Buying Shelby Miller

I’m a sucker for velocity spikes. We know that all else equal, higher velocity is better. And when a pitcher makes it to the Majors with certain expectations, those expectations are built upon his current velocity. What if that velocity improves? Well, then we should probably increase our expectations. So when I was reading of Shelby Miller’s velocity surge during spring training, my interest went from zero to, well, not zero.

We all shrugged our shoulders when the Diamondbacks traded for Miller and then laughed (you know you did) when he endured his worst season, posting a gruesome 6.15 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. His fastball velocity declined to its lowest mark since he debuted in 2012, which likely contributed to the collapse of his strikeout rate to a meager 15.2%. It was a total disaster of a first year in a Diamondbacks uniform.

And despite the fact that Miller had been excellent in his previous three seasons, fantasy interest was not surprisingly quite low. Heck, in my local 12-team mixed league, I grabbed him with my second reserve selection!

But then spring training games rolled around and talk of a velocity spike was making the rounds. Sometimes spring velocity readings appear “hot” or chatter is exaggerated, so we couldn’t be totally sure of what was happening. Then, he finally made his 2017 debut on Friday, and this was the result:

2017 Fastball Velocity Surgers
Name 2017 FBv 2016 Adjusted FBv* 2016 FBv Diff
Yovani Gallardo 92.9 90.1 89.5 2.8
Shelby Miller 95.7 93.7 93.0 2.0
Tyler Anderson 93.3 91.5 90.9 1.8
Tyler Chatwood 94.6 92.8 92.2 1.8
Brandon Finnegan 94.0 92.3 91.7 1.7
*Based on the formula from Jeff Zimmerman

Boom, Miller has gained the second most velocity among Major League starters. His peak velocity in his first game reached 98.0 mph, equivalent to 97.3 when compared to previous years. All of last year he only peaked at 96.7! All of 2014, he only reached 97.0. Only his 2013 and 2015 peak velocity marks were higher than Miller’s peak in his first game of the season. That’s huge.

Miller’s fastball was always key to his success since his secondary stuff never produced above average SwStk% marks. Getting that elite fastball back, with added eliteness, could take him back to his pre-2016 form, at the very least. Perhaps even lead to a new level of performance.

Last year, his cutter resulted in a swinging strike just 7.7% of the time. That’s awful. His career mark sits at a better 10.4%, and that’s easily the highest SwStk% mark of any of his non-fastballs. But that’s still barely better than league average. In his first start, he induced swinging strikes on a quarter of his cutters! And he threw 28 of them. His cutter also gained velocity and he threw it a bit more often than he has the previous two seasons.

Strangely, the zippier fastball didn’t lead to more swinging strikes for the pitch, but perhaps the effect was seen in the cutter. The curve ball, though, continued to stink, which is odd because when he came up, that was supposed to be a strong off-speed offering.

Since he allowed three runs in his 5.1 innings and walked three, it’s very possible that Miller is still sitting in free agency in your league if he wasn’t drafted. Rather than wait for him to have a good game from an earned run perspective, be proactive and buy because his stuff is clearly improved. And improved stuff should lead to improved results. Remember, this isn’t some veteran who has had a mediocre career that we’re hoping a velocity spike will lead to a breakout. This is a guy who had always been good until last year, and now the quality of his stuff may very well be better than ever.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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would you drop any of these for miller?

shoemaker, bundy, graveman…