Shelby Miller’s pitch usage changed last year. Per PITCHf/x, his cutter percentage jumped from 5.8% to 20.7% while his curveball percentage fell from 19.5% to 9.7%. He also employed his fastball differently. His four-seam — a pitch known for its explosiveness — was thrown just 32.7% of the time, down from 61.6%. Conversely, his two-seam percentage climbed from 10.3% to 33.8% (and his ground-ball rate rose from 39.9% to 47.7%).
The hard-throwing right-hander’s changeup usage remained relatively static, inching down from 2.4% to 2.2%.
Miller had success with his new approach. In his first-and-only season with the Braves, the former Cardinal established a new career high in innings pitched, and his 3.02 ERA, 3.45 FIP and 0.57 HR/9 were career lows.
Earlier this week, I asked the 25-year-old Arizona Diamondback about the thought-process behind his changes, and whether we might see anything different this season.
Miller on throwing more two-seamers: “I knew it could help me get deeper into games and be a more efficient pitcher. In 2013 and 2014, in St. Louis, I relied on my four-seamer a lot. I’d go five innings, five-plus, six once in awhile. I wasn’t getting deep; I wasn’t getting into to the seventh and eighth like I wanted to.
“I throw a lot of fastballs. When you throw four-seams the whole time, guys foul them off. And it’s flat, so they see it better. I know that mine [has good carry], so I do use it a lot up in the zone. It’s still one of my favorite pitches. It’s what I control the best and I rely on it a lot.
“When you’re only throwing a four-seamer, guys see it and see it and see it. I think you have to mix it up. A sinker is a great pitch. It looks like a four-seam fastball and at the last second it moves. It has a couple inches of sink, which can be the difference between a fly ball and a ground ball.
“The sinker allows me to give a hitter a different look. Everybody is different. Some hitters are better than others, and some people hit sinkers better than others. It’s really more about going in with a game plan. You’re not trying to overpower guys with sinkers. It’s more a pitch for double-play situations and early in the count when you’re trying to get ground balls. You have longer at bats and you have shorter at-bats, and my motto is, ‘Try to get guys out with three pitches or less.’”
On throwing more cutters and fewer curveballs: “I threw more [cutters] last year because I was successful with it. I was throwing it for strikes and getting results. I’m a guy where, if it’s working for me, I don’t really change it up. For the most part, whatever feels good that day, that’s what you go with.
“One of my priorities coming into this year is to work on my curveball and make it sharp again. I feel like I’ve always had a decent curveball, but all of your pitches can get better.
“I didn’t really lose the feel on my curveball last year. I’d flash it every once in awhile. It’s a good pitch to have, I just didn’t use it a lot. It’s one of those weird things where I was just kind of going with the flow.”
On his changeup/splitter: “I’ve started throwing a split-finger. I throw it as hard as I can and when it works good it dives straight down. I do that off my sinker. My grip is the same except my fingers are a little wider. That way it looks like the same pitch. You want the same spin. If the hitter sees the ball spinning in one direction, and then he sees something spinning in the other direction, it looks different and he’ll lay off it.
“You want all of your pitches to come out of the same arm slot, and then halfway, start breaking in a different direction. And the more pitches you have, the more is in the back of hitters’ heads. At the same time, you have to be able to control them. They have to know that you’re able to command something and throw it for a strike or they’re going to erase that pitch. I think the split is going to be a big pitch for me. Like the curve, I think I’ll be throwing it more than I did last year.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.