The Continued Flogging of Garcia and Miller

It's unclear if Shelby Miller is watching this game maturely. - Jeff Curry

If perfection is the expectation, disappointment will be the result.

Here are two pitching lines:

IP R H K BB HR
5.2 1 2 4 4 1
5.1 2 4 4 4 1

On balance, those two lines aren't that far off from one another. They're both showing control issues. They both failed to make it out of the 6th inning. The strikeouts are nice. The first is Jaime Garcia's start. The second is Shelby Miller's.

There's been a focus on Jaime during the offseason and giving him something of a project. A project to think less because ... well, because of course. The club is working to refine Jaime Garcia's mindset. They want him to focus on just making pitches. Just doing. Just being. Just.

It's the ongoing saga of Jaime Garcia encapsulated in the media's ongoing narrative of the ongoing saga of Jaime Garcia. It's bookended nicely today on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's website with a piece from columnist Joe Strauss who, when not taking pot shots, lobs bombs such as this:

In less than four years, Shelby Miller has carried a stigma and been considered an enigma. His time with the Memphis Redbirds early last season seemed an eternity.

[...]

He loved his fastball and refused to let off-speed pitches encroach on the relationship. There were those in the Cardinals clubhouse who classified him as "a pitching Rasmus," not a compliment.

It's tawdry writing at best. What is frustrating about both the Garcia piece and the Miller piece is the absence of context. Garcia might well be a mental wreck but this is also the player who had a 2.97 FIP in 2012. Miller may not have been the most mature prospect -- ever an elusive title -- but he was a top rated prospect.

There's an unpleasant undercurrent to these stories that these players aren't succeeding because of character issues. Garcia is too weak mentally and Miller is too stubborn. It's an undercurrent that ignores reality.

Maybe Garcia and Miller could both be better pitchers but it seems important to acknowledge that for all their alleged flaws they've been damn good pitchers to date. Framing the question as indicative of how much better the club or the manager thinks they could be instead of how they'll finally be good once they solve their character issue would go a long way towards reflecting reality rather than armchair psychology. From the Garcia article:

There is little doubt within the clubhouse that Garcia has some of the best pure stuff of any Cardinals starter and could be one of the league’s top lefties. Matheny mused this spring that Garcia would trust his stuff more if he could stand at the plate and see it for himself.

It's entirely possible that Jaime Garcia would trust his stuff more if he could see it but it's worth noting that he already is one of the league's top lefties. With a min 120 innings in 2012, Garcia trailed only Gio Gonzalez and Clayton Kershaw in FIP. He was 6th overall. What is the baseline performance required of Garcia before it's acknowledged that he's a great pitcher. Could he pitch more innings? Sure. Could he be better on the road? Sure. Does his "mental state" preclude him from being great? Not as far as the results have shown.

Miller though, Miller committed a more egregious sin:

No advanced metric exists for maturity. But when an underage pitcher gets popped for drinking and is later suspended by the parent club for a dust-up at a Springfield apartment complex, it’s fair to say enough is enough.

Miller drank while he was underage. Surely that is a first for both prospects and just people in general in the United States.

When does Miller get to live that down? How many strikeouts allow us to forgive such a minor offense? The faux outrage and continued usage of his incident as an oratory cudgel is unseemly. I'm grateful my indiscretions from age 20 aren't brought up years after they happened. Miller made a mistake, which I suspect even he would admit at this point. For all that, his mistake was handled by the club ... and he struck out 170 batters in 140 innings that season.

Maybe this is the result of the Cardinals recent success. The bar is set too high. A top 10 lefty in the league is labeled as a "beguiling lefty". A top prospect in the entirety of the minor leagues is labelled a "talent scared straight".

It's not even necessary to contest the pejoratives to notice that the articles are scant on real context. That's largely because the context doesn't support the pejoratives. It's okay to want Jaime Garcia to be better or more consistent or reach the 200 inning plateau. It's wise to want Shelby Miller to listen to advice at times. Coaches are not infallible though and a player's character weaknesses should not void their accomplishments.

Jaime Garcia and Shelby Miller both pitched into the 6th inning against the Giants. I'd like to have seen both of them do a little better. They'll get that chance as the season continues and, I suspect, they'll be just fine since they have both shown themselves to be good, if not great pitchers.

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