It’s Rock Bottom for Shelby Miller

Shelby Miller just started his tenth game of the season. He has, to his name, all of one single quality start. It came a few weeks ago, in Atlanta, where Miller went to work against one of the worst team offenses in recent baseball history. Miller was removed after the six-inning minimum. He racked up one strikeout, to go with a pair of walks. He also hit a guy. That guy was Erick Aybar, who has a .423 OPS. In Miller’s one quality start, he was statistically bad. Then there are the nine other starts.

In an era of fair and balanced transactions, no offseason move got even a fraction of the criticism of Arizona’s Shelby Miller trade. Those opposed to the move believed the Diamondbacks overpaid for a non-elite starting pitcher. FanGraphs, of course, figured the Braves made out like bandits, and that also happened to be the industry consensus. But to be absolutely clear, no one back then thought that Miller was anything less than a legitimate No. 3. The criticism then had to do with Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson. If anything, there were indications Miller might’ve been on the verge of breaking out. At the moment, he’s a shell of himself. Miller has gone completely awry, and he and the Diamondbacks are suffering.

What does rock bottom look like for a big-league starting pitcher? I guess it would look like losing your job. Getting sent to the bullpen, or, worse, getting sent to the minors, or dropped outright. Miller, for the time being, remains a part of the Arizona rotation, but he’s at sort of a relative rock bottom. Tuesday, he was awful against the Pirates. Now here’s his season line, converted to percentile rankings in various important categories. This is out of all pitchers in the majors with at least 20 innings.

miller-percentile-ranks

Miller has been horrible across the board. People have been worried about Chris Archer, but at least he has his strikeouts. When people were worried about David Price, he had his strikeouts and walks under control. Miller hasn’t struck enough batters out. He’s walked entirely too many — he’s at 29, to go with 30 whiffs. And the batted balls have gotten pounded, so there hasn’t even been modest contact, which has previously been a Miller specialty. If you don’t like hard-hit rate, Statcast agrees that Miller has been hit hard. Everything bad you could imagine — statistically, it’s all been happening. Miller is completely wrong.

It’s not necessarily his first time going through this. That provides some hope; Miller has scuffled before. Back in 2014, there was a 16-start stretch during which Miller had 45 walks and 59 strikeouts. His hard-hit rate was up, and Miller just appeared to be wonky. He got better from there; eventually, he was deemed worth the Arizona trade package. But Miller didn’t struggle like this. This is the lowest point. And what’s funny is, at a glance, it’s hard to see what’s going on. Here’s Miller from last year, when he was fine:

Here’s Miller from Tuesday, in a bad start in a bad month in a bad season:

One of those pitchers got a blockbuster trade return. One of those pitchers is living a nightmare. In case you ever lose perspective, this is how tough it is to be successful in the major leagues. Somewhere in here is the line between being a good starter and being one of the very worst starters at the level.

When something like this is happening, it’s not just a problem with pitch selection. And while Miller’s velocity is down, it’s not way down, and look at that Pirates clip above. Miller actually just had good velocity on Tuesday. He still got knocked around, suggesting a problem with location, suggesting a problem with mechanics. I don’t think that Miller is hurt. I’m sure he’s beat up, psychologically, and that can wear on a guy, but I assume Miller just doesn’t have his comfortable delivery.

It’s time to speculate about that! It’s time for an amateur dive into pitching mechanics. All the usual caveats apply here. What follows might very well not be insightful, but I feel enough like I might be on to something that I’m going forward with this. We’ll see Miller throwing fastballs in 2015 and 2016. On the left, last year; on the right, Tuesday. The angles are almost identical.

miller-comp-1-2

This is Miller at his maximum, I don’t know, reach-back. I’ve added some red lines to show how Miller collapses on his right leg. Everyone collapses on the back leg, but there is something here, something I observed in several other clips. The visual angle from last year is slightly obtuse. The visual angle from this year is slightly acute. That means that Miller is either collapsing more, or he’s collapsing earlier. Either one would be a meaningful change. Collapsing earlier would throw off his timing. Collapsing more would alter the plane, and change how Miller generates force.

Here’s the same set of pictures, but looking at something else:

miller-comp-1

Last year, Miller reached more behind his back. You don’t see that on the right — his hand and the ball are in front of his hip, visually, whereas on the left, there’s space between them and Miller’s butt. The left arm looks about the same, so it’s not an issue of full shoulder rotation. It’s more like partial rotation. Last year, there was more time for Miller’s arm to generate speed. In the image on the right, there’s just less distance to go between the ball and the eventual release point. Seems like it could be compensating for a timing problem.

Here’s our last image pair, showing Miller at release:

miller-comp-2

The release points themselves aren’t too dissimilar. Visually, you see the ball a little above home plate, to the right side. What’s different is how the ball is getting to the release point. Miller on the left has a lesser arm angle than Miller on the right. On the right, Miller is reaching higher, which could have to do with collapsing so low. It might be a way to try to regain lost height. Maybe this is just something that happens when Miller’s delivery is slightly rushed. If he’s collapsing early, that kicks everything off, and then the arm isn’t totally in sync. When the arm’s out of sync, the pitches are out of sync, and baseballs don’t go where they’re supposed to.

Mechanically, I’m an idiot. I don’t know Shelby Miller’s mechanics like Shelby Miller, nor do I know them like Miller’s coaches. They’ve been working on him for weeks, and they could have their own suspicions. What is evident is that Miller isn’t yet fixed. They’ll keep trying, but the season keeps going, and the numbers keep getting worse. You wonder if they could even get any worse.

