Critiquing Shelby Miller

The St. Louis Cardinals selected Shelby Miller in the first round of the 2009 amateur draft. A prototypical power pitcher, the “Texas Tornado”, a high schooler, threw in the high 90’s and could control a hard curveball. Outside of a blip at the beginning of last year in Triple A, his rise has been steady. He’s been a blue-chipper to whom things have come easily. He currently starts at the big league level, and pitches today against the Atlanta Braves.

Miller is only 23. There’s time to work things out. Still, he’s not satisfied with his results. Here are some particulars:

Ben Humphrey of VivaElBirdos wrote a very good story on Miller at the beginning of the week. Miller is allowing almost 1.5 baserunners per inning. He leads the National League in walks, and is striking out fewer hitters than last season. The league average for stranding runners on base is around 71%. Miller strands runners 92% of the time. He also leads the majors in what is called “Well-Hit Average”–hitters average .233 on pitches they smash in his outings.

Many hitters who frequently make hard contact historically have higher batting averages on balls in play than those who don’t.  Matt Holliday and Michael Morse, for instance, find more batted balls become hits for this reason.  Shelby Miller‘s babip is .250, well below the league average babip of .300. Despite the fact that he gets hit hard, Miller suppresses damage by sheer will, it appears. His babip is almost as low as his league-worst hard hit average!  It can’t continue. Mediocrity this way cometh!

The upshot: Shelby Miller approaches a turning point. He cannot continue to strand runners at an above average rate while walking so many, striking out so few, and suppressing hits better than most pitchers. He’s down to one pitch–the fastball. Starting pitchers, barring the anomaly called Bartolo Colon, cannot live by fastballs alone.

A major league scout said this week that Miller’s stuff grades out pretty well, but one comes away disappointed. He’s mediocre, until he masters a secondary offering. Miller and Lance Lynn throw fastballs about 70% of the time, which is high-ish. I compare the two in the video.

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