So why do I want to want Shelby Miller, and not actually want Shelby Miller? Well, it all began late in his aforementioned rookie season. He really ran out of gas in September it seemed, which led to him going conspicuously unused in the Cardinals postseason run despite being on the roster. His K-BB% declined to an atrocious 1.6% over 29.1 September innings. His ERA remained at 2.76 thanks to a charitable .242 BABIP, and he has in fact enjoyed a low BABIP throughout his 2 seasons in the majors.
So going into 2014 I was still optimistic on Miller, chalking up his late-season woes to simply running out of gas (despite no drop in velocity, which I failed to research). It was after all his rookie season, and those 173.1 innings were a career-high for him. However, 2014 ended up looking a lot like late 2013, much to the chagrin of all those poor Shelby Miller owners, myself included. His K/9 fell like a drunken stripper from a pole, from 8.78 in '13 to 6.25. To make matters even worse, his control regressed and he posted a 3.59 BB/9 after walking only 2.96 per 9 in his rookie campaign. And things could have been much worse, as his ERA was actually ¾ of a run lower than his ERA estimators. So many people were expecting positive movement in his numbers in his sophomore season, yet he went backwards in a rather significant way. So...what the Hell?
Well, the main knock on Miller has to be that he's still basically a two-pitch pitcher. Hitters adjusted to Miller's repertoire in '14, and Miller failed to adjust back to them. As he did in his rookie year, he has used his fastball/slider combo almost exclusively, a whopping 89.7% in '13 and 91.5% of the time in '14. He has begun to incorporate a cutter that has delivered an above-average ground ball rate, but is still not a great pitch. He essentially scrapped his worthless changeup in '14 in lieu of a sinker, which isn't a great pitch either, but the real problem lies in his curveball. What is supposed to be his bread and butter swing-and-miss pitch, he had a meager swinging strike rate of 4.7% with it. Opposing batters stopped swinging at the pitch, and his reach rate (swings generated outside of the strike zone) on curveballs dropped from 30% in '13 to 23% this year. The velocity on his curveball also dipped 2.4 MPH from '13. So essentially opposing hitters are recognizing the curveball, and instead of swinging at it, they're letting it go and taking it as a ball more frequently, contributing to his elevated walks.
There's a whole lot of negativity in that previous paragraph. I prefer to be a ray of sunshine though, so I can't help but dwell on the bright sides. He's still only 24, and he at the very least recognizes that he needs to develop a stronger third pitch, or he's doomed to either mediocrity or the bullpen. He's also got arguably the best catcher in baseball behind the plate in Yadier Molina to help him with his pitch sequencing and framing. He's still got a great fastball with premium velocity. I also can't help but think that if he makes an adjustment to his mechanics, perhaps he could better command his pitches and stop hanging his curveball, which has made him fly-ball and homer-prone in his first two MLB seasons.
I'll be watching him closely in spring training next year, hoping to see a third pitch and improved command. More likely however, I'll be actively avoiding him until he's shown he can fix himself and coax some swings and misses once again. In fact, I may be selling him in keeper/dynasty formats if I can still get great value for his youth, pedigree and deceiving sub-4 ERA.
*These claims, made by myself, are yet to be confirmed by Shelby Miller.