I don’t say Wade Miley is a great pitcher. Wade Miley may not make a lot of money over the course of his Major League career. His name may never be in the paper. He wasn’t the finest prospect who ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him: he’s likely to find himself severely snubbed on this year’s National League Rookie of the Year ballots despite the fact he’s made a very strong case for himself. You might even say that in regards to being a deserving candidate for the award, people are worse off than Wade Miley.
Yes, it’s my belief that Bryce Harper will take home the Rookie of the Year honors for the 2012 season. Granted, this is all speculation on my part, but Miley is pretty yawn-inducing as far as rookies go, while Harper is anything but. In Harper, you have an exciting, tools-laden outfielder who’s managed to post an .800 OPS despite playing half his games in a major pitcher’s park. Perhaps he can celebrate this impressive accomplishment on his October 16th birthday, the day he finally sheds his label as, well, a teenager. Furthermore, he’s done it all on a rags to riches team that is currently the toast of baseball. To be certain, Bryce Harper is an incredibly sexy pick to make for Rookie of the Year, and on top of that, it’s a pick that also happens to be easy to defend.
By contrast, we have Wade Miley, a 25-year-old southpaw with forgettable stuff on a forgettable team. Miley, unlike Harper, was hardly hyped as a prospect — he was first drafted in the 20th round in 2005 by Tampa Bay, elected not to sign, and then fell all the way to the 43rd round by the time the Diamondbacks grabbed him in the 2008 draft. His minor league numbers are decidedly mediocre, and he never found himself on any can’t-miss prospect lists as he rose through Arizona’s system in just over three years. And yet with the 2012 season rapidly drawing to a close, these two baseball players of radically different ceilings and radically different backgrounds are deadlocked in WAR (per FanGraphs) with 4.5 a piece.
How has Miley, whose fastball clocks in at an average speed of just over 91 MPH, been able to put together such a solid season while pitching in a park that isn’t especially noted for being kind to hurlers? By succeeding in all the ways left-handers with less-than-stellar stuff always do, of course. Miley has shown exceptional control this season, much better than it’s been at any other point in his professional career, in fact. He’s walking 1.8 batters per nine innings of work, which is just outstanding; he ranks seventh among all qualified pitchers in baseball this season with that mark. That superb walk rate helps make his 6.4 K/9 rate look significantly better as well. While the strikeout rate isn’t awful by any means, it’s not one you’d expect of a pitcher who’s whiffing more three and a half times the amount of hitters he’s giving out free passes to.
I know what you’re thinking now. You’re wondering if Miley’s just been lucky, and the answer is no, not really. In fact, that 3.32 ERA is actually higher than his FIP, which sits at 3.21. If you choose to go off his xFIP, then that number rises to 3.83, but we’re still not talking about a smoke and mirrors act here. The Louisiana native has stranded just about the league average number of base runners (72.2%) in addition to sporting a BABIP just shy of the expected .300 mark (.294). Say what you want about Miley’s success, but luck has not played a huge part in it.
You might not be wrong if you claim that Miley isn’t likely to repeat this strong season over the remainder of his career, but you can’t draw that conclusion because his peripherals aren’t lining up with his performance. For the most part, they are; this is a rookie pitcher who’s having an excellent debut season, and for that he deserves strong consideration for an award he probably won’t win. Ultimately, I can’t find any real fault in calling Harper the National League’s best rookie in 2012. I’m just pointing out that the vote may not be as much of a slam dunk as the general consensus may indicate it is.