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The Cardinals Found a Magic Man in Miles Mikolas

When the Cardinals signed starting pitcher Miles Mikolas out of Japan, my multiple-part reaction went something like this…

1.  Who? Japan? What? That isn’t a Japanese name. Huh?

2.  Mika … Miko …Mik… Miklasz.  Wait a second; is that my name? Are we related?

3.  No, we aren’t related. The name is different. But how do you pronounce his last name?

4.  Mikolas ate a live lizard as a member of the Texas Rangers. No, not the law-enforcement Texas Rangers. The baseball team. Great. if Cardinals’ clubhouse was ever invaded by lizards, they’d have a predator in house to dispose of the problem. A versatile talent indeed.

5. That earned-run average … oh, my.  In two seasons with the San Diego Padres (2012, ’13) and Rangers (2014), pitched 91.1 innings and was zapped for a 5.32 ERA. In 10 major-league starts his ERA was 6.44.

OK, light touch aside … I knew the Cardinals did their homework on Mikolas. This wasn’t a lark. It wasn’t some  “Guess What’s Inside the Box” signing. The Cards’ did a thorough job of scouting. They saw Mikolas thrive as he altered his style during three seasons in Japan, going from straightforward power pitcher to a precise strike-zone master equipped with five types of pitches.

Other smart MLB organizations, including the Cubs, were interested in bringing Mikolas back to the states, but the Cardinals secured Mikolas with a two-year deal for $15.5 million  — in part because of their Jupiter, Fla. spring-training base that just happens to be his hometown and residence.

Mikolas was intriguing, but I didn’t know what to expect. As I kept saying on my radio show day after day: we have to see him pitch. I can’t assume that Mikolas will  be good. But I also refused to write him off as a mediocre addition, signed at a discount price. Here’s a thought: Why don’t we let the hot takes cool down, and wait until Mikolas begins to take on major-league hitters in real baseball games before we pass judgment?

We didn’t know what Mikolas looked like, or what he threw, or why the Cardinals were so confident in his ability to establish success in the majors after getting smacked around between 2012 and 2014.

Though we must first issue the obligatory “it’s early” warning, it looks like the Cardinals came up with a potential treasure of a find in their search for a starting pitcher. Seven starts into his major-league reset, Mikolas is has 2.51 ERA, five quality starts, and a 5-0 record.

Six of his seven starts have come against NL Central opponents.  Last season Lance Lynn led the Cardinals with seven wins over NL Central rivals; Mikolas already has four wins (and no losses) with a 2.70 ERA.

The cunning right-hander pitched the Cardinals to a 2-1 win at San Diego on Thursday night, yielding five hits, one walk and one run (on a solo homer) in his 6.2 innings of craft work. In his last five starts (all quality starts) Mikolas has a 1.30 ERA and has allowed only 23 percent of his batters faced to reach base.

Mikolas ranks 8th among NL starters in ERA, is tied for 9th for most innings, is tied for 5th for most quality starts, is 5th in fewest base runners allowed (8.87) per 9 innings, and has given up the 12th lowest OPS, .621.  His 55.6 percent ground-ball rate is No. 2 in the NL.

Now let’s get to the good stuff…

Mikolas has walked only three of 185 batters faced, a mere 1.6 percent rate that’s the lowest by the a MLB starter so far this season. Mikolas has a slightly below average strikeout rate (19%). But because of his scarcity of walks issued, Mikolas at 11.67 has the MLB’s best strikeout-walk ratio by a starting pitcher. That’s so preposterous, the starter closest to Mikolas, Arizona’s Zack Greinke, really isn’t close at all with his 8.83 K-BB ratio.

If you like control pitchers … pitchers who paint … pitchers who deceive and confuse hitters … pitchers who own the strike zone and designate it as personal property … then Miles Mikolas is your slinger.

Let’s have some fun with the ridiculously sharp control numbers being carved by Mikolas this season, using data culled from Inside Edge:

  • Mikolas doesn’t like these teams in the NL Central, does he? He’s walked only two of the 161 batters faced from division opponents, or 1.2 percent.
  • He’s has faced 103 left-handed batters; none have walked.  And the league average for LH batter walk rate is 8.5%.
  • He leads qualifying MLB starters with a strike rate of 69.5% this season. The league average is 64 percent.
  • He does not discriminate. He has a 68.8%  strike rate vs. left-handed batters (4th highest) and a strike rate of 70.4% vs. right-handed batters (4th highest.)
  • First-pitch strikes? Not a problem; his first-pitch strike rate of 69.2% is 3rd highest among qualified MLB starters and well above the league average of 61.7%.
  • Fastballs up the strike zone? A strike rate of  72.2%, highest among qualified starters and 14.2 percent above league average.
  • Inside fastballs? Yeah, them too … a strike rate of 73.1%,  2nd highest among qualified starters and 11 percent above league average.
  • Mikolas has thrown at least two strikes in his first three pitches to 73.4% of opposing batters  this season; that’s 2nd highest among qualified starters and a little over 10 percent above the league average.
  • With runners on base, Mikolas has thrown at least two strikes in his first three pitches to 75.6% of opposing batters,  tied for 3rd highest; league average 61.4 percent.
  • Mikolas has a strike rate of 70.8% against the first batter faced in the inning this season — 5th highest among qualified starters, and six points better than the league average.
  • He has a strike rate of 71.7% versus the heart of the order this season; that’s No. 1 among qualified starters and nine percent above the league average.

To go with all of this pinpoint control, Mikolas is also making hitters look silly by getting them to chase so many pitches that drift and slide and shimmy out of the strike zone:

  • Opponents have a first pitch chase rate of 26.9% vs.  Mikolas this season; that’s the 2nd highest among qualified starters and way above the league average 14.8%.
  • The overall chase rate on the Mikolas out of zone fastballs is 33.9%; that’s 3rd highest among qualified starters and a big distance above the league average 23.1%.
  • Hitters have chased 28 of his ‘ 72 fastballs that come in but off the plate (38.9%) this season, the 7th highest rate among qualified starters and well clear of the league average of 26.9%.
  • The middle of the order hitters have a chase rate of 39.6% against Mikolas; the 4th highest in MLB among pitchers with at least 18 innings. League average:  27.8%.
  • Hitters have chased 23 of Mikolas’ 60 elevated fastballs out of the zone (38.3%); that’s 5th highest among qualified starters and easily above the league average 26.3%.
  • Opponents have a chase percentage of 39.3% against Mikolas the third time through the lineup in a game this season  … 3rd highest among qualified starters; league average is 29.4%.

These stats are really amazing.

With all of this sleight of hand, this man could work as a magician.

Mikolas the Magnificent.

At least up to now, for his greatest trick, he made thoughts of Yu Darvish vanish from inside the heads of Cardinals fans.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie