By: Noah Wright
Jeff Roberson- AP
One of the best breakout seasons so far in The 2018 season has to be Miles Mikolas. The guy has been an absolute stud in The Cardinals rotation. However, Mikolas hasn’t always been an ace level pitcher. He’s had to take a winding road from the day he was drafted, to the 2018 All Star Game. But how did Mikolas become this ace?
Mikolas was originally drafted by The Padres in the 7th round in the 2009 draft. In 2009, Miles mainly worked as a starter with 15 of the games he played, 11 of them being games that he started. Overall, Mikolas did so-so. In his 53 innings as a professional pitcher, Miles had an unimpressive 5.94 ERA, and 6.6 K/9 rate, but only walked 1.53 batters per 9, gave up just .2 homeruns/9 and had a 3.32 FIP. After his first taste of professional baseball work, Mikolas was moved to the bullpen, and functioned as a late inning man. In each of his seasons between 2010 to 2013, Mikolas saved 44 games, never had an ERA above 3.25, and 3 out of the 4 seasons saw him record a FIP of 3.82 or lower. While he may have been a productive minor league relief pitcher, Mikolas never showed up on any top 100 prospect lists, and never made any Padres’ top prospect lists. Mikolas made his debut on on May 5th 2012. In his first inning of work in the bigs, Miles allowed 1 earned run, a walk, and a hit, but struck out two batters. Overall, Mikolas pitched in 32 and a third innings in the majors, having a 3.62 ERA, 4.86 FIP, 4.2 walks/9, and just 6.4 K’s/9. In 2013, Miles only saw an inning and two thirds, and mainly spent time in the minors. In November 2013, Mikolas, along with Jaff Decker, was traded to The Pittsburgh Pirates for outfielder Alex Dickerson. Miles’ stint with The Pirates was short, and only lasted a month and 5 days before he was then traded to The Rangers for first baseman Chris McGuiness. With The Texas Rangers, Mikolas returned to working as a starter. He started 10 games during 2014, but did not perform well in those 57 and a third innings of work. Overall, Mikolas had a 6.44 ERA, 4.47 FIP, and 1.430 WHIP. While he showed some of that control he displayed in the minors, with a 2.8 walk rate, Mikolas had a 1.26 home run per 9 rate, the highest he had in his professional career. After the season, The Rangers released Mikolas on November 20th, 2014. Overall in his first MLB stint, Mikolas recorded a 5.32 ERA, 4.81 FIP, and 1.423 WHIP in 91 and a third innings across 3 seasons.
This is when the interesting part of Mikolas’ career starts. 5 days after The Rangers he was released by The Rangers, Mikolas signed with The NPB Yourmori Giants. Over in Japan, Mikolas thrived. In his first season over seas, Miles had a 1.92 ERA, 2.88 FIP, and very low .897 WHIP in 145 innings. His control was outstanding, as he had just a 1.4 walk rate, and .5 long ball rate. The biggest highlight of his first season was his 4 complete games, with 2 being shutouts. Mikolas performed well in his second season, but missed some time, as he started only 14 games. However, his best season has to be his last season over seas in 2017. Mikolas pitched 188 innings for The Yourmori Giants, and recorded a 2.25 ERA, 2,38 FIP, and .984 WHIP. He also lowered his walk rate to a full-season career low 1.1, and rose his K rate to a full season career high 9. After showing what he can do overseas, Mikolas came back to The United States. His performance caught the eyes of many MLB teams, and The St. Louis Cardinals proved to win the sweepstakes for the right hander.
On December 5th, 2017, The Cardinals finalized a 3 year deal for the right handed Miles Mikolas. And so far, Mikolas has been a bargain for The Cards. His first half of the season is recapped by a 2.79 ERA, 3.25 FIP, and 1.047 WHIP in 119 and a third innings. Mikolas continues to show the amazing control with a 1.5 walk rate, and .6 home run rate. He’s been better than some proven aces this season too. His ERA is lower than Zack Greinke’s (3.18), and just .03 points higher than Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Batters only are hitting a weak .233 against him. He’s kept bats quieter than Phillies ace Jake Arrieta (.246), and Indians’ Carlos Carrasco (.250). His overall numbers, and the fact that he’s pitching better than a handful of aces that received ace status seasons ago, gave him a nod to the 2018 All-Star Game
While Mikolas’ story is nice, how exactly has he become an ace level pitcher? To find that out, you have to look at his pitch selection, and pitch usage. While Mikolas didn’t experience a jump in velocity, as he sat around 95-96 in his original MLB Stint, and now sits around 96-97, it’s his use of his pitches. According to Fangraphs, Mikolas heavily relied on his fastball in 2014, throwing it around 37% of the time. In 2018, Mikolas is only throwing it about 28% of the time. The pitch that he relied on the least that he throws a significant amount more is his cut fastball. During the ‘14 season, Miles only threw it 12% of the time. Now, he throws it nearly twice as often, at 21%. Miles also has a change-up. He’s never relied on it too much in either 2014 (9%) or now in 2018 (6%), it is notable because Mikolas added a 5th pitch in 2014, a slider that he used 16% of the time. 5 seasons later, it’s his second most used pitch at 24% usage.
Miles Mikolas has been one of the best breakout stories in 2018. Of the night of the all-star game that Mikolas was supposed to be a part of, but missed it to witness the birth of his children. Mikolas has been a great pitcher to watch. In his first taste of big league action since returning from a stint overseas, Mikolas has shown that he can be just as good as guys with the names of Zack Greinke and Corey Kluber. Now that we’re entering the Post All-Star Game beak, it’ll be fun to see if he can continue to pitch like an ace for the rest of the season.
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