB starter. A quick glance at his pitch type linear weight values gets some interesting results (WARNING: SMALL SAMPLE):
Pitch Type Runs Above Average Per 100 Pitches
Well, at least the changeup is good!
The interesting thing about Miley’s changeup is that it doesn’t move much at all–it’s basically just a straight 78-80 mph fastball. It’s still a very effective pitch, though, as it comes in an average of 11.8 mph slower than his fastball, which is one of the bigger velocity differentials out there. Miley uses the same release point for the fastball and changeup, and throws them with the same arm speed, so the only difference is the velocity, which results in a number of empty swings out in front of the offspeed pitch.
The good news obviously ends there.
Let’s start with the lefthander’s fastball. It’s a relatively straight pitch that has averaged 90.8 mph–a far cry from the “worked at 92-93, peaking at 96″ that Baseball America had him at prior to 2011, but still plenty adequate for a lefty starter in terms of velocity. Miley does a solid job of pounding the low-outside corner of the zone to lefties:
Against righthanders, Miley is unusual for a lefty in that he likes to pound them inside with his heater:
This sets up his changeup away to righties:
That pristine down-and-away location of the changeup, played off of the fastball, further explains the offspeed pitch’s success.
Why has Miley’s fastball struggled so much, though? Some of it is small-sample issues; I certainly don’t expect it to continue to give away 2.79 runs per 100 pitches, which would put it as arguably the worst fastball in the game. Still, some of the problems can be traced to Miley’s motion.
A mid-sized pitcher at 6’2”, Miley gets very little plane on his fastball. His back leg collapses somewhat in his delivery, reminiscent of the mechanics used by Japanese pitchers, which decreases his downward plane and leverage on home plate. Furthermore, his relatively clean delivery provides little deception. Miley also throws somewhat across his body, which means that all of those inside fastballs to righties are coming all the way from the other side of the plate, since he steps toward first base somewhat (this does increase his deception to lefties and aid Miley’s ability to control the running game, however). (Video of his delivery here)
Since the ball is coming in straight on a flat plane with little deception, there’s not much that Miley’s fastball has going for it beyond its average velocity and good (if predictable) location. This is particularly true because he leans heavily on the pitch (66.6% usage). He rarely uses his breaking pitches (just about 1/8 of the time), so hitters rarely have to look for anything with any sort of movement, between the heater and straight changeup.
What of those breaking pitches? Obviously, their pitch type linear weight values are poor, but we shouldn’t read that much into that–we’re talking about 13.5% of his pitches in a 28-inning span–61 pitches. Pitch F/X classifies 53 of those pitches as curves and eight as sliders, while Baseball Info Solutions comes up with 37 sliders and 24 curves (the latter classification is the one that the PTLWs are derived from). The confusion over what exactly his breaking ball is backs Baseball America’s assertion that the curve “is basically a softer version of his slider.” We can thus basically think of the 61 pitches as one pitch that Miley throws as just one 72-81 mph slurve.
Miley’s thrown the breaking ball 45 times to righties and 16 to lefties, getting six whiffs from righties and three from lefties. As with the fastball and changeup location, what he does with the pitch is strikingly predictable:
Credit Miley for pounding the bottom of the zone with both of his offspeed offerings; it explains his slightly above-average groundball rate, not to mention his stellar homer prevention in the minors. Still, without plus movement on any of his pitches, his predictability with his location seems like it may be troublesome for him the second or third time through a batting order, not to mention the second or third game against a particular opponent.
That said, I applaud Miley for having a clear plan on attacking hitters, especially those from the opposite side of the plate. It’s easy to see his walk rate coming down once he settles in, and his strikeout rate could go up as well, once he learns how to finish them off. Without a bigtime fastball or breaking pitch, he’s not going to become a star, but he could turn into a nice fourth starter in the mold of current Diamondback Joe Saunders.
For more on the D’backs, check out Venom Strikes.