As part of their plan to go all-in for a short window of the next few years, the Arizona Diamondbacks sent two of their top prospects (infielder Darby Swanson, pitcher Aaron Blair) and outfielder Ender Inciarte to the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Gabe Speier in early December.
Miller deserved better in 2015, with a 6-17 record and a 3.02 ERA over 33 starts (205.1 innings) pitching for a bad Braves team. But good fortune over his first 17 starts (.261 BABIP, 2.07 ERA) reversed after that, with a 4.10 ERA (.318 BABIP) over his last 16 starts, so there were chinks in Miller’s armor as he joined his third team in three seasons.
After his latest bad outing Tuesday night, when allowed six runs on eight hits to the Pittsburgh Pirates over five innings, Miller has a 7.09 ERA over his first 10 starts this season with 30 strikeouts and 29 walks. The Diamondbacks are 3-7 in Miller’s starts, and he is one of just four starters in all of baseball with at least nine starts to have failed to reach the seventh inning so far this season.
Oft-kilter mechanics have been part of Miller’s issue, with video of an outing earlier in the season clearly showing his hand scraping the mound in his follow through. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs.com offered a self-proclaimed amateur breakdown of Miller’s mechanics this week, and there are subtle differences compared to 2015 that might be making a big difference. In terms of raw numbers, Miller’s fastball velocity is down compared to 2015 (92.6 MPH, 94.1 MPH last year) and he’s throwing a lot more changeups (7.6 percent, 1.9 percent last season). That combination has actually not yielded a different separation in velocity between the two pitches compared to last year, but a change in his pitch mix is clearly not working for Miller thus far in 2016.
It looks like the Diamondbacks are considering all options with Miller, with chief baseball officer Tony LaRussa suggesting a move to the bullpen and general manager Dave Stewart hinting at a possible demotion to Triple-A. No matter where things go from here, and it’s fair to say things can really only get better, Miller has not been the solid No. 2 starter Arizona thought it was getting so far this season.