Why Shelby Miller is struggling

Shelby Miller (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Shelby Miller (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports) /

Shelby Miller was supposed to the No. 2 starter that would go deep into games, give Chip Hale innings, and not only give his team a chance to win games, but to win games for his team.

Miller showed signs of ace like potentional with the Cardinals in 2013 and 2014 finishing with 15 wins and the tenth-lowest ERA (3.06) and the sixth lowest opponents batting average (.234) in ’13 as a 23-year-old rookie. Miller finished with a 3.74 ERA and he won 10 games in 2014.

Despite his success in 2013, 35.6 percent of contact off him was hard, the sixth-highest in baseball. He didn’t have a reliable secondary offering again in 2014, and once again over 30 percent of contact made was hard.

Than something changed in 2015: He threw the sinker more after adding it in 2014 to complement his four-seamer, and threw a cutter as well while ditching a weak change-up, which saw him use his curveball less. Instead of throwing one straight fastball, he mixed up his pitches throwing fastballs with vertical and horizontal movement in different situations.

As a result Miller became less predictable and more efficient. He was getting batters to swing at pitches out of the strike zone more often, his groundball rate jumped from 39 percent to 47 percent, his first pitch strike percentage went up, and he was actually getting more whiffs with his fourseamer because hitters for the first time didn’t know what was coming. His hard-hit ball percentage also went down as did his home-run-to-fly-ball rate.

The sinker also allowed him to get deeper into games because he wasn’t trying to overpower guys all the time, and he was getting outs early in counts and letting his defense turn double plays. His .285 BABIP and 73.8 left on base-percentage meant that he was due for a regression, but it’s clear he was evolving as a starter thanks to a more advanced repitorie of weapons.

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Through ten starts this season, Miller has a 7.09 ERA in just 45.2 IP. He has doubled his walk rate with 29 walks and 30 strikeouts this season, and his home run to fly ball rate has spiked from 6.4 to 17.9 while his ground ball-percentage has gone from 47 percent to 40 percent. Hard contact has gone up 12 percent to over 38 percent, the highest of his career.

Mechanical issues with his stride and delivery have been the main culprit, and it appears that the finger that he scrapped twice after falling off the mound earlier this year is still bothering him.

Not only is he probably hurt, but like Zack Greinke, he has lost life on his fastball, seeing it dip as low as 92 miles per hour as after averaging 95 miles per hour and touching 97 in Atlanta. For a pitcher that relies so heavily on that pitch, (78 of his 111 punch outs came on a heater) that is troubling.

Whats most troubling of all is that it is his and pitching coach Mike Butcher’s fault. In 2016, Miller’s sinker has been nonexistent, and he is once again relying on his four-seamer more than 60 percent of the time, while throwing his change-up more. Why a pitcher would revert back to something that didn’t work and abandon a pitch mix that did is baffling.

Miller has become a much more predictable one-pitch pitcher. His change-up is getting crushed and because he has been behind in the count so much, hitters are waiting and teeing up on his four-seamer– which they know is coming, and is coming with less velocity than it ever has.

Miller also isn’t getting batters to swing at pitches out of the zone suggesting again that he isn’t fooling anybody which leads to less whiffs and more hard contact. This tends to result in more fly balls and line drives, and more home runs.

Miller’s mechanics and velocity are certainly issues that should warrant a trip to the minors, but if he wants to turn around his season, he needs to mix his pitches, get hitters thinking, and keep them off balance.

I don’t know if Mike Butcher told Shelby to stop throwing so many two-seamers, but it needs to stop because when he was throwing cutters and sinkers as often as four-seamers he was the Shelby Miller the D-backs traded for.

Here is the bottom line: the 2015 version needs to get back in a hurry. If not, a move to the bullpen where he can throw an electric fastball for one inning might be his only option.