How the Shelby Miller Trade Helps Both Arizona and Atlanta
When I wrote last August that the Arizona Diamondbacks had an offense that was ready for the postseason in 2016, but that they needed to shore up their starting rotation in the off-season, I had no idea they'd lose their minds over it.
I mean, I like to think that the things I write on here carry a little influence, but geez Arizona, take a breath! Just days after shocking the baseball world by signing free agent starter Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206 million deal, the D-Backs have struck again, trading for Atlanta starter Shelby Miller.
There were numerous teams in pursuit of the young Braves hurler, and as I wrote last week, there were good reasons why.
In short, he good.
As I wrote last week, 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.
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. But what really 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.
He also had some notable first half-second half splits, posting an ERA of 2.38 up to the All-Star break, allowing batters to hit a mere .225/.291/.336 in 113 2/3 innings. 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.
He's a solid number-two starter who, at just 24 years old, should team up with Greinke to be an elite top of the rotation for years to come.
However, the acquisition of Miller did not come without cost, and the Braves also made out like bandits.
In exchange for Miller, Atlanta acquired last year's No. 1 overall pick, shortstop Dansby Swanson. The trade of a top overall pick like Swanson, before he's ever played a big league game, is a rarity in baseball.
Dansby Swanson is 1st No. 1 overall pick traded as Minor Leaguer since Marlins dealt A-Gon (2000 top pick) in '03. pic.twitter.com/JJZiSqfKxr
— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) December 9, 2015
It's a big gamble for Arizona to take. However, coming into the season, Baseball America rated their farm system as sixth-best in all of baseball, so there is some young talent to spare. One of those other young pieces heading to Atlanta is 23-year-old starting pitcher Aaron Blair.
Blair came into the season as a top-50 prospect by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, and he certainly didn't disappoint in 2015. Between 25 starts at Double-A and Triple-A (13 in Double-A, 12 in Triple-A), he went 13-5 with a 2.92 ERA and a WHIP of 1.166, striking out 6.7 batters per nine and walking 2.8 in 160 1/3 innings. He is a quality pitching prospect who will likely start the season in the Atlanta rotation.
The Diamondbacks also gave up 24-year-old outfielder Ender Inciarte, who batted .303/.338/.408 in 561 plate appearances last year. He stole 21 bases, had 27 doubles, six triples and an fWAR of 3.3. He's also an elite defender, capable of playing both the corner outfield spots as well as center field. How elite?
Most Defensive Runs Saved, Last 2 Seasons Kevin Kiermaier 57 Jason Heyward 56 Andrelton Simmons 53 Ender Inciarte 52 Lorenzo Cain 42
— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) December 9, 2015
So did Arizona give up a little too much for Miller? Yes, they probably did.
Giving up last year's No. 1 overall pick is a monstrously high price to pay for a good number-two starter, not to mention one of your best Major League ready pitching prospects and one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. One wonders if a deal centering around Swanson, Blair and Inciarte couldn't have been made for Miami's Jose Fernandez, who the Marlins may or may not be dangling.
But given a deep system, the D-Backs decided they could part with this young talent in order to acquire a young starting pitcher to team up with their new ace in order to make a run at the National League West for the next few seasons. It's a big, big gamble, but one worth taking. This team is ready to win now, and are making moves to take advantage of this rare window of opportunity.
And who knows, they may not be done until they've acquired all the starters. All of them.