Rookie Review: Wade Miley, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
If you believe WAR, the best rookie pitcher in baseball this year was Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers, with a 5.1 WAR. Darvish, of course, isn't a normal rookie since he was signed out of Japan; you can't really count him as a "product" of the Rangers farm system.
If you believe WAR, the best regular/normal/farm system produced pitching rookie in 2012 was not Jarrod Parker of Oakland (3.7 WAR) or Lance Lynn of St. Louis, (2.9), but rather Wade Miley of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who posted a 4.8 WAR. Miley's traditional stats were solid as well, 16-11 (for a .500 team), 3.33 ERA, 144/37 K/BB in 195 innings, 193 hits, ERA+ 125, FIP 3.15.
Miley wasn't on a lot of pre-season potential Rookie of the Year lists, but according to WAR he was almost as valuable as Bryce Harper this year. Let's take a look and see what the Diamondbacks have here.
Miley was a starting pitcher for three years at Southeastern Louisiana State University. He struggled as a freshman in 2006 (5.92 ERA, 97 hits in 76 innings), but improved as a sophomore (3.86 ERA, 77/40 K/BB in 96 innings, 106 hits) and was quite good as a junior (3.90 ERA, 119/41 K/BB in 102 innings, 101 hits), showing improved stuff before the draft. The Diamondbacks drafted him in the supplemental first round in 2008, 43rd overall. He pitched 11 innings for Yakima in the Northwest League for his pro debut, with an 11/5 K/BB and six runs allowed. I had him as a Grade B- entering '09.
Miley split 2009 between Low-A South Bend (4.12 ERA, 91/29 K/BB in 114 innings, 127 hits) and High-A Visalia (4.80 ERA, 11/4 K/BB in 15 innings, 18 hits). His reputation among scouts suffered somewhat, as his velocity dropped into the 80s for much of the season. There were also complains about his conditioning, and I lowered him to a Grade C+ entering '10.
He turned things around in 2010, posting a 3.25 ERA with a 50/37 K/BB in 80 innings for Visalia, then a 1.98 ERA with a 63/28 K/BB in 73 innings after being promoted to Double- A Mobile, allowing 60 hits. He made progress with his secondary pitches and his fastball regained the velocity it had in college. He also got himself into better physical condition, restoring much of his reputation with scouts.
Returning to Mobile to begin 2011, he saw his ERA spike to 4.78 in 75 innings with a 46/28 K/BB and 74 hits allowed. He still showed enough for a promotion to Triple-A Reno, where he pitched more effectively despite the tougher environment, with a 3.64 ERA and a 56/16 K/BB ratio in 54 innings.
Promoted to the majors, he threw 40 innings for Arizona, posting a 4.50 ERA and a 25/18 K/BB with 48 hits allowed. He retained rookie eligibility entering '12, and I had him as a Grade C+ for this year, projecting him as a useful fourth starter.
Miley is a 6-1, 220-pound, 24-year-old southpaw born November 13, 1986. Scouting reports entering the season pointed to an 89-95 MPH fastball, plus a wide array of secondary pitches including a slider, curveball, cutter, and changeup. Interestingly, that's not really what he showed this year. As this Fangraphs breakdown by Michael Barr from late August explains, Miley relied mostly on his fastball in 2012, throwing it almost 75% of the time. He was effective because he kept the ball down, avoided walks (good control), hit his spots in the zone (good command), and choked left-handed hitters.
Barr wonders if this success is sustainable, given Miley's lack of plus stuff. It's an open question, certainly. Miley's minor league track record was inconsistent: he had runs of outstanding performance, but he also had difficult periods.
Back in the summer of 2011, when discussing Miley before his promotion to the majors, I wrote that he "projects as a number four starter, or perhaps a number three if everything develops perfectly." Everything was perfect for him this year. I think that Miley was at the top of his game in '12 and that some regression is likely in 2013.
That said, he has some room to regress and still remain an above-average pitcher, or at least an average one who can chew up innings. While we shouldn't expect a 4.8 WAR out of Miley every year, I don't expect him to fall flat on his face next year either, granted the usual caveats about injuries.