For Shelby Miller, Monday's Start is 14 Months in the Making
14 months ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Shelby Miller exited a start versus the Los Angeles Dodgers after just four innings of work with right forearm tightness. Initially it was believed the injury was minor, but it turned out the right-hander would need Tommy John surgery. Miller had given up three runs on four hits, striking out three, and walking five in those four innings of work while taking the loss.
He was looking to rebound from a terrible 2016 campaign after being traded to the Diamondbacks from the Atlanta Braves and finishing the season 3-12 with a 6.15 ERA. This pailed in comparison to what he had done the previous three season in his time with St. Louis and Atlanta. He finished third in Rookie of the Year voting after a 15-9 record in his rookie season with a 3.06 ERA before following up the next year with a 10-9 record and 3.74 ERA to his name.
But despite posting back-to-back seasons of worthwhile pitching for the team, the Cardinals decided to trade him away to the Braves in the offseason. St. Louis traded away Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins in order to acquire Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden in return. The Braves being in the midst of a decline did not bode well for Miller when it came to his win-loss ratio for the team. In 33 starts over the course of the 2015 season, Miller compiled a 6-17 record with a 3.02 ERA and at the time of his invite to the All-Star Game in Cincinnati he was 5-4 with a 2.07 ERA. At that time, his ERA was the third lowest in the entire Major League so far that season.
However, record was not indicative of the strong year Miller had with the team. While he set a franchise record for longest winless streak at 24 games, he had 14 quality starts in that span. The problem was not Miller, it was the Braves' offense when he was on the mound. The right-hander posted a 3.83 ERA during that 24 game winless streak and at 2.5 runs of support per nine innings for the season, Miller had the worst run support in the league. The next closest pitcher was Andrew Cashner at 3.1 runs of support per nine innings. Although he posted a 7.11 ERA in the month of September that year, Miller was the definition of consistency for the Braves in 2015 but just did not get the help he needed.
It took until October 4th against the Cardinals to end the 24 game winless streak with a 6-0 victory in which Miller went eight strong innings giving up no runs on three hits, striking out seven, and walking three. But with the Braves trending towards a rebuild, another trade was on the way for Miller in the offseason. In early December, the Braves agreed to trade Miller and Gabe Speier to the Diamondbacks to acquire Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, and Aaron Blair. With the Diamondbacks looking to bolster their pitching, Miller was expected to be the number two started behind free agent signing Zack Grienke. But 2016 was a year of struggles for Shelby Miller and he never got into a groove.
Yielding more than two runs in his first 10 outings of the season and never pitching longer than six innings, Miller sat at 1-6 with a 7.09 ERA before a sprained index finger landed him on the disabled list for about a month. After the injury, Miller never seemed to regain his form from 2015 and he struggled to be a top tier starter in the D-Backs rotation. But there seemed to be hope given the numbers he accumulated in the final two starts of the season combined. Miller threw 11 total innings of shutout ball, allowing eight hits, striking out eight, and walking four. But the year as a whole was a struggle for him and the overall numbers showed it.
After a dud of a season in 2016 and an injury-shortened 2017 campaign, it seems that the Braves-Diamondbacks trade was clearly won by Atlanta. But on Monday, Miller will have a chance to prove his worth to the team and value he can bring to the Diamondbacks injury riddled rotation. Despite rumors Miller was available for trade back in 2016, the Diamondbacks held on to the right-hander and this is his opportunity to right the ship. Miller's first three seasons showed what he has the potential to be and when he take the mound on Monday against the Miami Marlins, it will be the first step to proving himself again.
While it is likely to be a short outing for Miller as he gets back into the swing of pitching at the Major League level, I expect him to go at least five innings and give up a run or two as he gets the feel for the mound again. Right now the trade in 2015 may look bad for the Diamondbacks, but a few months from now the performance of Miller could potentially change that opinion for many.
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