Phillies

Phillies free-agent target: Wade Miley

Phillies free-agent target: Wade Miley

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.
 
Today, we check in on left-handed starter Wade Miley.

The vitals

It’s not often that a pitcher gets better after the age of 30, but Miley, who has pitched for six teams in nine big-league seasons, has strung together two very nice seasons since crossing that plateau. He is 19-8 with a 3.52 ERA in 49 starts the last two seasons.
 
He's not a top-tier free agent but can definitely help a team at the back end of a rotation. He certainly did so in 2019 when he went 14-6 with a 3.98 ERA for the American League champion Houston Astros.

Why he fits

The Phillies need starting pitching badly. Adding a top-tier starter — several have been profiled in this series — is imperative given the club’s desire to win now. But this team needs more than one starter and adding a stabilizing innings-eater like Miley to the back end of the rotation would make a lot of sense.
 
Miley, 33, is an excellent competitor and strike thrower. He is skilled at keeping the ball on the ground and limiting hard contact, two qualities that would play well in Citizens Bank Park. He induced ground balls 49.7 percent of the time last season, tying him with Aaron Nola for 10th among big-league starters. His 36.1 percent hard contact rate ranked 22nd in the majors last season, between two pretty good pitchers named Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke.

Why he doesn’t fit

After going 13-4 with a 3.13 ERA in his first 27 starts for the Astros in 2019, Miley was hit hard (.417 opponents batting average) in his final six starts of the season and that could give the Phillies some pause.
 
Phillies officials like pitchers who miss bats. Miley is not a big strikeout guy.

The price tag

Miley is a free agent for the third year in a row. After taking a minor-league deal before the 2018 season and lingering on the market until February before signing a one-year, $4.5 million with Houston last year, he should be able to command a two-year deal of $16 million or more.

Scout’s take

“He’s got value in that No. 5 spot. He uses his cutter a lot and he likes to crowd right-handed hitters. He has a real good feel for pitching and works at an extremely quick tempo and pace so he’s perfect for getaway days.”

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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NBCSP

At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



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