Shelby Miller continued his Jekyll and Hyde routine on Saturday with 6.2 innings of four hit, one run ball in route to his eighth win and a 4-1 Cardinal victory. Miller struck out seven while democratically registering eight ground balls and eight flyballs.
Which leads me to my next question, who is this guy for real?
We’ve seen the best and worst of Shelby at this point. We all saw him last season, at 22-years-old, pitch what was in essence a perfect game against the Colorado Rockies on May 10th, retiring 27 straight batters while striking out 13. The performance, at that point, gave Miller a 5-2 record and a microscopic 1.58 ERA. Everyone was on the Shelby Miller bandwagon, and rightfully so.
But Miller has made it hard on fans and management as a whole. This man has more highs and lows than Alexander McQueen, teasing us with his immense talent one day but then five days later seeming to be on cruise control and lacking a legitimate breaking pitch.
Month-to-month, Miller has been largely unpredictable as well over the course of his young career. Here is a lightning round of Miller’s monthly ERA totals, dating back to last season.
2013 2.05, 1.99, 4.31, 2.78, 4.55, 2.76
2014 3.15, 4.94, 1.99
This isn’t a bad run or anything. It’s actual a relatively solid body of work over your first season-and-a-half in the big leagues. What I don’t like about it is that it makes it very difficult to know what you’re getting everyday. Outside of the first two months of 2013, Miller’s ERA deviates by about two full runs every month. Let me repeat that. Miller’s ERA deviates by almost two full runs between Every. Single. Month.
Now, the inability to produce consistent results is the first part of the problem when it comes to decoding who Shelby Miller is. The second part is that he seems to be getting worse results in his second full season in the majors, but not pitching much differently than last year. Just about every metric you look at will tell you that Miller is getting hit harder this year than last year. His WHIP, FIP, ERA, HR rate and walk percentage are all up. His K-Rate and velocity numbers are down. His -.01 WAR suggests that he’s hurt the team more than he has helped them this year.
While Miller has certainly been a more than serviceable starting pitcher during his time in the rotation, the inability to predict the outcome of his starts makes him hard to evaluate. When Miller was originally drafted, he profiled as an innings-eating, top-of-the-rotation workhorse who could form a two-headed monster with Adam Wainwright. That’s not to say that he can’t still become that. The guy is only 23 and has a ton of maturing to do, something that he’s done a lot of in the past couple of years since being suspended from the Springfield Cardinals in 2012 for drinking and fighting in a nightclub as a 20-year-old. He also has an excellent mentor who can push him to the next level in his development. He could also very easily not develop the curveball that has largely eluded him as a major leaguer and simply plateau where he is currently, an above average, middle-rotation starting pitcher who shows flashes of brilliance but lacks consistency. He could be Matt Latos or Chris Tillman.
The Cardinals need to see Miller pitch with more consistency if he is going to stick around in St. Louis. While Matt Adams is the juiciest piece of trade bait the team has, Miller is right there behind him. Teams will see high upside in Miller with another two seasons to develop him before he becomes really expensive. The Cards have pitching in droves and if they want to make a big splash, they could find themselves seeing a deal hinge on Shelby’s availability. They would just like to know at some point exactly what kind of pitcher they would be making available.
(Photo Courtesy of Sports Illustrated)