is this the real shelby miller?

Dilip Vishwanat

following his near perfect game, shelby miller ONLY threw a shut-out for five and two-thirds innings yesterday, with 6 strikeouts to 1 walk. we shouldn't get used to near-perfect game shelby every week, but can we expect that his performance so far this season is mostly sustainable? well, maybe, yeah.

last week, shelby miller threw an extraordinary game. after allowing a leadoff, broken-bat hit, he proceeded to get 27 outs in a row, including 13 strikeouts. no walks. no hits, other than the first batter of the game.

not enough has been said about what an astonishing game that was. we hang a little too much on the magic of the no-hitter; what shelby did was frankly more amazing than most of the no-hitters you've been around for.

edwin jackson threw a 149-pitch no-hitter for arizona in 2010, while allowing 8 walks. EIGHT. based on the number of pitches and the edwin jackson factor, i'm surprised that game finished in time for 2011. but edwin jackson gets in the record books and gains the notoriety associated with the "no-hitter" label, while shelby's clearly superior performance got little mention from the national media. to the extent they noticed, his game was mostly described as a near-no-hitter.

shelby miller's one-hitter earned the best game score (a Bill James joint) of any game tossed by a cardinal pitcher in history. only 18 games since world war one have received higher game scores. that's pretty astonishing. all the more so, when you consider that shelby is 22.

last night, he was merely good, rather than historic. bogged down in high pitch counts early on, he was out of the game before the end of the sixth. he struck out 6 and walked one, allowing zero runs.

last week, we talked a little about our budding meaningful sample sizes among batters. shelby has now faced 200 batters (well, 196), which means we can start talking about his K rate, his groundball rate, and his flyball rate. i don't see anything super-exciting in his groundball or flyball numbers (which are a touch below- and above-average respectively). nobody expected him to be a groundball wizard.

"interesting" would be an understatement when we talk about his newly significant K rate, though. through almost 200 batters, he has a 29% K rate. that would have put him a close second to max scherzer last year among qualified pitchers.

do we buy the notion that this K rate is sustainable? well, he had a 29% K rate in a small sample size of 50+ batters last year in the majors. his 2012 AAA time - including his early season setbacks last year - still featured a 27% K rate. and in 2011, he had a 25% K rate. in the low minors, he was striking out about one of every three guys he faced.

i'm pretty convinced that, even if he's not a true talent strikeout-king, he's probably someone who will put up a 25-27% K rate. that kind of performance would make him pretty elite among major league pitchers.

the other shoe to drop, which we are nowhere near to determining, is to find out what his control ultimately looks like. in the minors, he typically walked more batters than league average at each level. to the extent we're having a bit of a honeymoon, we should expect a pretty substantial increase in walks from him. we should also expect the normal regression on BABIP and LOB rates. he won't look nearly as supernatural at the end of the season as he does now, but i suspect he'll beat his projections and probably by a bit.

the scouting and narrative around him suggest some optimism as well. the gist of last year's shelby drama was that he profited from greater emphasis on and confidence in his secondary pitches, as well as careful handling by catchers. if there is truth behind that narrative - which one might reasonably be skeptical of, especially since he's still throwing 76% fastballs in the majors - then a transition to the majors with sustained high strikeout rates and low walk rates should be a pretty reasonable expectation.

the last factor which we can't say much about yet is his home run rate. so far, he's allowed 3 homers through 8 starts and has a below-average home run rate, even after allowing an astonishing 24 home runs in memphis last year - more than twice as many as he had allowed from 2009-2011.

my optimism is tempered with all the usual caveats. he's a pitcher and prone to injury, although i don't feel any great concern about innings load for him. he pitched 150 innings and made 28 starts last year. i find it hard to believe that 30+ should be taxing this year. he's a rookie and therefore harder to project than someone with a substantial MLB track record.

beyond those basic concerns, i think it's pretty reasonable to project him to be a good-to-great pitcher this year, with a high strikeout rate as his primary asset. if he can couple that with a below average walk rate, he could be a rookie of the year candidate. he is currently leading all rookies in wins above replacement.

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