I was in favor of Joe Kelly winning the fifth spot in the St. Louis Cardinals rotation earlier this spring. I thought he had better overall command and presence on the mound than the younger prospect Shelby Miller.
In the end, Miller’s stuff was just good enough to beat out Kelly.
Kelly had a leg up with the experience that Miller did not have. While both pitched for St. Louis in 2012–in the regular season as well as the postseason–Kelly threw over 100 innings and started 16 games. He did an admirable job his rookie season that showed much promise.
In Miller’s case, you didn’t really know what you had other than the potential he has shown in the minor leagues.
There were some whispers about him dealing with some serious butterflies that begged the question of whether or not he could handle pitching in the big leagues.
Nevertheless, Miller stepped up to the challenge when he and Kelly faced off last Tuesday against the Miami Marlins–a game in which Miller clearly outshone Kelly. That performance was likely the tipping point for Miller; a point he reinforced by pitching 4.1 innings and giving up just one earned run with two strikeouts in a 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Monday.
Despite my feelings that Kelly is the more stable pitcher, he isn’t–nor will he ever be–as dominant as Miller will become. He’s averaged roughly 11 K/9 in the minors and is around 7 K/9 this spring. He’s also having trouble giving up too many hits–9.5 H/9–though he’s only walked five batters.
Kelly is giving up hits close to the rate that Miller is, yet his strikeout rate is well below Miller’s–he’s struck out two batters in 13 innings.
It goes without saying that neither pitcher has been that impressive; Miller just flat-out had better numbers than Kelly. The real question will be if Miller can hold onto his spot in the rotation. Will Kelly dominate in his role as situational pitcher? Furthermore, will surprise star Michael Wacha‘s stuff be too good to ignore in Triple-A?
Regardless of those answers, the Cardinals organization wants Miller to succeed so he’s going to be given more than a fair shake. I’m just not sure if St. Louis will realize when it’s time to let go.