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Miley’s working down to righties, and so are his numbers

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The sometimes crafty lefty comes to Baltimore on the heels of his best month of 2016. More ground balls, contact limitation and good ole fashion ownage of the bottom of the strike zone, at the very least, have the Orioles’ newest lefty showing signs he can indeed be a moderate upgrade.

The Orioles participation in the trade deadline, given the team’s surrounding circumstances, went about as well as anyone could have hoped.

The organization’s notable lack of reputable impact amongst the other farms in baseball’s coveting of assets naturally affected the Orioles in a means of doing something unexpectedly big, but even so, help was found. Camden Chat is actually powered by the beating heart of #TeamSteve, so you can only imagine how it felt within the group to have its favorite funny-talking Floridian back in Baltimore. While the divorce wasn’t fun, the hypothetical Parent Trap turning into reality alone would have been enough to make the deadline as productive as it was sentimental.

But you know, the Orioles were rightfully believed to be in the pitching market, and at the cost of a lefty who was probably never going to be a relied upon member of the big club now or later, the O’s got a lefty who or may not be a relied upon member of the big club. And even then, that’s an upgrade.

Wade Miley doesn’t ooze excitement or flash, and at this point he is what he is: a mid-velo lefty who relies on changing speeds and big breaking stuff in order to get outs. Essentially, he’s more or less already what the Orioles have, but from the left side. He isn’t a big strikeout guy (17.5%) who doesn’t walk a lot batters either (7.1%), and despite being around the plate, he works with an abundance average stuff. As Fangraph’s Jeff Sullivan so affably wrote, Miley soaks up innings, but there isn’t anything extraordinary about it. Evidenced by his 122 ERA-, Miley’s had a tough go of it in 2016, but as of late, he’s shown the Orioles a means of pivoting his struggles, somewhat.

Prior to July, Miley had amassed a 5.76 ERA, the result of an opponent .282/.340/.475 slash. As comes with the territory, Miley’s primary struggles resulted from extensive right-handed damage. Overall, the 18 home runs Miley’s given up on the year, 15 have been hit by those from the conventional side of the plate. Miley, reliant upon disguising balls as strikes, left a lot of easy breaking balls pitches and changeups in the strike zone to righties.

Over his last five starts however, Miley has seen his numbers reverse course. Since July 1, Miley has pitched into the 7th inning in four of the five starts, including six full innings of no-hit baseball in his last outing at Wrigley Field. His 3.45 ERA, rising ground ball and soft-contact rates over that span, much to do with declining right-handed prowess, shed just enough light on how it is Miley can maintain his steer.

While his fastball usage hasn’t been atypical (though he’s divulged further away from the sinker), Miley has reverted back to a more diverse approach in his secondary usage. Fewer changeups, and more sliders and curveballs have been essential in his slight right-handed renaissance. Miley’s lessened dependence on the changeup has been met with a mistake-free approach, but more importantly is how he’s set up his breaking stuff with his fastball.

Fastball execution was a big problem for Miley in the first half, where he left far too many fastballs over the heart of the plate. In July, Miley did much better working the boundaries of the both sides of zone, and when he missed, he missed down. His approach with the breaking ball hasn’t changed, almost entirely scoping down and in with his curveball and slider, but as he’s kept the fastball down, it’s created the mirroring effect needed to succeed with average stuff.

As such, the effectiveness of his slider, curveball and changeup, even though his rational with said pitches haven’t changed, have worked further into his favor.

Against righties, the whiff percentage on his curveballs has risen from 5.8% in the first three months to 12.9%, and it’s also turned into one of his primary ground ball inducers (16.6% from 8.8%). The ground ball rate on his changeup also rose by six percent in July, and rather than depending on the slider as an out-pitch to righties, it turned into more of a show-pitch down and in. While that may seem undutiful, the slider becomes a pitch he uses to back righties off the plate, helping to set up everything else. That again, all comes back to the ability to use the fastball down in the zone, or none of this matters.

It’ll be interesting to see if Miley can continue to work down and around the corners like he did in his start against the Cubs, where it seemed like wherever Mike Zunino put the glove, Miley routed the baseball. Or, as he is so accustomed to, chucking meatballs over the plate.

Again, Miley isn’t going to wow the crowd with raw stuff, but pitchability isn’t lost on him, and over his last five starts, execution hasn’t been either. It’s quite possible the Orioles found a very cheap alternative among the thin starting market that Dan Duquette so narrowly navigated, but guys with lesser stuff have to work cautiously.

His expectations too, must be taken with caution.