Shelby Miller and expectations after a solid rookie season

Shelby Miller the playoff ghost trying to scare you? - Jason Miller

Despite losing his spot in the playoff rotation, Shelby Miller had a solid debut season for the Cardinals. Looking at rookie pitchers over the past 30 years may shed some light on what to expect for Miller's second season.

In the past two years, Shelby Miller descriptors have run the gamut: a can't miss prospect, a struggling minor leaguer, a too lean gym fiend, rotation mainstay, candidate for top rookie, near perfect pitcher, off limits, trade bait, playoff 'pen-session expert, and post-season ghost. Miller's rookie year was memorable, for better and worse, but as he moves into his second year expectations are raised. Based on similar players, raised expectations might be unfair.

As a 22-year old rookie, Miller pitched 173 ⅓ innings with 8.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 3.06 ERA, 3.4 rWAR and 2.1 fWAR. Looking at the performance of prior players after comparable rookie seasons should provide some insight regarding Miller's sophomore season. I ran two searches, one on baseball-reference and one on fangraphs. For each search I looked at 22 and 23-year old rookies from the previous 30 seasons who pitched between 160 and 200 innings. For baseball-reference, I looked for players with an rWAR between 2.4 and 4.4. For fangraphs, I looked for players with an fWAR between 1.6 and 2.6.

Here is the fWAR group:

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA rWAR fWAR

Jon Niese 173.2 7.67 3.21 1.04 4.2 0 1.7

Melido Perez 197 6.3 3.29 1.19 3.79 1 1.9

Pete Smith 195.1 5.71 4.05 0.69 3.69 3.3 1.8

Scott Olsen 180.2 8.27 3.74 1.15 4.04 2.2 2.2

Mike Harkey 173.2 4.87 3.06 0.73 3.26 4.6 2.4

Chris Reitsma 173 4.42 2.39 1.09 5.25 0.5 2

Eric Milton 172.1 5.59 3.66 1.31 5.64 2 1.8

Jeff Robinson 171.2 5.35 2.73 0.63 4.56 0.4 2

Donovan Osborne 169 5.22 1.97 0.75 3.78 -0.1 2.2

Derek Lilliquist 165 4.25 1.85 0.87 3.98 0.3 2

Shawn Chacon 160 7.54 4.89 1.46 5.06 1.8 1.9

Matt Moore 177.1 8.88 4.11 0.91 3.81 1.4 2.5

Joe Mays 171 6.05 3.53 1.26 4.37 3 2

Pat Combs 182 5.24 4.2 0.59 4.05 0.8 2

Ken Hill 196.2 5.13 4.53 0.41 3.8 0.2 1.7

Average 177 6.03 3.4 0.94 4.22 1.4 2

Miller 173.1 8.88 3 1 3.06 3.4 2.1

Here is the rWAR group:

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA rWAR fWAR

Justin Verlander 186 6 2.9 1.02 3.63 4.1 3.1

Jarrod Parker 181.1 6.95 3.13 0.55 3.47 3.9 3.5

Pete Smith 195.1 5.71 4.05 0.69 3.69 3.3 1.8

Julio Valera 188 5.41 3.06 0.72 3.73 3.2 3

Brian Matusz 175.2 7.33 3.23 0.97 4.3 3 2.8

Joe Mays 171 6.05 3.53 1.26 4.37 3 2

Andy Pettitte 175 5.86 3.24 0.77 4.17 2.9 3

John Thomson 166.1 5.74 2.76 0.81 4.71 2.8 4.1

John Lannan 182 5.79 3.56 1.14 3.91 2.7 1.1

Joe Magrane 170.1 5.34 3.17 0.48 3.54 2.7 3

Average 179 6 3.26 0.84 3.95 3.2 2.7

Combined Avg 177 6.04 3.32 0.89 4.12 2 2.3

Miller 173.1 8.88 3 1 3.06 3.4 2.1

At first glance, Miller's rate numbers look better than these groups as a whole. Varying run environments do play a role which ends up resulting in the WAR similar to Miller. While the fWAR of the group overall is pretty consistent, fWAR was not kind to the rWAR group, depressing those numbers when looking at the overall averages. Due in part to Miller's gap between fWAR and rWAR, there are only two crossovers, Joe Mays and Pete Smith. As you can see below, the group as a whole did not fare well in season two.

