Alec Mills is not a household name for Cardinals fans. That's all well and good. He's the Cubs' replacement starter for today's game. It was announced earlier this week that 27 year old RHP Alec Mills will be making the start today instead of Cubs' veteran lefty Cole Hamels. Hamels' name is much more a household name for fans in baseball. This is usually seen as a good thing for an opposing team - a replacement player taking the spot of someone seen to be quite good.
If you're reading this blog, you probably realize that the St. Louis Cardinals do not often fare very well against the Alec Mills pitchers of the world. The Cardinals seemingly rely on a lot of video and struggle with guys they haven't seen before. Just ask guys by the name of Tony Gonsolin, Jordan Yamamoto, Mike Soroka, Antonio Senzatela, Chi Chi Gonzalez, James Marvel, Glenn Sparkman and others in the past few years (those all from this year).
Alec Mills was drafted in the 22nd round, 673rd overall, by the Kansas City Royals in the 2012 draft. Despite the Royals being my AL team, Mills is a guy whose name really never came up on my radar when he was with the Royals - despite some decent low minors peripherals. He was traded to the Cubs in February of 2017 for a quite nondescript outfielder with a funny name.
Mills has been pretty decent in the majors in very few opportunities. His career 4.34 ERA isn't great, but he sits at a 3.42 ERA this year. His FIP is below 4 for his career while his xFIP is just above 4 splitting the difference between his FIP and ERA nearly perfectly. He's started just 17 games and appeared in 4 in relief over the 2016, 18, and 19 seasons, however. So he hasn't thrown much.
So my work today is centered around this question: What should Cardinals hitters be expecting from Alec Mills today?
Mills is going to strike some people out. He has a 9.23 K/9 and just a 2.39 BB/9 for the year thus far (in 26 1/3 innings).
However, he throws a four-seamer that only reaches 89 mph or so typically. He rarely gets swings and misses with it as he has just a 12.8% whiff rate on it. Teams have demolished it to the tune of a .501 wOBA and over 1.100 OPS.
He throws his sinker next most often and it is actually about half a mph faster than his four-seamer. His sinker is much more effective, holding players to a .164 wOBA - his best pitch. He has a 26.7% to 3.3% K%:BB% on that pitch. Still, there's only a 13% whiff rate on it, however. He typically goes to this as his putaway pitch, though...trying to get people to bounce out on it.
Mills turns to his change up almost as frequently as his slider, throwing it just under 81 mph, so a nice ~8-9 mph difference between it and his two fastballs. It is not a great pitch either, however; in fact it is his second worst by wOBA allowed (.398). It is very much a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde type pitch. His terrible wOBA allowed is offset a bit by his 37% K rate and 50% whiff rate (!!!) on it.
Mills is getting a bit lucky on his curve this year. He's allowed just a .273 wOBA on the curve, but his xwOBA by batted ball contact numbers (EV and LA) he should have a .365 wOBA! Part of this is because of a 38.1% whiff rate - very good. However, he only strikes out and walks 9.1% of batters with this pitch. It's a setup pitch of his that he doesn't like to use as a putaway pitch. He just happens to sometimes get outs with it instead. It's also very much his slowest pitch, at 67.7 mph on average - over 22 mph slower than his fastest pitch.
He throws a fifth pitch as well, a slider. it's thrown about as often as his curve, but gets much better results and outcomes. His .209 wOBA is still lower than his .256 xwOBA on the pitch, but his whiff rate of 21.1% is boosted by it being a putaway pitch when you look to see that he has yet to walk a player on a slider this year, while striking out 38.5% of the hitters who have ended a PA with that pitch. Players hit the ball softly and into the dirt when they do make contact with this 78 mph offering.
Here's the deal: If the Cardinals can be patient with Mills, the should be able to get to him. Mills has thrown just 46.4% of all his pitches in the zone this year, but has gotten people to chase 32.9% of the time on pitches out of the zone.
Due to good movement and low pitch locations on his offerings, Mills gets 36% more flares and burners than league average and a higher GB% than league average as well.
Look low in the zone. Key in on the fastball and change up. Notice the difference between them. Be ready to swing. If a pitch has break on it early in the PA, let it go. It's probably not gonna be in the zone. Especially change ups (27% zone rate this year) and sliders (38% zone rate this year).
The problem (and why he's effective): Earlier this year, I had a couple posts about living on the edges of the zone with DeJong as a hitter focus and John Brebbia as a pitcher focus. Well, Alec Mills is living good right now. He has thrown 46.2% of his pitches on the edges of the strike zone. League average for that is just 39%. He's WELL above league average at hitting the corners. If Contreras can steal strikes for him, it could be a "quick work of the Cardinals" type of day.
Good luck boys!