Wade Miley’s surprise season has many wondering how exactly the 25-year-old starter has transitioned into one of the top starting pitchers in the National League. While his SIERA of 3.71 and xFIP of 3.68 point to his 3.02 ERA being at least somewhat inflated, Miley has still shown that he can be a very effective pitcher who can control his pitches with striking regularity.
The Indians have had serious starting pitching issues throughout the entire year. Ubaldo Jimenez has been worth negative WAR over 18 starts, Josh Tomlin has been both bad and unfortunate, and Derek Lowe’s ERA over his past nine starts is 7.16 after posting a 2.15 ERA in his first nine. Justin Masterson has been the most effective starter throughout the season, and even he has a 4.14 ERA. Despite the rotation issues, the Indians they still sit just four games out of first place in the A.L. Central and are just a half game back of the second wildcard.
Mark Buehrle is the definition of a crafty lefty. His career high strikeout percentage is 16.2% and he has struck out more than six batters per nine innings just one time in his career. Despite his lacking strikeout skills, Buehrle has still been able to maintain an 84 ERA- and net a nice four-year $58 million contract with the Marlins this past offseason. In his first stint in the National League, Buerhle is posting the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career. Here is how he is doing it.
One of the biggest surprises for the first place Pittsburgh Pirates (!) has been the outstanding performance of James McDonald. Before this year, McDonald had a career ERA above 4.00 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio below two, which caused McDonald to alter his arsenal before the season. This year, he has an ERA and FIP under 3.00, with an xFIP and SIERA just under 3.60, thanks to the addition of a slider and subtraction of his changeup.
Harrison: 291 IP, 3.31 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 3.86 xFIP, 6.8 WAR
Price: 329 IP, 3.31 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 3.31 xFIP, 6.7 WAR
Those are pretty similar numbers, which are even more impressive when you consider that Harrison pitches in Arlington while Price throws in Tampa Bay. Needless to say, Harrison has been an underrated pitcher over the past few years. He has the 16th highest WAR since the start of 2011, but what is he doing so well that makes him one of the top pitchers in the game over the past two seasons?
Only three NL teams have a higher BABIP against than the Braves, a number which would be even worse if not for a top notch defensive outfield. Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward are all plus defenders in the outfield, but the Braves have struggled tremendously on the defensive front in the infield. Dan Uggla is annually one of the worst defensive second baseman in the league, Chipper Jones and Juan Francisco are both below average in the field, Freddie Freeman maintains a solid glove but very limited range, and Tyler Pastornicky has been the worst defensive shortstop based on pretty much every metric.
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There are issues with Mike Minor on the mound. He has allowed far too many home runs this year, eight in eight starts, and his BABIP once again is astronomically higher than league average. His current BABIP of .336 is getting laughed at by the league average .288 mark, and his career BABIP of .353 is nowhere near the league average during that span of .290.
At this point, it is easy for some to conclude that Minor is rather hittable. He seems like a classic control but not command guy, as his 2.93 K/BB rate this season — which matches his career rate — shows that he can throw strikes at a high rate but not strikes of the highest quality. He has still started just 31 games and thrown 170.1 innings, so it is likely too early to say he will always be a pitcher with a high BABIP, despite the fact that the number has been high in each of his three stints in the majors.
Despite Jurrjens’s history as a solid starter, this seems like the right decision. The biggest reason for not wanting to send Jurrjens down at this point was to potentially hold onto some semblance of his trade value. The Braves were actively shopping him this winter, but the knee injury which forced him to miss much of the second half made other teams wary. There were talks of Jurrjens being shipped to Baltimore in a package that included Martin Prado for Adam Jones. The Braves thought it to be too steep a price and avoided the deal.
Now, the Braves are left with a $5.5 million pitcher in triple-A who is more-or-less completely immovable. It is easy to see why, despite the price and destruction of his trade value, that Jurrjens needed to be sent down. His current strikeout-to-walk ratio is 0.80, and while his career mark of 1.94 is certainly not the most impressive part of his game, having more walks than strikeouts is a rather large issue.
Matt Garza has always had the stuff to be an elite top tier starter, but never quite put it all together until last year. As Dave Allen and Josh Weinstock explained during this past season, a heavier reliance on his secondary pitches was instrumental in his turn around from three consecutive seasons with an FIP between 4.14 and 4.42 to a breakout 2.95 mark last season. I also looked at how his increase in secondary offerings led to a 4.25 K/BB rate against left-handed hitters specifically for RotoGraphs, a heavy improvement over his past marks against opposite handed batters.
Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.
2012 Organizational Rankings
#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York Mets
#19 – Los Angeles Dodgers
#18 – Colorado
Miami’s 2011 Ranking: 17th
2012 Outlook: 53 (14th)
The biggest strength for the Marlins this year will likely be their lineup. While the team finished slightly behind the middle of the pack in wOBA at .311 (9th in the NL) last year, the progressions of Logan Morrison and Giancarlo Stanton, along with the expected bounce back from Hanley Ramirez and the acquisition of Jose Reyes should make this one of the better lineups in the league.