Cincinnati Reds: Signing Wade Miley adds underrated value to the rotation

DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 03: Starting pitcher Wade Miley #20 of the Houston Astros throws in the fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 03, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 03: Starting pitcher Wade Miley #20 of the Houston Astros throws in the fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 03, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
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In 2019, the Cincinnati Reds had one of the best rotations fans had seen in years. After acquiring Wade Miley, things could get even better.

The Cincinnati Reds surprised a few folks around Major League Baseball earlier this week with the signing of left-handed starting pitcher Wade Miley. The Louisiana native, who had a 116 ERA+ over 33 starts in 2019 for the Houston Astros, gives the Reds five quality starters in its rotation heading into next season.

Two pitchers in the Reds starting rotation received Cy Young votes last season. Three of Cincinnati’s starters pitched in at least 30 games and accumulated a combined WAR (wins above replacement) of 13.2. Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, and Anthony Desclafani were already prepared to be part of one of the deepest rotations in baseball. Wade Miley only enhances it.

According to Fangraphs, Miley finished as the 50th best pitcher in terms of WAR among starting pitchers with a 2.0. Maybe the Reds don’t have a couple of 20 game winners like the last year’s Astros team, but a 2.0 WAR pitcher being the fifth starter proves that the rotation has an excessive amount of depth.

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After an incredibly slow 2018-19 offseason, 2020 free agents are being signed quickly, and they are getting huge contracts. Just last week, Stephen Strausburg broke the record for the largest contract offered to a pitcher, only to see Gerrit Cole to break it the very next day.

Zach Wheeler (Philadelphia Phillies) and Madison Bumgarner (Arizona Diamondbacks) both signed long-term deals within the last two weeks. Major league ball clubs are making one thing clear; the teams that want to compete in 2020 are going to pay pitchers to do it.

The Cincinnati Reds really don’t have much of a need for top free agent pitchers. Improving the offense should be the main priority, so it would not make a lot of sense to sign a starter to a $100M-plus contract, especially since Gray and Castillo are under team control for the next couple of years.

Wade Miley’s contract is for $15M over the next two years; less than half of the value of some of the other deals signed this offseason. While Miley may not be the same caliber pitcher as those getting bigger deals, it is hard to argue that someone like Cole Hamels is worth $10M more in 2020. Miley’s price was a bargain compared to the rest of the market.

Miley also seems encouraged to be with Derek Johnson again. Although it was shortened by injury, Miley’s 2018 was, by far, the best season of his career. A 2.57 ERA, 0.3 HR/9, and a whopping 159 ERA+ through 16 starts tells the story. The difference? Johnson, who’s now Cincinnati’s pitching coach, was occupying the same position for the  Milwaukee Brewers at the time.

Johnson showed what he can do with players with whom he has familiarity; just look at what Sonny Gray did last season. Gray, whom he coached at Vanderbilt, went from one of the worst pitchers in baseball to an All-Star with 200 strikeouts. If he works the same magic with Miley, the lefty could have a repeat of his 2018 season.

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The Reds don’t even need a repeat of Miley’s success in 2018 for this to be an above-average signing. For $6M in next season, a league average pitcher to be the fifth starter in the rotation will be just fine. If Miley can capture the magic that had his ERA sitting a 3.28 heading into the All-Star break last season, the Reds will be just fine.