There’s always a tendency to look young in fantasy baseball. One of the trendy names this year has been Shelby Miller of the Cardinals. It makes sense, Miller ranks sixth on Baseball America’s Top-100 Prospect list. But while his long term future is bright, what kind of 2013 can we expect from the St. Louis fire-baller?
What we know he’ll bring
Let’s start with the basics. He’s listed as the fifth starter on the depth chart on the St. Louis website. When you’re a starter on a perennial playoff contender that hasn’t had a losing season since 2007, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll rack up some wins. The 2012 Cardinals scored the fifth most runs in baseball in 2012, and that run support helped four of their pitchers (Lance Lynn, Kyle Lohse, Adam Wainwright, and Jake Westbrook) win 13 or more games. Say what you want about how indicative a win is of a pitcher’s value, but if he stays in the rotation all year, Miller will likely win at least 10 games. That’s a nice fallback plan.
But let’s be real. Miller’s main draw are his strikeouts. Even more than a likely good W-L record, those will come in a pretty big way. Don’t believe me? Look at the numbers.
|Majors (2012-postseason included)||17||20||10.6|
Not bad. Not bad at all. With the exception of a three-inning stint in 2009, Miller has never had a K/9 rate under 9.2 in a professional season.
Admittedly, young arms are generally watched very closely by their organizations and no chances are taken. But if Miller throws only 120 innings and goes at a 9.2 K/9 rate, you’re looking at about the same amount of total strikeouts that Jeremy Hellickson had in 177 innings in 2012, and more than Clayton Richard had in 218.2 innings in 2012. Mind you, Richard’s not a strikeout guy, but he did have a sub 4.00 ERA and a WHIP under 1.25.
Now, I don’t know if he’ll be under an innings watch this year like Stephen Strasburg was in 2012, but it’s nice to know that even if the Cardinals are conservative with him, he’ll bring plenty of strikeouts.
Where you should be nervous
Miller sometimes throws like a guy who just turned 22, which is the case. While he showed decent control in limited MLB time in 2012, his walk rates have been pretty ugly in the minors. In his Minor League career, Miller averaged 3.2 walks per nine innings, with the total never really improving. Look at the totals.
- 2010, A: 2.8 BB/9
- 2011, A+/AA: 3.4 BB/9
- 2012, AAA: 3.3 BB/9
Now that he’s theoretically going to have a full Major League season against hitters who are generally more selective than any seen in the minors, I worry about that rate getting above 3.5, or even higher (which is what we project in our Draft Kit). That’s going to amount to an ugly WHIP. Really, even in the minors, Miller has never thrived in the WHIP department.
- 2010: 1.246
- 2011: 1.181
- 2012: 1.376
That works out to a total WHIP of 1.277 in the minors, which is hardly a sign of a pitcher who’s ready to be dominant in the majors. High walk rates are not only WHIP killers but against good offenses, they’re ERA killers, and if he’s allowing a lot of runs, he’ll either be losing a lot of games, or pulled before he can earn a win.
Miller has a bright future, that’s really undeniable. But looking at 2013, you have to ask yourself one question. Is his stuff good enough to overcome the walks so they don’t kill his ERA?
For me, Miller is the kind of guy to gamble on. He’s probably a late-rounder, or even a waiver wire guy (unless you’re in a keeper or dynasty league). He’s got great stuff and I’m confident that will help keep his ERA from exploding.
Having said that, he’s not an every-start pitcher. Not yet, anyway. So, I’m only really suggesting those in leagues with moderately deep benches target him.
In the early going I’d only start him against weaker lineups, and teams that don’t draw many walks. In the National League, I’m looking at opponents like the Cubs, Pirates, Marlins, Mets, and Padres. As it happens, the Cardinals face the Pirates twice, and the Cubs once before Mother’s Day, with the Mets on the schedule right after, and the Padres the following week.
If you roster Miller, only start him against those teams first two months. That could theoretically mean that you miss out on a great start but with his walk rate and the opponents they’re playing, I doubt anything will be that good. See where he’s at heading into June and go from there. He’s a special arm that fantasy owners should be excited about, so long as they keep their excitement within reason.