What Happened to Wade Miley?

Wade Miley has seen his ERA go from 3.06 to 3.74 in two starts.
Wade Miley has seen his ERA go from 3.06 to 3.74 in two starts. Photo by Jack Gorman
Prior to Astros starter Wade Miley's last two passes through the rotation, he had the third best ERA in the American League. The lefty's story for 2019 has been the kind of miracle reclamation project that has become synonymous with the Astros and their data-driven approach to baseball. It wasn't as if he was an awful pitcher prior to relocating to Houston last offseason. But, he has been one of the most consistent starters in the AL...until last week.

In two straight starts, Miley has given up 12 runs while only pitching one-third of an inning. He recorded zero outs against the Mariners and only one against the A's on Tuesday night. His ERA ballooned by nearly a three-quarters of a point in just those two starts.

Miley says he is healthy and, in fairness to him, he only allowed seven singles and one walk before exiting the game Tuesday night. None of the hits were struck particularly hard and a couple might even be in the category of "tough luck."

But, still, with this kind of radical slump, it bears examining what might be wrong.

Wear and Tear

Miley hasn't eclipsed 166 innings in three seasons. He only threw 80 last year. He is already at 157 and, in truth, it should be higher consider the last two anomalies. It is possible he is simply getting tired. He hasn't complained of dead arm and his velocity hasn't dropped significantly. But, Miley isn't the workhorse that Verlander or Cole is and while he was close to or just over 200 innings from 2012 to 2015, he hasn't been near that number since.

If that is the case, the Astros would be wise to give him a week off and maybe one start to end the season as a warm-up for the playoffs.

Control Issues

He hasn't walked a ton of guys, but he has caught too much of the plate, particularly against the Mariners. Batters seemed to be teeing off in that game. Because Miley isn't a power pitcher, he needs to have good control and put the ball where he wants it. He's struggled to do that with almost any pitch except his cut fastball, which he relies on to a fairly high degree.

If control is the problem, perhaps it is mechanics or some other tweak that can be looked at to improve it before it is too late.

Figuring Out Miley's Cut Fastball

Manager A.J. Hinch said that the A's had a particularly good game plan against Miley that was well executed. He was referring to the fact that even though they were all singles, the A's took advantage of Miley's cut fastball by hitting it the other direction even when Miley hit the spot he wanted. After the game, the lefty said he actually pitched in spots he wanted to, but guys hit it anyway. He was unsure if he was tipping pitches or if hitters have just figured it out.

Fortunately, this is something he could control by adjusting his approach to hitters, but he better figure it out quickly.

Whatever the problem may be, the Astros only have a few weeks to figure it out and get it solved. A fourth starter might not factor into the World Series, but his arm certainly should in the ALDS and could be valuable out of what is a shaky bullpen. No one expected the wheels to come off Miley all of a sudden. Let's hope he and the 'Stros can find a way to get them back on before the playoffs.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke