I will admit to being someone, who chases velocity from starting pitchers. If you followed my work in the past, you know that I salivated over Nathan Eovaldi on annual basis (and even this year was praying my favorite team would take a flier on him as he recovers from Tommy John).
I also admit that on this week’s edition of the Villar Village, I cheated. Spring training allowed me to peek behind the current, see clues that will help answer some of my questions and now, I am putting them to good use. I am going to tell you why Shelby Miller (NFBC ADP: 432.48) demands your immediate attention – and I am certain that I will not be the only one.
Before even touching on the latest developments with Miller, the price is laughably low even off what was an abysmal year. In both 2013 and 2015, Miller posted quality fantasy seasons (2013 and 2015) and at one time, was considered a premium pitching prospect with a 60 Future Value on FanGraphs. One would think that he warrants a pick higher than 400 in ADP.
Granted, there is nothing good in Miller’s profile from last year and that probably explains why. His mechanics were a mess – he was dragging his knuckles along the dirt on his follow-through. Miller’s Ks and swing-strike rate evaporated and the walks went up. In a less favorable ballpark and a crazed home run climate, the homers surged on him. He was too easy to make contact on inside and outside the zone.
In short, Miller’s 2016 gave us a new definition to meaning of “floor” in fantasy baseball. He sunk the bar so low, we need to call in James Cameron to find the bar and raise it up again.
Even though peripherals were also bad, they both shave at least a run off his 6.15 ERA (4.87 FIP and 5.06 xFIP). Clearly, Miller has a long way to go up from 2016 before he becomes a useful fantasy starting pitcher again. Did 2016 offer any hope at all?
Well, first, the fact that the mechanics were so off tells you that is not necessarily a loss in skill by Miller, but that he simply lost his mechanics. The starting pitcher, who posted good numbers in 2013 and 2015, might still be in there in terms of skills. Although he posted better results (3,98 ERA) in his last 31.2 inning, after a trip to the minors, those results were mostly due to a miniscule HR/FB rate (2.4%). So in short, the best news regarding Miller from 2016 is that there’s a correctable issue – his delivery… It’s a matter of whether he can figure it out.
His ADP is also probably weighed down by the uncertainty surrounding him. Despite paying a hefty trade price for Miller, the Diamondbacks did not guarantee him a spot in a crowded rotation.
Now, moving onto Spring Training, where hope springs eternal, Miller has pitched in two outings. Through five spring training innings, Miller has a 3.60 ERA, a 0.80 WHIP, 9 Ks and 0 BBs. This is an admittedly minute and unreliable sample of innings, but there is one major difference through these five spring training innings – Miller is pumping absolute heat. Universally, his velocity is up year-over-year and depending on the source, he is way up.
Brooks Baseball has him at 95.31 MPH in February 2017 up from 93.54 MPH in March 2016. Jeff Zimmerman from FanGraphs has Miller at 95.5 MPH on Ferbuary 25, 2017 up from 93 MPH in 2016. Neither of these sources account for last night – March 2, 2017 – when according to Diamondbacks beat-writer Nick Piecoro, Miller hit 97 MPH seven times in the first inning. He carried that elite level of velocity through to the third inning when he ended his night with a punchout of Kyle Schwarber looking.
I do not think it is some fluke that Miller is throwing harder. As you can see on Zimmerman’s spreadsheet, several Diamondbacks pitchers are throwing harder. It could be a fast gun or could also be an organizational thing regarding effort or mechanics or both. Regardless, this development is extremely important because last year marked the first time that Miller’s fastball produced a negative value – it has always been a plus pitch.
The velocity gains could return it to the land of being a plus pitch and then all of his other pitches will play better with that weapon in his quiver. Also, consider that the Diamondbacks went from one of the best defensive teams in 2015 to one of the worst in 2016. They are returning one of the best centerfielders in the game (A.J. Pollock) and a pretty good corner outfielder (David Peralta) to full-time roles. This could key a major defensive improvement, which will aid Miller when the ball is put in play.
The best part of this selection – he’s free. You take the shot, if the velocity holds and the results follow – paydirt. If it does not hold or if it does, but it doesn’t make a difference – it’s zero cost and you can play the wait and see game so you do not incur the damage.
Shelby Miller – welcome to the Villar Village!