On Shelby Miller's struggles

Justin K. Aller

Despite another exasperating start, Shelby Miller somehow allowed just two runs, continuing his Houdini act this young season.

Watching Shelby Miller pitch last night was painful. Every one of the Miller's offerings seemed to have betrayed him; he frequently appeared to have no idea where the ball was going. The counsel of Yadier Molina and manager Mike Matheny during mound visits did not have much impact on the righthander's effectiveness. Miller would up lasting 5 1/3 innings, somehow allowing just two runs on four walks and four hits. He struck out one batter—Pirates starter Charlie Morton—twice. The game was yet another troubling start for Miller this 2014 season.

After escaping last night's game with only two earned runs next to his name in the official scorer's book, Miller's ERA sits at 3.22 over his first eight starts on the season. But this is misleading. Miller has pitched much worse than his ERA indicates.

Shelby Miller 2013 vs. 2014

Year

GS

IP

BABIP

LOB%

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

HR/FB

ERA

FIP

xFIP

2013

31

173.1

.280

80.1%

8.78

2.96

1.04

10.1%

3.06

3.67

3.73

2014

8

44.2

.250

91.6%

6.65

5.44

1.61

17.4%

3.22

5.88

4.87

Miller's peripherals are troubling. The righty is striking out fewer batters. He's walking opposing batsmen at a rate nearly twice what he did a season ago. This is perhaps the most troubling. Last night showed how frustrating it can be. Putting on over five opposing batters per nine innings via walks is a recipe for disaster. So far, Miller has largely avoided walk-induced implosions, but how long can he continue to escape such self-induced jams?

On top of Miller's shrinking K rate and expanding walk rate, he has allowed an extraordinarily high number of homers along with a lot of other hard contact, according to ESPN's Mark Simon:

We know that pitchers who have higher K rates tend to have lower than average BABIP (which is usually around .300) and higher than average LOB% (which is usually in the 71-73% range). Miller's K/9 has sagged this season; he's also recording less whiffs on the year. Throw in the high rates of hard contact and it's amazing that he's somehow posted a very low BABIP and astronomically high LOB%.

In the last 50 years, two pitchers have thrown 100 or more innings in the majors and posted a LOB% over 90: Wes Stock and John Hiller. Miller's LOB% will come down as the year moves forward—it's just a question of how far it will tumble. Miller's low strikeout totals and hard contact allowed, if they continue apace, suggest the fall of his strand rate could be dramatic. And when it falls, Miller's ERA will rise.

Reading the tea leafs of Miller's early-season performance gives us reason for concern as the weather warms up.

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