The pitcher from Jupiter – the Florida town, not the planet – will be with the Cardinals for three more seasons. The team and the righthander agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension worth $40 million.
Mikolas already was under contract for 2023, but will be in the St. Louis rotation (if healthy) through his age 36 season in 2025. Because of a torn flexor muscle in his right arm, Mikolas made only nine starts over two seasons (2020-2021) after handling a heavy workload in 2018 and 2019.
This deal makes sense for both parties. There’s always an injury risk but the two-year deal limits Cardinals’ liability. And by the time the new contract expires after 2025, the Cardinals would have paid Mikolas $123.5 million over eight seasons – an annual average salary of $15.43 million. That’s reasonable for starting pitchers in today’s baseball economy.
Mikolas grew up in Jupiter and is a short drive from the team’s spring-training facility. The closeness holds a strong appeal for him. And since joining the Cardinals after altering his pitching style in Japan, Mikolas loves his life as a key member of this team. He could have pitched out this season and taken his chances at securing a larger deal through free agency.
But Mikolas is an intelligent guy, and he’s happy. So why move on from a positive experience?
In three seasons with the Padres and Rangers (2012-2014), Mikolas had a 5.32 ERA in 91.1 innings. He tried to be a power pitcher and failed. He spent the next three seasons with Yomiuri, reinventing himself and to become a sharp-control, high-groundball pitcher that could keep hitters off balance with a mix of five different pitches that he could throw for strikes. The Cardinals took a chance on Mikolas, and he reset a failing MLB career. He’s happy. The Cardinals are happy. So why mess with that?
“I’ve been a Cardinal fan for a long time,” Mikolas said at a news conference Friday at Camp Jupiter. “And coming back from Japan, this is the place I wanted to be. And this is the place I want to stay.”
By signing Mikolas, the Cardinals reinforced their rotation stability for 2024. Before striking the deal with Mikolas, the Cardinals had only one current starter, Steven Matz, under contract for next season.
If needed, the Cardinals can turn to depth starters such as Jake Woodford, Dakota Hudson and Matthew Liberatore beyond 2023. And they’re developing multiple starting-pitching prospects including Gordon Graceffo, Mike McGreevy and Tink Hence.
But for now, it’s nice for the Cardinals to know that they have Mikolas and Matz locked in through 2025. And that’s a plus — unless of course they spend substantial time on the IL.
A few notes about Mikolas:
— In his three healthy seasons he’s averaged 3.3 WAR, 195 and ⅔ innings, pitched to a 3.46 ERA.
— As a Cardinal he’s been selected for two NL All-Star and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018.
– Since 2018, among MLB starting pitchers that have worked at least 600 innings, Mikolas has the best walk rate at only 4.4 percent. That pool consists of 66 starters. And he has the 24th-lowest home run rate at 1.06 per nine innings.
— Mikolas thrives at his home yard, Busch Stadium. Among MLB starters that have pitched a minimum 300 innings in their home ballpark since 2018, Mikolas ranks sixth with a 2.61 ERA. The only dudes that have done better than that are Jacob deGrom (1.91), Justin Verlander (2.34), Blake Snell (2.54), Walker Buehler (2.54) and Chris Bassitt (.2.56.)
— Last season Mikolas ranked 12th among innings-qualified starters with a Quality Start percentage of 69% – just behind Max Scherzer (70%), Max Fried (70%) and Joe Musgrove (70%.)
— Mikolas gave up an average of 1.033 walks and hits per 9 innings last season; that WHIP was even better than what he did in 2018, his best big-league season.
— Mikolas has 46.4% ground-ball rate since 2018; that’s tied for 16th among MLB starters.
— If we expunge an outlier start that Mikolas had last season at the driving range known as Coors Field, Miles had a 2.88 ERA in his other 31 starts.
— Last season the Cardinals were 18-14 in games started by Mikolas. And he had an individual W-L record of 12-13. That doesn’t look good – does it? ? Well, let me put it this way: that’s a load of twaddle. In STL’s 14 losses with Mikolas as the starter the Cardinals scored a total of 22 runs – an average of 1.57 runs per start. His teammates scored no runs at all in five of the 14 lost starts.
— Mikolas suffered eight “losses” in Quality Start performances — the highest number of unfair losses in a quality start by a MLB starting pitcher in 2022. In his 24 QS Mikolas went 10-8 with six no-decisions. This is another reason why it can be foolish and misleading to evaluate a pitcher solely on his won-lost record.
Now that he’s around 20 months removed from the surgery to repair the torn flexor tendon, I think Mikolas will be even more effective in 2023. Miles works fast and shouldn’t be bothered by the new pitch clock. It should help him because last season he was frustrated by hitters stepping out of the box and engaging in other delay tactics to disrupt his rhythm. And he’s been very sharp this spring.
I see two objectives for Mikolas in 2023: pitch more consistently well on the road, and cut down on the number of homers (25) he gave up last season.
With Adam Wainwright set to retire after the season, Mikolas will take over the top leadership role among the Cardinal pitchers in 2024. And he’ll do a terrific job.
In some ways, the torch from Wainwright to Mikolas will be passed on Opening Day. With Waino on the IL with a strained groin muscle and unable to continue his streak of starting the home-opening game, Mikolas will take the ball and the assignment against the Blue Jays on Thursday at Busch Stadium.
“It’s a combination of a few dreams come true,” Mikolas said. “Opening Day in St. Louis is a special day, something I’ve seen since the first day I got to experience it myself. To help us get off on the right foot would be tremendous for me.
Mikolas was the obvious choice to make that start. Easily the Cardinals’ No. 1 starter during the entire 2022 season, he’s earned the assignment.
Thanks for reading …
I hope you have a happy weekend.
Bernie invites you to listen to his sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.
Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
Listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast on the Cardinals, featuring Will Leitch and Miklasz. It’s available on your preferred podcast platform. Or follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in this column were sourced from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.