The Cincinnati Reds have reported signed left-handed starting pitcher Wade Miley to a 2-year $15M deal according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports that there’s also an option for $10M for 2022 with a $1M buyout.
Free-agent left-hander Wade Miley in agreement with #Reds on two-year, $15M contract, pending physical, sources tell The Athletic. Deal will reunite him with his former pitching coach in Milwaukee, Derek Johnson.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 17, 2019
There’s going to be two sides of this coin, but we’re going to look at the good side first. Having too many starting pitchers is never a bad thing. The odds that a team only needs five starters in a season is incredibly low. The fact that it’s happened in your lifetime for the team you root for is wild. Right now, the Reds seem to have six players capable of being five Major League starting pitchers with the addition of Wade Miley to Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, and Tyler Mahle.
It would seem that if all of those guys are healthy, then Castillo, Gray, Bauer, and DeSclafani are all locked into the rotation based on what they’ve done in the past. Tyler Mahle’s struggled in the last two seasons, posting an ERA+ of 84 and 88 while making 23 and 25 starts for the Reds. There are some things to like – he’s missed plenty of bats, racking up 239 strikeouts in his 241.2 innings. But he’s also allowed tons of home runs, too.
Wade Miley has posted an ERA+ of 159 and 116 in the last two seasons. In 2018 he missed most of the first half of the season. But he did make 16 starts for Milwaukee (and current Cincinnati pitching coach Derek Johnson) that year, posting a 2.57 ERA. Last year he made 33 starts for Houston and posted a 3.98 ERA. He’s not a guy who is going to likely go deep into games these days – he hasn’t thrown 170 innings in a single season since 2015 and despite 33 starts last year threw just 167.1 innings.
But what he will bring to the team is a viable option for the #4/5 spot in the rotation. And he’s going to do it by not walking guys and getting a bunch of ground balls. For his career, his ground ball rate it 49%, and in the last three seasons it’s been a little bit better than that, too. He will also get to work with Derek Johnson, again, who was his pitching coach for the season in which he posted his lower ERA of his career, by far, back in 2018 with the Brewers.
With all of that said, there are some reasons for concerns with Wade Miley, too. He doesn’t exactly miss a lot of bats. His strikeout rate was just 19.4% last season. The league average rate was 22.3%. For his career that’s pretty much where he’s been at in five of the last six seasons – with 2018 being the only seasons that was outside of that realm, and that’s when it was much lower at just 14.8%.
In each of the last two seasons his ERA has significantly beat his FIP or xFIP numbers. That hasn’t always been the case – in fact, from 2014-2017 his ERA was worse than those markers were. He’s going to need to keep doing that. But looking deeper into the stats there could be a reason he’s been able to: He went from not throwing a cutter hardly at all to throwing a cutter nearly all of the time in place of his fastball, and that started in 2018. The last two seasons his rate of cutters has been 42% and 47%. He didn’t throw it more than 3.6% of the time prior to 2017, and in that season he threw it just 12% of the time. It’s changed up his entire pitch arsenal. The Reds are hoping that’s the pitch that’s going to continue to help him outperform the predictive ERA metrics. If he can do that, things could look good at the back of the rotation. If he doesn’t, then he may not be much of an upgrade at all – at least in terms of the guy he’s likely going to put out, Tyler Mahle.
Speaking of Tyler Mahle, he has options remaining. He can be sent to the minor leagues if he is beaten out for a spot in the rotation. And he would provide a strong 6th starter option if that’s the case – though maybe you could also look at him out of the bullpen, too, depending on how you feel about things.
That’s one benefit here that may not be talked about nearly enough when looking at this deal. It gives the Reds at least six quality big league starting options. Say what you will about Mahle’s performance – it’s been perfectly reasonable for the #5 spot in the rotation. And if due to injury that’s where the team needs to turn, it’s a whole lot better of an option than many teams get to turn to in that situation. Cincinnati upgrade their #5 and #6 spots in the rotation with this move and for the price of next to nothing in the grand scheme of things. One other thing it does, possibly, is give the Reds a little comfort of knowing that come 2021 if both DeSclafani and Bauer head to free agency, they’ve got an spot they don’t need to fill externally.
The $6M for 2020 would put the Reds at roughly $120M. As we’ve noted before, assuming the Reds are going to up the payroll to at least $140M to “have the highest payroll ever”, there’s still plenty of money for a big signing. There doesn’t appear to be a free agent left that would not be an option because of this signing.