That’s what’s known: performance-wise, Shelby Miller is at rock bottom. My guess is what’s featured above; I think his delivery might be off from the start, and that would leave him out of whack. If this is an issue with Miller’s right leg, that seems like the kind of thing that could and should be fixed. There’s not actually all that great a distance between this version of Shelby Miller and a successful one. You could forgive Miller if he feels like he’s a million miles away.

We hoped you liked reading It’s Rock Bottom for Shelby Miller by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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LHPSU
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LHPSU

Dansby Swanson in A+ and AA this year: .316/.409/.503 in 198 PAs, 25:23 BB:SO, 4 HRs, 10 of 12 on steals.

You’re welcome.

RonnieDobbs
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RonnieDobbs

I am sure that they are feeling fine about moving Inciarte at his peak.

srpst23
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srpst23

Well even with only 0.2 WAR, Ender is worth almost a full win more than Shelby right now so….

RonnieDobbs
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RonnieDobbs

That doesn’t change that they sold him at his peak

JediHoyer
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JediHoyer

Babip 50 points below career, was hurt, most likely will add some baserunning and is already still a positive player?

Barnard
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Member
Barnard

I mean, I don’t think losing Dansby Swanson himself is necessarily that unfortunate because the Diamondbacks have a wealth of middle infielders in their system that are competent at the minimum. This all just looks especially bad because Miller has cratered.

JediHoyer
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JediHoyer

I’m sure glad the cubs didn’t think this way when they got russell after they already had castro and baez.

Barnard
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Member
Barnard

Javier Baez is not that good to put it kindly and Starlin Castro was coming off a pretty bad season when they acquired Russell if I remember correctly. Not really a useful comparison

JediHoyer
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JediHoyer

Castro was in the midst of his best season, baez was a top 10 prospect at the time.

JediHoyer
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JediHoyer

http://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/midseason-top-50-injury-cant-knock-buxton-1/#feOPpfb7RQ7D1QyG.97
And if baez is not that good who are the wealth of middle infielders that are leaps and bounds better?

Barnard
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Member
Barnard

Brandon Drury, Chris Owings, Jean Segura at the ML level. Jack Reinheimer in AAA. Jamie Westbrook & Ildemaro Vargas in AA.

My point wasn’t so much to knock Swanson down, more so just to state that the Diamondbacks dealt from a position of strength, and that the value of what they have in place should be accounted for when considering the future value they traded away. They just missed the ball on valuing Miller, and there’s no debating that.

JediHoyer
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JediHoyer

1) they acquired segura after the Miller trade, so counterintuitive to your point to include him
2) baez is 23, last year Owings was 23 for half the year and was -1.4 war.
3) drury is a 3b/of. Why include him up the middle? (again baez is younger as well)
4) reinhamer is also older than baez an has been an average aaa hitter
5) westbrook is the first interesting up the middle guy, he however is a second baseman.
6) vargas is 25 and still in AA.
In summation SS wasn’t a position of strength, and none of these guys are leaps and bounds better. Baez is only older than westbrook and had the best minors track record. Too early to dismiss that.

Barnard
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Member
Barnard

1) not counterintuitive; I’m attempting to make the point that the loss of future value from trading Dansby is somewhat countered by the gained present/potential future value of what’s in place. Segura is in place and providing the D’backs value as of right now.
2) owings was worth ~2 WAR the previous two seasons before his 2015.
3) drury played 50% of his games at 2B in 2015; not as many this year but it’s not inconceivable to consider him as a MIF/utility guy overall.
4-6) okay

Didn’t mean to step on your toes about Javier Baez or start a debate about his future

JediHoyer
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JediHoyer

You said they traded Swanson from depth, including their starter whom they had to trade for after the fact does not make sense. He wasn’t in their depth chart when Swanson was dealt.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

Yeah it’s not about baez, I just don’t think their is depth at ss. And I thought the fact they traded for their ss after the fact was proof. Like if the rays traded keirnaeir then a month later decided to go get mike trout I don’t think you can include trout as them trading from depth.

rbemont
Member
rbemont

True. I think everyone around FO in MLB understands that if you can play MI at the professional level, then you can learn any other position if you have a quality MLB bat.

I think people involved in sabermetrics and scouting have known this for a long time, it’s nothing new. But, I do hear it talked about more frequently on MLB network … meaning that more casual fans should be aware of this and stockpiling “middle infield prospects” should never be viewed as a bad thing. It’s like saying “They have too many pitchers throwing 97+ in their system.”

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At this point are we still looking at Baez as a prospect or long-term solution? To me, he seems like the guy that will always get included in trades because (1) he has some power and (2) enough GM/coaches are arrogant enough to think they are the one to “fix” (aka, the bad boyfriend scenario).

———————————————-

I feel the same way about Diaz & Peralta in StL. Move Diaz to 2B and get Wong some help in AA/AAA.

JediHoyer
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JediHoyer

I still feel he is a prospect, but right now there isn’t anywhere for him to get everyday at bats and he has shown value as a utility guy. He failed in 52 games as a 21 year old but has been worth .9 war in 61 games since. My point was mainly above average hitting shortstops are such a valuable commodity because they will most likely be pluses anywhere in the infield, possibly even c.f..

cornflake5000
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cornflake5000

Also a Cubs fan… RE: Baez… I haven’t paid attention to his offensive stats. I’ve heard he’s cut down on his Ks. He’s been playing outstanding defense at multiple positions and could be their best defensive infielder (this is by word of mouth, stats may not back it up) His ceiling is still there, but there’s also a chance he’s just a very good utility guy like Jedi says.

One of the things Cubs management did when they first called him up in ’14 was just let him play with no instruction. They wanted to give him 40 games or so to shock him. They let him fail because he has so much natural ability that he wasn’t really listening to coaching. He’s got the skills and he’s playing better, but I can’t honestly tell you he’ll be a star.