In a rotation plagued by countless injuries, first half Ariel Miranda was invaluable for the Mariners. Through June, Miranda boasted a 3.82 ERA and seemed to be hitting his stride. He had pitched seven or more innings in four of his past six starts.
The summer was another story for the Cuban lefty, as his ERA skyrocketed to 6.91 over the second half, while his FIP concurrently jumped to 6.62.
What caused the jump? It was the dingers. It was lots of the dingers. Miranda’s propensity to surrender lots of fly balls naturally left him subject to big flies, but his 2.73 HR/9 over the season’s second half was prodigious. How bad was Ariel Miranda’s home run problem? Since 1871, there have only been four players to pitch over 150 innings with an HR/9 of 2 or above: Jeff Fassero (1999), Jose Lima (2000), Bronson Arroyo (2011), and Miranda in 2017.
On a quick glance, the effectiveness of one pitch may have dictated his success from the first half to the second. Well, was it one pitch, or two pitches? Brooks Baseball and Fangraphs have a hard time distinguishing Ariel Miranda’s offspeed pitch. Neither can decide if he throws a splitter or a change. Fangraphs says he threw a “splitter” about 20% of the time, while 16% of his offerings were “changeups.” Brooks says it was a near-even split, throwing each pitch 18% of the time.
Let’s analyze the difference between these two pitches. Miranda’s changeup has much more arm-side run, while his splitter has more vertical movement.
On average, his change was three miles per hour faster than the splitter; however, the pitch outcomes for both pitches are very similar. Both generated grounders 25% more frequently than flyballs and ran a whiff/swing rates of 36% or higher.
No matter how many videos I watch of Ariel Miranda, I cannot distinguish a difference in grip and there is essentially no difference in release point, either.
Inconsistency with classification of each, similar outcomes, and no notable difference in release point, combined with the intuition that pitchers rarely throw a changeup and a splitter, means I’m going to classify these two offerings as a “splange.”
Over the first half of the season, Miranda’s “splange” was giving batters upside-down “now memories” that Will experienced in Netflix’s Stranger Things. Hitters were pounding weak grounders into the infield dirt, helping counter Miranda’s extreme fly-ball profile. A GB/BIP around 45% from April to June fueled a stingy .202 average off of his splange.
Starting in July, the splange’s success took a turn for the worse. Its GB/BIP fell below 30%, allowing far more flyballs and line drives as a result. Consequently, Miranda’s ground ball rate fell to 26.2%. Take a glance the splange’s zone profile from April to June, then compare it to the post-June chart.
Interestingly, Miranda got out of the middle of the plate, and started to try to work the corners more. Unfortunately, the results didn’t follow, because the few times that his pitches leaked back into the middle of the zone, he got hammered.
The adjustment Miranda made in the second half was a good one. The bad results that followed might have been influenced by bad luck, but there are two other factors that had more to do with it. First is predictability. In the second half, Miranda threw his splange nearly 40% of the time, and even more when he was ahead. So if Miranda ever missed with that pitch, he got punished because hitters were ready. Additionally, fatigue played a role in Miranda’s struggles; due to the rampant injuries on the pitching staff, Miranda pitched 160 innings in 2017, more than double his previous major league total. While his slider actually picked up in velocity over the season, all his other pitches lost a tick. Furthermore, the mental fatigue of pitching a full season and struggling down the stretch couldn’t have helped his cause. With an offseason to recalibrate, Miranda will need to regain confidence in his ability to locate the splange on the corners, but also might need to make an adjustment to throw it less in the coming season.
Fortunately, he has an underutilized weapon in his arsenal. Zach Crizer of MLB.com thinks Miranda has the potential to become an ace, referencing his slider as the key. Over his career, Miranda hasn’t had success forcing batters to chase pitches out of the zone, but Crizer pointed out that Miranda generates whiffs at sliders in the zone at a rate comparable to Chris Archer. He also has an impressive batted ball profile on his slider, generating weak pop ups on 25-percent of his sliders put in play.
Mixing in his slider more frequently and returning to first half form with his splange would position Miranda for a bounce back following his rough end to the season. Similar to Andrew Moore, Miranda is a bit behind the eight ball in terms of making the Opening Day roster, with players like Erasmo Ramirez and Marco Gonzales out of options. Miranda will likely start the season in Triple A, but he will be near the top of the list for first call-up if the MLB rotation experiences injuries or ineffectiveness. When he does make his way up to the bigs, he has what it takes to pitch so well he never turns back.