Yes. No. Maybe? I don’t know. 2012 has been an enigmatic year for the 21-year-old Texan. After being rated highly coming into the year Shelby Miller is the not-so-proud owner of a 5.19 ERA with Triple-A Memphis. To make matters worse, his maturity and makeup have been questioned – or depending on who you speak to, continue to be questioned. But, his in last few starts Miller has surged. Is he ready to face his most important task to date, helping your fantasy team?
Miller’s success is due to his fantastic ability to change batters’ eye level by deploying an above average fastball and plus curve. As Miller will tell you he had a little problem.
“I was really stubborn earl[ier in the year] with my fastball. It’s all I wanted to throw, but it ended up inside a lot. These guys were hitting it pretty well.”
When Miller was relying on his fastball, hitters were sitting on the pitch. Hence the bloated ERA. But recently Miller has incorporated his curveball more. A lot more. When he’s at his best he is throwing a wipeout curve at the knees on both sides of the plate, to both righties and lefties. Why is this so important? Two intermingled reasons. First, Miller’s fastball is much more devastating when it’s up in the strike zone. It’s not just due to the scientific concept of effective velocity that extremely intelligent Trevor Bauer has promoted. Miller’s fastball just has more life when its up, featuring arm-side run and even Matt Cain-eqse rise. But, Miller needs to get the ball above the belt for the movement to be apparent. Without the curveball, Miller’s primary offering in the lower half of the strikezone was the least effective version of his fastball. While the pitch still had good velocity, it had no horizontal movement and hitters teed off.
The increased use of his curveball allows Miller to pound the lower half more effectively with his fastball by keeping the curveball in the back of hitters’ minds. For the same reason, he’s able to climb the ladder more effectively too. It can’t be overstated how important the increased use of his curveball has been to his recent success.
But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns. While Miller’s fastball command has leaped forward in his past few starts he still misses in the middle of the plate far too often. Most of the time, because he’s throwing hard, he’s able to get away with it at Triple-A. In a start against Tacoma, shortstop prospect Nick Franklin swung and missed at a half dozen of such pitches. But, then there are the guys who connect. Left-handed monster Luis Antonio Jimenez hit a middle-in fastball for the furthest homerun I have ever seen (an the announcer of the game agreed). The concern, of course, is that major league hitters don’t swing through Miller’s fastball.
The other concern is that Miller doesn’t seem to throw a change-up. While watching three of his last six starts, I counted very few change-ups. Initially that wasn’t overly concerning because both his pitches grade highly. But following my write up of Taylor Guerrieri I was speaking with accomplished Fangraphs author Mike Newman who expressed concern that he only saw a true two pitch mix from the Rays’ righty. Fastball/Curveball. He noted that there weren’t many right-handed pitchers who were successful with that arsenal and that it proved more effective for left-handed starters. Mike’s point had me second guessing how successful Guerrieri and similar arms may be. Miller included.
Nevertheless, Miller is a must add to your fantasy squad. At the very least you can start him against the Cubs, Pirates, and Astros and other weak line-ups while you monitor his major league success. Ah, the beauty of being in the NL. The chance Miller falls back in love with his fastball is light, as MiLB.com reported, around the All-Star break, the team forbid Miller from shaking off catcher Bryan Anderson. It’s unlikely he would have the guts to shake off Yadir Molina once he’s finally given the chance to prove himself against baseball’s best. Miller may not be the pitcher many, myself included, thought he would be, but should he be called up, he can be a very useful pitcher for the remainder of the year.