Miles Mikolas is one of the most recent examples of Cardinals Devil Magic™ or, as Grant Brisbee once wrote, the kind of player the Cardinals invent out of sticks and sand. If you’re less into hyperbole, Mikolas is a player who the Cardinals acquired last season out of Japan who performed well better than expectations.
How much better was Mikolas? Our own Tyler Kinzy likened him to a Mike Leake style innings eater, and that’s exactly what the ZiPS projections suggested. ZiPS pegged Mikolas for an ERA and FIP around 4.20, and 2.0 WAR - solid, back end of the rotation stuff. Instead, Mikolas put up a 2.83 ERA, 3.28 FIP, and a beefy 4.3 WAR. He finished 6th in the Cy Young voting.
The Cardinals liked what they saw enough to sign Mikolas to a 4-year extension and name him their Opening Day starter. ZiPS - an automated projection system with no feelings - also liked what it saw. ZiPS forecasts another strong season for Mikolas: 3.73 FIP and 3.0 WAR.
ZiPS continues to like Mikolas through the contract. In 2023, the final year of the deal, the model predicts a 3.83 ERA and 2.1 WAR.
In several ways, Mikolas strikes me as an example of how robust projection models have become. Consider that this is a player who just one year ago was playing in Japan. Now, most everyone seems to agree that he is a mid-to-top of the rotation starter. That short journey required some very good modeling on the part of the Cardinals to understand how his NPB results would translate, and good understanding of what his 2018 MLB performance means moving forward.
On the surface, Mikolas is a command guy without overpowering stuff. While his fastball sits solidly in the mid 90s, that’s a little more pedestrian these days, and none of his breaking balls exhibit Nintendo-style movement. But looks can be deceiving.
Fangraphs pegged Mikolas with the 3rd best slider in all of baseball last year, using their linear weights model. He can pound the pitch in the zone, hitting both sides of the plate, against both righties and lefties.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to project how you think 2019 Miles Mikolas will fare. Were you convinced by what you saw last year? Was that his peak? Can he get even better?