Wade Miley is a decent pitcher. After racking up 4.5 WAR in a hitter friendly ballpark last year, he's upped his groundball rate to 52% this season, with a 3.32 road-ERA (3.67 road-FIP). Furthermore, Miley's groundball rates are nearly five points higher at home than away, which is the best you can hope for in an environment like Chase Field.
At home, Miley uses his two-seam to pound the bottom of the zone for as many grounders as possible. On the road, he's not afraid to let 'em fly.
So when Miley marched into Tropicana Field on July 31, the expectation should have been for the Rays to see a full strikezone, consistently two seams and a couple changes, peppered just about everywhere. Lo and behold, that's exactly what they saw:
Joe Maddon front loaded the line up that evening, with Jennings, Longoria, Myers, Zobrist, and Rodriguez leading the charge, ostensibly all lefty mashers. Myers got a hit once, walked once. Longo walked once. Zobrist got a hit twice, but only one inning would feature two of these players on base together.
That's two walks from the top of the order, when the pitcher was intentionally sending everything well outside. That's rough. To be fair, and generally speaking, the first time through Miley fed outside. Then he came inside and pitched low to the latter third of the order and the second time through, but he followed by going outside the rest of the way.
Miley threw 6.1 innings, matched his season best with eight strikeouts, and gave up only two hits. He led his team to a shut out with great pitch selection and an interesting process. *golf clap*
On the other hand, Miley was way out side the zone. Things should have gone poorly.
In total, Miley walked five batters, but he stranded every base runner allowed. Tropicana Field suppressed the Rays hitters to a .146 BAbip, and the offense with the league's lowest O-swing percentage found it difficult to work with Miley's approach.
Play It Again
Six days later, the Rays found themselves in Phoenix for the second half of a 4-game home/away series, and Miley was again predictable.
Seeking his all-too-necessary groundball rate at home, Miley fed the two-seam low in the zone (even sprinkling some more direct four-seams), and worked a 60 GB% out of the Rays.
And again, Miley got the intended results: 7.0 IP, 5 K, 2 BB, 1 H
Other than Jennings, the same five led the line up for Joe Maddon, and none but Myers took a walk. Miley was thoughtfully putting pitches in the zone and deep below, and he was still earning outs:
More than half of Miley's 2-seamers were strikes that batters just watched, and the same could be said for most of his changeups. When the Rays did swing, Miley worked a season high 4.0 GB/FB ratio. He never deviated from the plan of mixing below and in the zone either.
It was exactly the opposite from July 31. And it was a mess.
Meanwhile, flyball pitcher Jeremy Hellickson was doing everything he could to battle through plate appearances, working high pitch counts to batters before they got the better of him.
Some simple scouting would have shown the Rays what the game plan was from Miley's perspective, and the Rays certainly do their homework. Checking the results, it's not a disconnect: Miley had a game plan and executed it well.
The Rays just didn't have an answer.