Aríel Miranda on the mound for the Doosan Bears.

A New Ace Emerges in South Korea

There are a lot of unaffiliated leagues the world over. I can’t possibly watch them all, though I try my best to give each and every one of them their fair shake. The end result of me covering so much of the unaffiliated baseball world (to toot my own horn I’m the only person covering every single unaffiliated league in one form or another) is that great performances sometimes slip through the cracks. This year one of those performances has come from a player I really like, Aríel Miranda.

I haven’t watched much Korea Baseball Organization this year. It’s a simple case of priorities and while I enjoy the KBO it hasn’t been a league I’ve prioritized over others. As the year has progressed I read snippets here and there that painted a picture of Miranda succeeding but I never looked too deep for the aforementioned reasons. Then the other day I sat down and watched a Miranda start, and boy did her ever look dominant on the mound. He looked very similar to how he had looked throughout the 2020 Chinese Professional Baseball League season with the CTBC Brothers. Only this time he was pitching in South Korea for the Doosan Bears against a slightly higher caliber of competition.

When he signed with Doosan I had high hopes for Miranda, but I’ll be honest, I did not expect him to dominate in the fashion he has. So far this year Miranda has made 24 starts and accumulated 150.1 innings pitched. All he’s done during that time is amass a 2.33 ERA, 187 ERA+, and 6.0 kWAR. He’s struck out 194 while only walking 52 and even garnering himself one complete game shutout. Those are all fantastic numbers, and they start to get at why Miranada’s season is noteworthy, but it’s an oft-overlooked metric that truly tells the tale of Miranda’s 2021.

1.098 is the WHIP that Miranda has mustered this season in South Korea. WHIP has become a throw-in amongst most pitching statistics, at least it has for me. However, in the case of Miranda WHIP is key in understanding where he has been, what troubles he has encountered and why he is enjoying such success in the KBO. For his career, Miranda has a WHIP of 1.286. In recent years he has posted WHIPs of 1.530, 2.000, 1.337, and other high numbers. Miranda’s main failing has always been an inability to consistently throw strikes. Some seasons that has resulted in plenty of walks while in others lots of contact as he attempts to avoid the base on balls late in the count. With Doosan, Miranda isn’t giving up much contact and he’s also not walking many batters. For the first time in his career, it appears as if the stuff that Miranda throws is matching up with his results.

The stuff we’re talking about is a fourseam fastball/slider combo with the occasional curveball and changeup tossed into the mix. Looking at highlights and watching a few of his previous starts it’s clear to see that Miranda is attacking hitters in a fashion that has never been his trademark. He’s daring KBO hitters to handle his stuff and they are by and large failing to meet the challenge. The most recent start I watched was a litany of fourseam fastballs and sliders that hitters consistently swung through or watched go by as they looked completely exasperated at the dish.

Update: In talking with Sung Min Kim he’s pointed out that some of the pitches I thought were changeups were in fact splitters. Miranda has been throwing that out h a lot this season, to great affect, and that is a deviation from his standard approach.

The only knock on Miranda in that start against the Samsung Lions is his Achilles heel so far this year; not going deep into games. In the Lions start, he went 5.0 innings, and his season average has been 6.1 innings per start. That’s okay, it lines up with what one would expect from a modern pitcher. However, this is unaffiliated ball we are talking about and even in the KBO the expectation is that pitchers should go deeper into ballgames. Miranda simply appears unable to do that this season, but then again his career average is right around 6.1 innings a start. Most teams will gladly accept 6.1 innings from their starter, but when that starter is making a case as the best pitcher in the league he’d really solidify his case by going deeper into true workhorse territory.

When the 2021-2022 baseball season is all said and done Aríel Miranda will likely have a case as the best pitcher in all of unaffiliated baseball. If he keeps pitching as he has for the majority of the 2021 KBO season then the Bears should find themselves in the playoffs. At that point, there’s little reason to doubt Miranda’s ability to put the Bears on his back and help them to make some kind of run at the title. The Cuban lefty has been nails all year long and I can’t wait to prioritize the KBO down the stretch and see how he finishes off his run of dominance.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Yonhap News Agency

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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