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Can the Cardinals rely on Miles Mikolas?

Toronto Blue Jays v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Joe Puetz/Getty Images

With Jack Flaherty and Steven Matz sidelined, we are starting to see the Cardinals’ rotation take shape. The front of the rotation is strong, as it is spearheaded by Miles Mikolas and Adam Wainwright — both of whom are off to strong starts, each sporting sub 3.20 ERA’s. The middle of the rotation is an area of concern with Dakota Hudson and an xERA above 5.00; however, Hudson is significantly outplaying his expected metrics. In addition, top prospect Matthew Liberatore was called up recently in an attempt to help shore up the back of the rotation and provide a bit more depth. With the trade deadline now under two months away, St. Louis needs to decide just how much they can rely on Mikolas — who, let’s face it, has had an injury-riddled past.

The good

There has been a lot more positives to Miles Mikolas’ game this season than negatives. His average exit velocity of 88.1 MPH ranks in the 61st percentile, his xERA of 3.41 ranks in the 62nd percentile, his hard% of 34.2% is in the 74th percentile and his BB% of 4.9% ranks in the 86th percentile. His xWOBAcon is at a .357 with league average sitting at a .370. Importantly Mikolas is not experiencing a problem that many pitchers have experienced since last season’s crackdown on sticky stuff which is depressed spin rates. His fastball spin rate of 2,304 ranks in the 60th percentile of pitchers and his curveball spin of 2,567 sits in the 63rd percentile. Moreover, his four-seam spin is up 4 RPMs since last season, his changeup is only down 34 RPMs, curve is down 2 RPMs, sinker is up 22 RPMs, and his slider is up 15 RPM’s. In terms of spin rates these changes are miniscule which is a great sign that he is not reliant on foreign substances to generate higher spin rates. Additionally, Mikolas is still a very balanced pitcher as he throws four of his five pitches 18.3% of the time or more.

His four-seam fastball has made large strides this year. Its xBA against has gone down from .279 to .237, xSLG% .475 to .377 and xwOBA of .340 to .298. Additionally, his putaway% with the four seamers has gone from 10.3% to 16.7% and the whiff% on the pitch has gone from 17.5% to 33.3% He has gone from throwing it 26.5% in 2021 to throwing it only 18.3% of the time. His four seamers velocity has also remained true as it is sitting at 93.2 MPH the same as last year’s number. His curveball this year has also become a far more effective pitch. Like his four-seam fastball his xBA against it has gone down from .254 to .207, the xSLG% has dropped from .431 to .293 and he has reduced the xWOBA against from .321 to .262. It is becoming less of a putaway pitch as its putaway% has gone from 17.1% to 10.1% although, its whiff% has only gone from 20.8% to 20.6%. In addition to these metrics his curve is also a plus plus pitch in terms of movement as well. Its vertical movement of 64.5 inches is 2.9 inches above league average and its horizontal movement of 9.7 inches is 0.4 inches above league average. His sinker has also made significant progress across the board paired with the fact that he is throwing it 26.8% of the time this year compared to last year where he threw it 22.8% of the time. His sinker’s xBA against has gone from .311 to .223, xSLG% against has dipped from .433 to .346 and xwOBA against has slipped from .357 to .272. Its putaway% has gone from 12.2% to 17.6% and its whiff% against has gone from 8.4% to 12.6%.

In terms of plate discipline against Mikolas has also done a good job in multiple facets. He is doing a better job of working the edges with his edge% going from 45.3% to 46.9%. His first pitch strike% has gone from 67.7% to 69.5%. Mikolas’ chase% against has gone from 28% to 32.1% and his chase contract% has dropped from 70% to 67.4%. All in all, Mikolas is doing a better job of throwing strike one, generating more chases, staying away from the middle of the plate and forcing swings and misses when hitters do decide to chase.

The bad

While there has been a lot of positives in Mikolas’ game this season there are some concerning trends as well. His whiff% of 17.8% ranks in the bottom 6th percentile, his K% of 19.1% ranks in the bottom 31st percentile and his xBA of .259 ranks in the bottom 40th percentile. His launch angle against is creeping up a bit too much as he is allowing an average launch angle of 11.5 degrees which is slightly below league average of 12 degrees. These numbers are in line with his batted ball profile as well as his ground ball% is the lowest it has ever been with the Cardinals at 45.7% and he is allowing a line drive% of 26.6% the highest it has ever been in his time with St Louis. He also cannot point to a high pop up% as to the reason for his increased launch angle as it is currently sitting at 5.4% which is 1.7% below league average. Additionally, he is allowing a solid contact% of 8.2% this year which is 3.2% above his previous high with the Cardinals and 2.5% above league average.

In terms of movement on his pitches the majority of them are below average. His four seamers vertical movement of 16.1 inches which is down 1.8 inches from last season is 2.1 inches below league average and his horizontal movement of 5.1 inches is 0.9 inches below league average despite it being up from 1-inch last season. His sinker which has been his second most used pitch this season has had its vertical movement drop of 20.4 inches to 19.2 inches which is 1.7 inches below league average paired with its horizontal movement of 13.3 inches being 0.6 inches below league average. His slider’s vertical movement of 31.1 inches which has dropped 1.2 inches from last season is also 1.2 inches below league average and its horizontal movement of 4.2 inches is league average despite being up .4 inches from last season.

In terms of his plate discipline metrics there is not much to be overly concerned with. However, his zone contact% of 87.7% which is up 1% from last year is 5.7% higher than league average. His meatball% which is pitches that are middle middle is 7.6% which is .4% above league average, however his meatball swing% against is only 74% which is 2% below league average.

And the verdict

There is a lot to like about Mikolas’ game in the fact he limits walks, hard contact, avoids barrels and has strong spin rates. Although there are areas of concern, as well, as he does not have enough plus-plus stuff, he allows a high xBA, and he does not miss nearly enough bats. Mikolas does not have the best track record as in his last two season’s he pitched to an xERA of 4.86 and 4.51. However, with that aside he brings enough positives with him to the table that will allow him to be a perfectly serviceable third starter on a winning ball club.