We are now three starts into the Cardinal career of Miles Mikolas. It’s time to take a look at what he offers and evaluate how successful he can be in the rotation.
Miles Mikolas was brought in over the offseason with loads of complaints that the St. Louis Cardinals were being cheap. Many thought the team should instead be spending money on long-term options like Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Yu Darvish. This is despite the Cardinals having so many options waiting in the wings.
In hindsight, the Cardinals absolutely could have avoided signing Mikolas or any starting pitcher for that matter. Jack Flaherty has been a man on a mission so far in AAA Memphis and we have also seen the emergence of Jordan Hicks in the majors as a reliever. He adds another name to consider as a future starter.
However, Mikolas will allow them to be careful with guys like Flaherty and Alex Reyes not rushing them to the big league rotation just yet. While Mikolas may not offer the excitement of these young prospects, he is here and under contract for this year and next. So, let’s take a look at some of the early numbers for Mikolas.
One of the most impressive things about Mikolas has been the balance of his repertoire. Of his five pitches, only the changeup is below 20% in terms of usage. His fastball, sinker, curveball, and slider are within 7.66% of each other. So, aside from the changeup which is used sparingly (average of 4.3 times per game), he is not leaning on anyone pitch too heavily.
Of the four pitches that he uses the most, the pitch that has been the most successful is his curveball. Fangraphs has it valued at 1.2 and the only one of the pitches to rate with positive value.
One of the most important things for a pitcher is to tunnel their release point to make the pitcher have to react to the pitch alone. This is instead of guessing the pitch based on something the pitcher is doing. If the pitcher varies their release point, they have a tendency to tip the hitter off on what is coming. Last year, we saw Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha doing this during the season during their struggles.
If you read Joe Schwarz’s piece over at Baseball Prospectus, you would know how important it is for Wacha to tunnel his pitches. With Mikolas’ equalized repertoire, it’s just as important for him to tunnel all of his pitches as well. That’s what Mikolas is doing right now, and it is for the most part working for him.
While the first two starts were slightly less than ideal as he allowed four runs in each outing. However, each of Mikolas’ outings have been fairly positive. In his first outing, he managed to grab a W (thanks to his first career home run) and kept the team in the game. He was on his way to a quality start until he allowed the Brewers to score on him in the 6th inning which forced his exit from the game.
The next start against the Brewers saw him give up four runs on eight hits in 6.1 innings. While he gave up four runs in the game, it was the only game he hasn’t allowed a home run in the game. He also posted a 1.48 FIP and 1.96 xFIP in that game (his lowest of the three starts) thanks to 68% of the Brewers contact being on the ground.
While Saturday’s game against the Reds was his best outing so far, it was also his luckiest outing so far and was against one the worst teams in the league in the Reds. The Reds were stymied by Mikolas but managed to only have a .158 average on the balls they put in play and weren’t able to make Mikolas pay for the only two walks he’s allowed this season.
So far, Mikolas has a 4.26 ERA and his FIP isn’t much better at 4.64. His xFIP, however, shows that there may be some improvement expected moving forward as it stands at 3.09. He’s going to have to improve those results if he wants to stay in the rotation with Alex Reyes and Jack Flaherty waiting in the wings.
Moving forward, it is clear that Mikolas is going to have to make some improvements if he wants to stay in the rotation. One of those improvements is his four-seam fastball location. If you check out his location of this pitch, you will see that he is catching a good amount of the plate.
With fastball velocity of 94-97 and 3.28 inches of horizontal movement, he can sometimes live dangerously with the pitch. However, when it is closer to the 94-95 MPH velocity it is going to look way more enticing to a hitter, especially in the middle of the zone. This is why Fangraphs rates his fastball with a -2.1 pitch value.
This pitch has got to be better for Mikolas to succeed. Maybe including the changeup and sinker a little more in conjunction will help him. Ultimately, he just has to locate the pitch better.
Overall, I am quite impressed with Mikolas. He’s a solid fifth starter. He’s actually currently the Cardinals third best starter behind Carlos Martinez and Luke Weaver and ahead of Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha. His velocity blends right in with his rotation mates (aside from Wainwright) and his curveball is a thing of beauty (see below).
I would much rather Mikolas get a long look in this rotation and one of Wainwright/Wacha be the odd man out to get Flaherty or Reyes in the rotation. His stuff is very good for a fifth rotation member and I am starting to enjoy watching him pitch.
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Graphs and data via Brooks Baseball