It’s been another tough season for the Baltimore Orioles’ starting pitchers in 2017. The unit’s 5.62 ERA is the second-worst mark in MLB (you knew that by now), but it makes the performance of left-hander Wade Miley look down right dominant by comparison.
The southpaw “boasts” a 4.96 ERA, 4.57 xFIP, 1.2 WAR, and he averages just a shade over five innings per start (148.2 innings in 29 starts). Not a standout season by any means, but on a team so bereft of pitching talent altogether, it means that picking up the $12 million option to keep Miley in Baltimore for 2018 has become a no-brainer.
A case can be made, relatively easily in fact, that Miley has been the Orioles’ best starting pitcher not named Dylan Bundy throughout the summer. He ranks second on the team in ERA (4.96), ERA+ (87), hits per nine innings (9.9), xFIP (4.57) and leads the team in fewest home runs allowed per nine innings (1.3). Along with Bundy and Kevin Gausman, Miley forms the “top of the rotation”, if you will, in Baltimore.
An outside hire
The Orioles’ recent history of searching for pitching in free agency is not a good one. Ubaldo Jimenez? Yovani Gallardo? Yeah, the organization would like to avoid a repeat of those disasters if at all possible.
With both Jimenez and Chris Tillman hitting the open market this winter, if the Orioles were to decline the option on Miley as well, that would leave the team looking for three starting pitchers in one offseason. Although it feels like the Baltimore staff has nowhere to go but up, that still seems like an impossible proposition.
It is an impressive free agent class of pitchers this year, led by the Dodgers’ Yu Darvish and Cubs’ Jake Arrieta. In the tier just under that you have guys like the Yankees’ Jamie Garcia and CC Sabathia, the Rangers’ Andrew Cashner, and the Cardinals’ Lance Lynn. There are certainly options available. Baseball Prospectus has the full list.
If the O’s want any of the guys that are worth their salt, they will have to pay up and likely fork over a multi-year contract. Even then, it is no guarantee to fix their pitching woes. As the saying goes, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Miley is definitely a known devil.
But let’s say Baltimore dips it’s toe in the free agent waters, they would still have additional starting pitching vacancies to fill. At the very least, Miley could be the fifth starter with an offseason acquisition and an internal candidate serving in the third and fourth holes. We can dream.
Out of chances
The window to compete, for the Orioles, would seem to be closing after next season if they don’t re-sign some of their top-tier players. Adam Jones, Zach Britton and Manny Machado will all be free agents following 2018.
So, while the O’s will want to do whatever they can to put their best foot forward next season, they won’t want to overextend their commitments too far beyond that window, because it would make little sense to have overly expensive role players on a team that lacks a true star.
Exercising the option on Miley is a one-year commitment. He can help the O’s in this “window” and then move on. He could be a trade chip at the deadline. Or he could flop and be cut without the Birds feeling too bad about it. And while $12 million is a lot of money, it’s not overly ridiculous for a starting pitcher in MLB, even a below average one.
The best of you
If you want to go the cliché route, the Orioles might be due to get a heavily motivated Miley next season. He will turn 31 years old this November and could be set for the one major pay day of his career if he performs well enough.
And while Miley has not been very good this season, it has been a marked improvement of a 2016 season split between Seattle and Baltimore that saw him compile a 5.37 ERA and 77 ERA+ over 166 innings of work.
There are signs that Miley will continue to improve as he stays in town. His WHIP has seen a major jump to 1.661 this season because he is walking a ridiculous 5.1 batters per nine innings and pitching into far too many 3-2 counts. His career average for walks per nine innings is 3.1. He should be able to get closer to that number and pound the strike zone more often. That leads to longer outings and, yada yada yada, he is an amazing pitcher.
Of course, that won’t all happen. But limiting his walks could possibly catapult Miley to being an average starting pitcher. Plus, he throws with his left-hand, which allows him to put some kind of voodoo on many hitters. Against fellow southpaws, Miley has an opponent slash line of .198/.318/.275 while righties hit a chunky .295/.381/.472 this season.
Standard operating procedure
Exercising Miley’s option is not exciting. He is a flawed pitcher and far from the “ace” that the Orioles have needed ever since Mike Mussina signed with the Yankees in 2000 (Erik Bedard doesn’t count).
Baltimore could still dive into the free agent pool for pitching help, but that doesn’t preclude a Miley return. He is cost effective, doesn’t mortgage the future, has experience with the O’s and in the American League East and has shown some signs of improvement. In other words: he is a Dan Duquette dream incarnate.