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2018 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews: #49, Shelby Miller

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The return from Tommy John surgery did not go well.

San Diego Padres v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
  • 2018 rating: 2.01
  • 2017 rating: 3.49
  • 2018 salary: $4.9 million
  • 2018 performance: 0-4, 10.69 ERA, 16 IP, 24 H, 21 R, 19 ER, 5 HR, 8 BB, 19 SO
  • 2019 status: 3rd-year arbitration

Shelby Miller went under the knife of Dr. Neal ElAttrache in May 2017, and his return was hoped to provide a boost for the D-backs rotation. Before losing the rest of 2017 to injury, Miller had looked as good as he had been in an Arizona uniform, posting a 116 ERA+ over four starts. He began game rehab in mid-May and was deemed ready for action after tossing 6.2 scoreless innings for the High-A Rawhide on June 16, with no walks and ten strikeouts. Nine days later he made his return to the major-leagues, taking the mound for the D-backs against the Marlins in Miami. It was 428 days since Miller had last pitched as an Arizona Diamondback.

Things did not go well, Miller allowing five runs without being able to complete the fourth inning. However, in his defense, Shelby could well have escaped the inning with only a pair given up, save for a questionable walk and the bullpen allowing both runs inherited with two outs to score. If the pitcher deserved the benefit of the doubt there, especially given it was hist first start in 14 months, it became increasingly hard to do so. His next three outings all resulted in at least five runs, culminating in perhaps the ugliest game for Arizona this year. On July 11 at Coors Field, he gave up five runs in the first, and the team ended up with Daniel Descalso and Alex Avila pitching for most of the game.

Over his four starts, all of them losses, Miller allowed 19 earned runs in 15 innings, for an 11.40 ERA. The strikeouts were there - nineteen of them - but so were the walks (7) and the home-runs (5). Opponents overall batted .353 against Shelby, with an OPS of 1.070, though a BABIP of .422 didn’t help matters there. There clearly was something not right, and you can see above the MLB Network discussion, concerning Miller’s struggles to get his pitching mechanics right. The day after his Coors meltdown, Shelby was placed back on the DL with right elbow inflammation which had flared up during the start. There was concern it might be further severe ligament damage, but an MRI showed he had avoided that.

After missing a further three months-plus, Shelby made a token return to the mound in the penultimate game of the season. He threw a hitless inning of relief with a walk, reducing his ERA for the season to 10.69 in sixteen innings. The only other player in franchise history with a double-digit ERA over as many frames of work, was Eddie Oropesa in 2002 (10.30 ERA over 26.1 IP). This was an ugly level of performance, and certainly came well short of justifying the team’s decision to keep Miller on the roster, at a cost of $4.9 million. While he won’t be in line for any significant increase this winter, there’s a strong case to be made that those five million dollars could be better used elsewhere in 2019.

On the other hand, there’s the lure of the pitcher Miller “could” be, seen in small bursts as recently as the 2017 outings mentioned earlier. With some gaps in the rotation needing to be filled for next season, Arizona could use that Miller. For comparison, what would you get off the free-agent market on a one-year, $5 million deal? There were three starting pitchers who were signed for there or thereabouts last winter. Here are their details, together with how they pitched in 2018:

  • Francisco Liriano ($4m, DET): 133.2 IP, 95 ERA+, 0.0 bWAR
  • Miguel Gonzalez ($4.75m, CHW): 12.1 IP, 35 ERA+, -0.7 bWAR
  • Mike Fiers ($6m, DET): 119 IP, 126 ERA+, 2.9 bWAR

Small sample size, to be sure. Yet it’s not exactly a great selection, averaging 88 innings and 0.7 bWAR, with only one of the three ending up as what I’d call a worthwhile investment. So there’s also a case to be made that if healthy (and that’s obviously a big question, not least because tender decisions have to made soon - we don’t get to wait to see what he looks like in spring training), Shelby Miller for five million might be little if any worse than spending the same amount on the free-agent market.