Why Shelby Miller Is a Valuable Trade Target This Offseason
One of the most sought after starting pitchers by baseball executives this offseason won six games and lost an National League-worst 17 in 2015.
Yes, that's right, if we used the archaic statistic of wins and losses, Atlanta's Shelby Miller and his 6-17 record wouldn't draw the attention of a mosquito, much less virtually every general manager in baseball who is looking for pitching.
Thank goodness we have elevated ourselves as a baseball society.
Miller, acquired from St. Louis in the trade that sent Jason Hayward to the Cardinals, has been made available by the Braves this offseason, and the asking price has been steep. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman says as many as 20 teams may be in on the 24-year-old right-hander, who made the National League All-Star team despite his subpar won-loss record. And here's why.
He's really, really good.
Miller's 47.7% ground ball rate was a career high, as were the 205 1/3 innings he pitched last year in his first season with Atlanta. He posted a career-high nERD of 2.28, 20th best in baseball. That means Miller gave up 2.28 runs per game fewer over a 27-out contest than a league average pitcher. He also threw harder last year than he ever has before, averaging 94.1 miles per hour on his fastball, up from 93.4 in 2014 and 93.5 in '13.
Miller's won-loss record, although not a factor to front offices throughout baseball, is a factor in his arbitration salary for next year, expected to be somewhere between $4-5 million. The arbitration process still looks at wins and losses and could make him a bargain for any team looking for a cheap, top-of-the-rotation starter.
It's still unclear just how well Miller will be able to miss bats in the future. His strikeouts per nine during his first three full seasons as a starter have fluctuated quite noticeably, from 8.78 in 2013, to 6.25 in 2014, to 7.50 last year. His Swinging Strike rate went from 9.2% to 7.1% back to 9.2% this year, too.
What helped him this year was a big drop in his home run per nine innings, from 1.08 in '14 to 0.57 in 2015.
Some may note a low batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .285 last season to say that his season was based on luck. But Miller has been able to maintain a low BABIP throughout his career, .280 in '13, .256 in '14 and .285 last year. That appears to be more skill than luck.
And much of his statistics were based off a very strong first half in which he he posted an ERA of 2.38, allowing batters to hit a mere .225/.291/.336 in 113 2/3 innings. It's easy to see why he made the All-Star team.
His numbers dropped in the second half, although they were still solid. He had a 3.83 ERA and gave up a slash line of .246/.327/.378 in 91 2/3 innings after the All-Star Game.
Atlanta is said to be looking for some big pieces in return, such as Miami's Marcell Ozuna (who is also rumored to be on the block), Luis Severino from the Yankees, Joc Pederson of the Dodgers, and A.J. Pollock from the Diamondbacks.
In other words, some team is going to have to give up perhaps their best young, Major League-ready player in order to snag him.
Of course, for the rebuilding Braves, holding onto a young, 24-year-old starter also makes a lot of sense. He cannot become a free agent until after the 2018 season, but is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, and will see his salary increase each year until he hits the free agent market.
The Braves are pinching pennies, and trading Miller could enable them to get two or three young pieces to help propel that effort even faster.