“Despite a K/BB ratio that is trending the wrong way, the Braves made Shelby Miller the primary piece in their trade with St. Louis that landed Jason Heyward with the Cardinals. No one will argue Miller’s arm talent, but his control is another story. Atlanta obviously thinks they can get him back on track and develop him as another core piece heading towards 2017. I expect a bounce back, but not a large one this year. The true jump is coming down the road, so don’t pay for his potential quite yet.”
That was February 27th, when Shelby Miller landed at #76 in my pitcher rankings. I liked the trade from Atlanta’s point of view, but I didn’t think the dividend would be there right away.
As a former ATLien, I must admit this crow tastes pretty good.
Miller has far exceeded the performances of rotation mates Julio Teheran and Alex Wood thus far. In fact, the only pitcher in the division ranked above him on ESPN’s Player Rater is Max Scherzer. Even Bartolo Colon and his 6-1 record takes a back seat to the first year Brave.
That’s what happens when you give up eight earned runs in your first seven starts. Tack on four wins and 39 K in 45 IP and you’ve got all the makings of a front line starter. Anyone who invested in Miller on draft day is either beaming over the numbers he’s put up for their squad, or beaming because they dealt him for a tidy little profit. Either way, it’s all good.
Or is it?
The peripherals will tell you this can’t continue. Miller’s K-rate is a pedestrian 7.80, good for only 41st out of 112 qualified starters. His K/BB is an even less encouraging 2.60 (64th among qualified starters). But nothing could be more damning than that unbelievably low BABIP of .203, the fifth-lowest figure among starters. That all adds up to a FIP of 3.43 and an xFIP of 3.71, a far cry from the 1.60 ERA Miller sports in 2015. It’s not if the tumble is coming, but how bad it will be.
I could stop right there and tell you that’s a sufficient analysis of the situation. Miller can’t keep this up. Sell high on him and be done with it.
If you were in a fantasy league with me and owned Shelby Miller, I’d do just that. Why? Because in this case, I don’t necessarily trust the peripherals. Because there’s more to his profile than meets the eye. And ultimately, because I want Miller on my team.
Let’s start with those all-everything predicative measures, FIP and xFIP. As I’ve mentioned with BABIP in the past, the way to use these tools is not one-size-fits-all. They must be used in conjunction with each individual player’s baseline. In Miller’s case, he has consistently outperformed his FIP and xFIP projections by a wide margin.
We’ll throw out 2012 when he pitched just 13.2 innings and focus on the rest of his Major League career. In 2013, Miller posted an ERA of 3.06 while his FIP and xFIP numbers came in at 3.67 and 3.73, respectively. Last year, his 3.74 ERA was supported by a FIP of 4.54 and an xFIP of 4.47. In both seasons, Miller’s final ERA was 0.6-0.8 runs below what the peripherals projected.
If applied to his 2015 numbers, you find yourself somewhere in the neighborhood of a 2.80-3.10 ERA for Miller, and I don’t think that’s all that farfetched. If I had to put money on it, I’d guess that Miller ends the year closer to the lower end of that range than the higher.
Since I brought up BABIP, let’s dive into his a little deeper. A .203 average is lower than in previous years, but not all that much lower. Miller had a .280 BABIP against in 2013. Last year, that number dropped to .256, the third-lowest average in MLB. So while .203 is an outlier, it’s really not as much of an extreme as it initially appears.
There’s another reason I expect that BABIP to stay on the lower end. When it comes to ground balls versus fly balls, Miller splits it right down the middle. Per Fangraphs, his GB/FB rate is exactly 1.00 for his career. It’s been a different story in 2015. That rate has ballooned to 1.54, and that’s never a bad thing when you have a guy like Andrelton Simmons at the helm of your infield. The improved infield defense over what he had in St. Louis will contribute to keeping that BABIP low all year long.
So sell Shelby Miller if it’s your prerogative. I won’t be mad. But when he keeps pitching at an All-Star level month after month, you could end up feasting on a little crow yourself.
