On December 5, 2017, following a month of anticipation, the St. Louis Cardinals signed a free agent pitcher from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. The coveted hurler was expected to come over to Major League Baseball and immediately make an impact in an MLB team’s rotation. But rather than signing Shohei Ohtani, the twenty-three year-old Japanese hurler who was an elite pitcher and hitter in the highest-level non-MLB league in the world, the Cardinals opted for Miles Mikolas, an American former MLB pitcher who will turn 30 during the 2018 season.
It would be the understatement of all understatements to say that Miles Mikolas is a less exciting MLB prospect than the now-Los Angeles Angels starter Ohtani (if Mikolas winds up taking at-bats as anything other than a pitcher, something has gone catastrophically wrong). But this does not necessarily make the Mikolas signing a bad one. FanGraphs writer Jeff Sullivan rather liked the signing, mentioning former Texas Rangers starter Colby Lewis as a point of comparison. And if Mikolas can do what Lewis did—go from lackluster MLB pitcher to solid NPB pitcher (these steps have already been completed) to 4.7 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement pitcher in his first season back in the United States, the Cardinals should be thrilled with the two-year, $15.5 million contract to which they signed the man nicknamed The Lizard King.
Mikolas is one of the trickier Cardinals players to project because there is such a stark contrast between his MLB career to this point (91 1⁄3 innings, a 5.32 ERA and 4.81 FIP) and his last three seasons in Japan (424 2⁄3 innings, a 2.18 ERA, over eight strikeouts per nine innings and just 1.46 walks per nine). At 29, Mikolas probably isn’t going to improve substantially, but his renaissance as one of Japan’s best pitchers after washing out in the Majors with the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers was hardly expected, either.
While the projection systems don’t quite buy into Mikolas as having found superstar form in Japan, they do expect him to be materially better than his MLB track record shows. Here are his projections according to ZiPS, Steamer, and Baseball Prospectus.
But now, I mustache you a question—how do you think Miles Mikolas will fare in 2018?