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA rWAR fWAR

Andy Pettitte 221 6.6 2.9 0.9 3.87 5.6 4.6

Brian Matusz 49.2 6.9 4.3 3.3 10.69 -2.3 -1

Chris Reitsma 138.1 5.47 2.93 1.11 3.64 1.3 1.1

Derek Lilliquist 122 4.65 3.1 1.18 5.31 -0.1 0.4

Donovan Osborne 155.2 4.8 2.72 1.04 3.76 1.8 1.1

Eric Milton 206.1 7.11 2.75 1.22 4.49 4.2 4

Jarrod Parker 197 6.1 2.9 1.1 3.97 1.8 1.3

Jeff Robinson 12.1 5.84 7.3 1.46 5.11 -0.3 -0.2

Joe Magrane 165.1 5.4 2.8 0.3 2.18 3.7 3.1

Joe Mays 160.1 5.7 3.8 1.1 5.56 2.2 2.4

John Lannan 206 3.9 3 1 3.88 3.4 1

John Thomson 161 4.81 2.7 1.2 4.81 2.7 3.3

Jon Niese 157.1 7.89 2.52 0.8 4.4 0.5 2.4

Julio Valera 53 4.8 2.5 1.4 6.62 -0.9 0

Justin Verlander 201.2 8.2 3 1 3.66 4.2 4

Ken Hill 78.2 6.64 3.78 0.8 5.49 -0.6 1

Matt Moore 150.1 8.56 4.55 0.84 3.29 2.6 1.8

Melido Perez 183.1 6.92 4.42 1.13 5.01 0.5 1.3

Mike Harkey 18.2 7.23 2.89 1.45 5.3 0 0.2

Pat Combs 64.1 5.74 6.02 0.98 4.9 -0.6 -0.2

Pete Smith 142 7.3 3.6 0.8 4.75 -0.8 2

Scott Olsen 176.2 6.78 4.33 1.48 5.81 -1.6 0.4

Shawn Chacon 119.1 5.05 4.53 1.89 5.73 -0.5 0

Combined Average 136 6.19 3.62 1.19 4.88 1.16 1.48

fWAR group 125 6.37 3.95 1.15 4.84 0.6 1.2

rWAR group 156 5.97 3.15 1.21 5 2 2.1

The rWAR group fared better than the fWAR group, but the rWAR group started with a higher baseline. The average numbers are weighed down by some terrible return seasons due to injury, ineffectiveness and both. While injuries are always possible, it could be valuable to isolate the above group and look only at those players who pitched close to a complete season. Here are the numbers for the players who pitched at least 150 innings.

Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA rWAR fWAR

Andy Pettitte 221 6.6 2.9 0.9 3.87 5.6 4.6

Donovan Osborne 155.2 4.8 2.72 1.04 3.76 1.8 1.1

Eric Milton 206.1 7.11 2.75 1.22 4.49 4.2 4

Jarrod Parker 197 6.1 2.9 1.1 3.97 1.8 1.3

Joe Magrane 165.1 5.4 2.8 0.3 2.18 3.7 3.1

Joe Mays 160.1 5.7 3.8 1.1 5.56 2.2 2.4

John Lannan 206 3.9 3 1 3.88 3.4 1

John Thomson 161 4.81 2.7 1.2 4.81 2.7 3.3

Jon Niese 157.1 7.89 2.52 0.8 4.4 0.5 2.4

Justin Verlander 201.2 8.2 3 1 3.66 4.2 4

Matt Moore 150.1 8.56 4.55 0.84 3.29 2.6 1.8

Melido Perez 183.1 6.92 4.42 1.13 5.01 0.5 1.3

Scott Olsen 176.2 6.78 4.33 1.48 5.81 -1.6 0.4

Average 178 6.37 3.26 1.01 4.21 2.4 2.4

This group is considerably more encouraging. Of the thirteen players who pitched close to a full season, eight turned in at least average performances with only Scott Olsen and Melido Perez having a disaster of a season. If Shelby Miller can remain healthy, reproducing 2013's solid numbers appears attainable. Expecting him to transform into an ace this season is on the optimistic side. The sophomore seasons from Pettitte and Verlander show great possibilities, but that is clearly the best case scenario.

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