Wade Miley was so bad last year that the Orioles didn’t even bring him back. While I may be hyperbolizing the situation (the Orioles may have offered him a contract that he rejected; we don’t know all the details), it could very well be the truth.
Miley was one of the Orioles’ main starting pitchers last season, more or less serving as the number-three on a team that won 75 games. His numbers were actually so bad — 5.61 ERA, 5.27 FIP, 7.02 DRA — that he couldn’t warrant a major-league contract as a free agent over the offseason. In February, Miley signed a one-year, minor-league contract with the Brewers that promised him $2.5 million if his contract was selected to the Majors. On May 2nd, the Brewers did just that, promoting him to the big league club after he pitched 25 1⁄3 decent innings in Double-A.
You read that correctly. Wade Miley was pitching in Double-A earlier this year. In his seven starts there, Miley posted a 3.55 ERA with a 28.6 K% and a 4.1 BB% against the 98 batters he faced. Clearly, the Brewers liked Miley’s peripherals, prompting them to bring him to the big league club, where he made 16 starts for the rest of the season.
Little did they know, Miley would actually play an integral role in the Brewers’ run to the NL Central title and subsequent sweep of the Rockies in the NLDS. This was a new Wade Miley, one that we had not seen in a long time, if ever.
Wade Miley, 2016-18
Miley’s 2.57 ERA in 2018 was a career-low. Not just that, his 16 starts this season represented — in terms of run prevention — the best 16 consecutive starts of Miley’s career.
Clearly, something changed. One does not become this good of a Major League pitcher after being at league-average (or worse) throughout the majority of their career. And, yes, Miley is no exception. Of course he changed.
The line on the graph that should stand out the most here is his cutter usage. Two years ago, Miley did not even throw a cutter; today, it’s the most prominent pitch in his repertoire. If you want even more proof that Miley’s top pitch is now his cutter, just take his first postseason start against the Rockies as an example. He threw 24 cutters across his 64 total pitches, or 37.5 percent. While slightly lower than his season average (41.6 percent), Miley is still relying heavily on the pitch.
None of this matters unless Miley is having success with the cutter. But, I wouldn’t be writing this article if he wasn’t.
Wade Miley’s cutter, 2018
Batters had just a .260 wOBA against the pitch, which is the equivalent of Alcides Escobar (.231/.279/.313 this year) being at the plate every single time he throws it. Considering Escobar’s .261 wOBA this season ranked second-worst in baseball, it’s clear that Miley’s cutter isn’t just good, it’s elite.
wCT leaders, 2018
Minimum 80 innings pitched, Miley’s weighted cutter runs above-average ranks 5th in baseball, at 9.8 runs. Of the top ten, he’s has the fewest innings, and since weighted pitch runs above-average is a cumulative stat, this goes to show just how good his has been. Miley has thrown just 80 2⁄3 innings this year, and his cutter racked up the fifth-most runs across baseball. That’s incredibly impressive.
Miley’s cutter isn’t good because of its ability to miss bats. Rather, it generates weakly-hit contact that doesn’t turn into damaging results.
Highest cutter GB%
Miley’s cutter, according to Baseball Savant, produced a ground ball in 28.1 percent of batted ball events. This, as you can see, ranked 6th in baseball.
It also produced soft contact.
Poor contact percentage against cutter
For this, my data is slightly more subjective. Baseball Savant breaks down batted balls into six categories: Barrel, Solid Contact, Flare/Burner, Poorly/Under, Poorly/Topped, Poorly/Weak. In the chart above, I excluded the first two categories — Barrel and Solid Contact — and looked at the percentage of cutters which result in the latter four.
Many of the same names that appear on the ground ball rate list also appear on this list. Bryan Shaw, Will Harris, Xavier Cedeno, Alex Colome, Mark Melancon, Jacob Barnes, Kenley Jansen, Wander Suero and Miley appear on both. That’s nine of the ten names. Clearly, we’ve established which pitchers have the best cutters in baseball.
As Miley gears up to pitch Game Two of the NLCS tonight, watch for his cutter. He’s not an overpowering force on the mound, but he has still been effective. This minor-league deal is turning out to be quite the steal for the Brewers. It’s all because of the cutter.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter, @DevanFink.