Fantasy Baseball: Is Shelby Miller Worth a Late-Round Pick?

After a disappointing 2016 campaign, Miller showed some signs in the second half that he could be a productive pitcher again.

The 2016 season was supposed to be one that included a competitive Arizona Diamondbacks squad.

The front office did the best they could to make that happen the winter before by agreeing to a mega-deal with ace Zack Greinke, and then flipping stud prospect Dansby Swanson, who was just selected first overall, to the Atlanta Braves for Shelby Miller, among other moves. They had overhauled their starting rotation and were ready to compete.

Sometimes moves work out, and sometimes they don't -- and if we look at 2016 in a vacuum, this one certainly didn't pan out. Miller was downright brutal, logging only one quality start over his first 10 turns in the rotation and was even demoted. In 20 starts, he recorded a 6.15 ERA over 101 innings pitched and a 1.67 WHIP. Ouch.

But Miller quietly threw the ball a bit better upon his return, and he is nearly free on draft day -- he is the 118th starting pitcher off the board, going 419th overall according to NFBC drafts. In a 12-team mixed league, he may even be sitting on the waiver wire.

Can the right-hander bounce back to be the starter who won 31 games over three seasons and posted an ERA below 3.10 twice? Is he worth a late-round flier?

Diminished Velocity and Fastball Command

Two main factors seem to jump out with regard to Miller's poor 2016 performance, which was easily the worst of his four major league seasons as a full-time starter.

The first is fastball velocity -- which was markedly down over the course of the year (graph courtesy of Brooks Baseball).

A quick glance at recent history shows Miller has consistently sat in the 94-95 mph range with his four-seam fastball. He didn't crack that mark until his return from the minors (August 2016), and overall, the 35.8% hard-hit rate he allowed was the worst mark of his career.

Another issue that plagued Miller was his inability to work ahead in the count. The following table ranks starting pitchers with 100-plus innings in 2016 and their ability to throw first-pitch strikes (a total of 146 qualified).

Name F-Strike % Rank
C. Kershaw 69.7% 1
K. Hendricks 68.6% 2
M. Shoemaker 68.6% 3
J. Cueto 68.6% 4
J. Lackey 68.1% 5
Z. Greinke 67.8% 6
S. Miller 59.4% 100

This was the worst mark of Miller's career, and while it may seem obvious, constantly working behind in counts only leads to trouble.

Better Second-Half Performance

One encouraging sign is that when Miller did return from his demotion, he was actually pretty good and enjoyed the best two months of his season. It also happened to coincide with his best velocity of the year.

Month Innings ERA FIP FB Velocity
April 19.7 8.69 7.77 93.5
May 26.0 5.88 5.80 93.8
June 12.7 5.68 4.09 94.6
July 11.0 9.00 3.33 93.5
Aug 6.0 3.00 3.15 94.9
Sept 25.7 4.21 3.15 94.9

A deeper dive into Miller's rough overall performance shows he also dealt with his worst walk rate ever as a big leaguer, which was aided by a terrible first half.

To start 2016, he posted back-to-back walk rates of 15.6% and 11.8% while barely striking out more hitters than he was facing. His May strikeout rate of 11.8% belied some major struggles on the horizon. Combing that with the worst home run rate of his career meant disaster was taking full effect.

But Miller cut down on those walks and home runs allowed significantly after the All-Star break, finishing 2016 with perhaps his best two outings of the season.

Period Walk Rate % HR/9
First Half 10.7% 1.69
Second Half 5.7% 0.28

Over those two starts, he fired 11 scoreless innings and struck out 8 hitters. Perhaps this was a sign of him turning things around.

What Lies Ahead?

Miller continued his strong finish to 2016 by starting the spring off strong -- and his most impressive showing was against the Chicago Cubs, where he fired three scoreless frames and retired eight straight hitters.

In addition, that fastball velocity has continued to tick upward -- Miller is averaging 95.5 mph on his fastball so far, a number he only recorded once in a 2015 start.

While it's still very early and folks that bought into the right-hander last year were certainly hurt by that performance, let's not forget about his pedigree -- he's a former 2015 All-Star and will cost you virtually nothing to draft.

Keep a close eye on Miller's spring performance. At his current cost, he could be a nice late-round addition to your pitching staff for 2017 with some serious upside to boot.