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We're back with another edition of "Is It Legit?" to discuss another surprising breakout performer from the 2018 MLB season in order to assess his value heading into 2019.

With so many players seemingly becoming fantasy baseball darlings overnight, it can be challenging to sift through the multiple hype trains and determine which players are actually expected to produce similar, or even better, numbers the following year.

Left-hander Wade Miley made 16 excellent starts for the Milwaukee Brewers last year, going 5-2 with a 2.57 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP - numbers that far exceeded the 5.61 ERA and 1.73 WHIP from a horrendous 2017 season. But was his half season of excellence a sign of better things to come - or was it a mirage?

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Repertoire Changes for Miley

It was a very, very weird season from Miley. No doubt his 2.57 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 5-2 record were useful for fantasy owners, particularly after two straight seasons with an ERA north of 5.00 and a WHIP over 1.40.

However - the rest of his numbers were downright unplayable. He had a horrendous 5.58 K/9, well below his career average and completely useless in fantasy formats, particularly those that count K/9. His ERA was a product of a ton of luck, stemming from a .269 BABIP and a 5.2% HR/FB rate - both well below his career norms.

However, his adjusted ERA numbers (3.59 FIP, 4.66 SIERA) are still better than what he had been posting over the last two years, indicating that Miley was at least doing something right. But what?

The biggest difference for Miley last year was a massive increase in his cutter usage - which he threw a whopping 41.6% of the time. The pitch generated a ton of success last year, holding opponents to a measly .190/.258/.303 line and posting an 11.0 pVAL, far and away the highest mark of his career.

The .112 BABIP was probably a bit lucky, but the pitch did generate a 52.5% ground ball rate and just a 7.4% HR/FB ratio, all the more impressive while playing his home games at Miller Park.

Something had to give in Miley's repertoire, and that was his god-awful sinker. This pitch has not been a positive offering since 2014, and he finally decided to nearly abandon it altogether, only offering it 9.9% of the time last year. It was still bad, allowing a 1.066 OPS - but the damage was mitigated by limited usage.

He also scrapped his slider in favor of the cutter, another wise move for the veteran left-hander. His slider was only thrown 38 times last year, but still posted a -1.1 pVAL thanks to poor location and a .400 average against.

So, a little luck (as evidenced by his 4.66 SIERA) and a new dedication to his cutter allowed Miley to success in a half season last year in Milwaukee. Will those changes carry over to 2019?

 

New Team, New Fantasy Profile

Miley parlayed his big numbers last year into a new $4.5M contract with the Houston Astros, where he is expected to slot into the rotation. The Astros have a very strong reputation for turning pitchers around, thanks to an emphasis on high spin rates. Massive changes for Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Collin McHugh helped each of them find success later in their career, and the same is certainly possible for Miley.

Miley's newfound cutter is likely what interested Houston in the first place, and there is no doubt that pitching coach Brett Strom will help Miley harness that pitch while likely convincing him to abandon the sinker (and maybe the slider) altogether.

From a fantasy perspective, Miley's numbers last year were a mixed bag. The ratios were great, but a K/9 under six is rough to stomach in most formats. It's pretty unlikely that his strikeout numbers will be that low again next year, especially in Houston.

However - expecting an ERA below 3.00 is fool's gold. More likely, Miley will return an ERA around 4.00 with a decent strikeout total (7.5 K/9) thanks to his new cutter and a defense/bullpen that will help him.

He may not qualify as a breakout in 2019, but from a fantasy perspective, he's not the worst late-round flier out there in 12-team leagues or deeper.

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