Thor Brings His Hammer to New York
It might have taken seven starts for me to get excited about Shelby Miller, but it only took one turn to see the light on Noah Syndergaard. The final line against the Cubs might not have been exciting (5.1 IP, 3 ER, 6 H, 4 BB, 6 K), but if you take just the first five innings, you get a much more palatable outing. That sixth inning was Syndergaard’s undoing as he gave up a single, double, and home run in succession before striking out his final batter of the evening.
Aside from the walks, this was everything I wanted to see out of Syndergaard in his debut. His fastball topped out at 99 MPH (99.85 to be exact), and he sprinkled in a changeup that averaged 87 MPH and a curve that’s going to have hitters looking foolish for a decade (we hope). Those six strikeouts in particular are a telling sign. Yes, I realize that the Cubs are the league leaders in whiffs, but Syndergaard has been doing this to everyone since 2011. He’s K’ed at least a batter per inning every stop of the minors, and that won’t stop now.
My only concern with Syndergaard is his workload. He’s never thrown more than 133 innings in any professional season, and there’s plenty of reason to believe the Mets will be cautious with their newest prized arm (see: Matt Harvey). Including both time already served at AAA and his start Tuesday night, Syndergaard has already thrown a total of 35 IP in 2015. I’d say that leaves him with 130-140 more useful innings for the fantasy owner smart enough to get him on their roster.
Those of you paying attention should realize I have completely discounted the eventual return of Dillon Gee. You can thank the Mets’ red hot start for that. My guess is Syndergaard hits the ground running and Gee never sees the starting rotation again, save for any injury fill-in duty that is required. Thus, I project Syndergaard to max out his innings in the big leagues.
In those 130 innings (I’ll be conservative here), how does a 3.38 ERA and 1.20 WHIP sound? Not too shabby. Ill give him 135 strikeouts along with a top-40 recommendation to boot. It’s an aggressive projection, but now is when you should get aggressive. Waiting much longer might put you too far behind the 8-ball to catch up.
First Pitch Swinging
- Braves HR leader Kelly Johnson hit the DL Wednesday with a strained oblique. It’s a blow to both Johnson owners and Freddie Freeman owners as pitchers have one less reason to give Freeman anything near the zone.
- Mike Minor was officially lost for the season after opting for left shoulder surgery. Minor has likely pitched his last game for the Braves as he will be a free agent after the season.
- Juan Lagares has missed the last three games with a slight strain in his right arm pit area. The injury spawned from a diving catch he made last week. Lagares was 2 for his last 25, so the time off might not be such a bad thing.
- Freddy Galvis continues to pace all MLB shortstops with a .353 average. He’s rapidly becoming the most relevant Philly hitter in a dreadful lineup. Maikel Franco can’t be called up soon enough at this point.
On Deck – What to Watch for May 15-21
Atlanta: @MIA(3), vs. TB(3), vs. MIL(2)
Miami: vs. ATL(3), vs. ARI(4)
New York: vs. MIL(3), vs. STL(4)
Philadelphia: vs. ARI(3), @COL(4)
Washington: @SD(3), vs. NYY(2)
Player to Watch – Stephen Strasburg, WAS
You can call it bad luck, and with a league leading .398 BABIP in seven starts, there’s plenty to be found. But at some point, you want to see the top-10 starter you drafted look like just that. A career-low strikeout rate and career-high walk rate sure don’t look like top-10 numbers. After getting rocked in the desert on Tuesday, Strasburg has another shot against a west coast foe when he takes on a much improved San Diego squad. Another poor start against the 7th-best offense in baseball could begin to silence all those screaming buy low.
(Click the BLUE link below to listen)
Major League Fantasy Sports Radio Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts on Sunday May 17th from 7-9pm est for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. We will take live callers at 646.915.8596. Our topics this week will be the A.L. East, A.L. West, and everything fantasy relevant within those divisions. Feel free to jump in the conversation.