Pondering Shelby Miller


Shelby Miller may be the biggest enigma on the Cardinals opening day roster. Consider the facts that we have come to know about Miller over the last year:

  • Last season he started 31 games, won 15, and had a 3.06 ERA
  • In 2013 he finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting
  • He pitched all of 1 inning in the postseason
  • Of his 31 starts in 2013, he completed at least 6 innings in only 15
  • In Spring Training this year he started 4 games, pitched 13.2 innings, and had a 5.93 ERA
  • Miller will not turn 24 years of age until October

Every Cardinal fan watching games last year knew that Miller had a bad habit of running up pitch counts. The need to get guys out, and to do so expediently is something that young pitchers often struggle with. To illustrate my point let’s use Adam Wainwright as a benchmark. Last year Wainwright threw 3,928 pitches in 241.2 innings. Miller threw 2,933 pitches in 173.1 innings. Using these numbers we see that Miller’s inning count is 71.7% of Wainwrights, but his pitch count is 74.6%. Three percent may not sound like much, but over the course of a season you can see where Miller, perhaps due primarily to youth and inexperience, needs to become a more effective pitcher at punching guys out rather than letting innings drag on.

Just the facts about Miller leave me unsure of entirely what to expect. Some of it is great, and there are a couple of reasons for concern. I think he is going to be a really good pitcher for years to come, but I do feel some pause. Some of the doubt about Miller comes, not from anything factual or statistical, but from a feeling. He is young, and young players can be very hard to get a handle on. When we saw Michael Wacha in October he was pitching some of the best playoff baseball in history. At the same time Miller was in Siberia somewhere after having accidentally run over Mike Matheny‘s dog with his Range Rover.* This is not a fair comparison, but no one ever said life, or baseball fans were fair. Just needing something to improve on is not in and of itself a cause for concern. It just makes it difficult to know exactly what is coming.

Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection for Miller this year has him pitching 208 innings and winning seventeen games with an ERA of 3.20. If that happens, Miller has made some improvements, and I think we would all be happy with that result.

*Clearly this is not the real story. I do not know if Matheny has a dog, or if Miller owns a Range Rover, but it makes as much sense as the official story last October.