Through seven starts in the 2022 campaign, few pitchers in baseball have been better than Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas.
The 33-year-old righty is 3-1 with an ERA of 1.49 and a 3.87 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 42 ⅓ innings pitched. He has been strong in nearly every appearance, providing a much-needed respite for a bullpen that's been taxed at times.
Mikolas has consistently thrown strikes and kept the ball down in the zone, and he has credited catcher Yadier Molina with keeping him efficient on the mount. But what has gone unmentioned by the starter and his manager, at least thus far, is his high degree of unpredictability in pitch selection.
Mikolas is using his most common pitch, his fastball, 8.6 percentage points less often than he has over the course of his career, which is at about 51% of the time. He’s also using his off-speed pitches far more frequently, including his slider, curveball and changeup 9.9 percentage points more often than his career average.
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Off-speed pitches now represent the majority of his pitches thrown, as he hurls his 92.8 average mph fastball just 43% of the time, which ranks in the bottom 20 of all qualified pitchers. Most of the other pitchers in the bottom 20 feature a secondary pitch that functions as a fastball, including Corbin Burnes, who throws a fastball only 9% of the time but throws a cut fastball 56.6% of the time.
The ability to mix pitches and trust his full arsenal has led to catching hitters off-balance, producing soft and inconsistent contact among major league hitters. Mikolas leads all pitchers with 125 batted ball events (BBE), meaning he’s surrendered the most balls in play of any pitcher. Yet, Mikolas allows the 14th-lowest average exit velocity, and the fourth-fewest hard-hit balls by percentage.
Mikolas is doing all this while having middle-of-the-pack stats on each of his individual pitches: He ranks in the 40th percentile in fastball velocity, the 58th percentile on fastball spin, and 62nd percentile on curve spin.
The lack of proficiency on any one pitch only points further to Mikolas’ success coming from his ability to mix pitches and be unpredictable in his approach.
In pitching well above his projected numbers through the middle of May Mikolas has been a saving grace for the Cardinals. If he keeps up this pace and continues to rely on what has been advertised as the best defense in baseball, he could be the ace that Cardinals fans worried this team lacked.