Last year Shelby Miller had a sophomore slump that saw him be worth 0.5 WAR over the course of 31 starts, a very poor number for such a highly regarded prospect coming off of an impressive rookie campaign. Miller was able to net a more respectable ERA than his WAR would suggest, for the second year running, but his strikeouts were down and walks were up, which we all know and understand to be a very dangerous and ominous combination.
Midway through the year Miller decided to tinker with his fastball. Blessed with a 93 mile per hour fastball, Miller had understandably been a four-seam heavy pitcher for the entirety of his professional career. In being a four-seam heavy pitcher and not receiving the type of results he was looking for, Miller moved to a two-seamer/sinker approach and recorded a 2.92 ERA in the second half last year, even though his 4.20 FIP was still not very impressive, it was better than his first half mark of 4.77. Much of his improved production was backed by a big decrease in his line drive rate, from 21.6% in the first half to 15.1% in the second half, along with a big decrease in his walk rate.
So far this year, the two-seamer has been Miller’s most utilized pitch. From last winter to this year Miller also added a cut-fastball, which has been his best pitch in terms of PITCHf/x pitch values. The change in approach has turned Miller from a fly ball heavy pitcher to having a more ground-ball oriented arsenal. The high points for Miller and his new arsenal have been in his past two outings, in which he has thrown a complete game shutout against the Phillies along with a seven inning, nine strikeout performance against the Reds – whom he will face again tonight.
The numbers overall for Miller are still somewhat concerning, considering his .206 BABIP and two run difference between his ERA and his FIP. But this is where I think the argument for Miller comes in. He is still an under 25-year-old pitcher and is just getting a feel for what has been his best pitch this season. Combine the new cutter, ditching his changeup, and his sinker becoming his most commonly utilized pitch, and you have a pitcher who could still be improving that already has good standard fantasy numbers.
Miller has historically had home run problems but getting more ground balls will likely allow him to limit home runs at a better rate than in the past. Even though the numbers suggest some regression with Miller, I like the new arsenal he has put together especially given that his infield has Andrelton Simmons at shortstop. It is difficult to say that Miller is certainly going to be a guy that outperforms his peripherals, but even if he does regress toward his peripherals I expect as he gets more feel for his sinker and cutter that the peripherals themselves improve. If you are looking for a starter to trade for in a “buy high” situation, I think Miller is a quality target that can provide excess value over the course of the season.
Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.