Since he was drafted in the first round in 2009 by the Cardinals, Shelby Miller has been a name that has had Cardinals fans frothing at the mouth in anticipation of his much-awaited debut that finally took place on Wednesday afternoon at Busch Stadium in a game the Cards ultimately lost 6-2. The final stat line is as solid as it gets, 2 IP, 1 hit, 0 BB, and 4 K’s, but let’s take a deeper look at his outing to try to glean more valuable information about this talented young stud right-hander, albeit in a very small-sample size.

Entering the game in the 6th inning with the Cardinals down 5-1, Miller was due to face Andres Torres, pitcher R.A. Dickey, and Mike Baxter. Miller retired the side in order, including a strikeout of Baxter in which he painted the outside corner of the plate with a 92-MPH fastball that made Baxter look foolish. Much to the surprise of many at the time, including the Cardinals TV broadcasters, Miller returned to the mound in the 7th inning, having only thrown 11 pitches to retire the Mets 1-2-3 in the previous inning. Miller came out guns blazing, striking out Ruben Tejada looking on another perfectly placed fastball on the outside black. Following a ground ball single to center, Miller went right back to work, striking out Mets slugger Ike Davis swinging on yet another outside corner paint job, this time of the 93-MPH variety. Miller, evidently relishing the spotlight, made quick work of the next hitter Lucas Duda, freezing him with a 95-MPH fastball on, yet again, a pitch that could not have been placed any better at knee level and on the outside corner.

If I were to stop there, you would have to be impressed with the tremendous effort this young buck put forth. But wait, there’s more. Delving a little bit deeper, certain aspects of Miller’s outing are cause for immense optimism about Miller’s potential for reaching an elite level in the big leagues in the not so distant future for the Cardinals.

Here are just a few key take-aways:

  • Miller threw just 29 pitches in 2 innings, an economical average of 14.5/inning. He went right after hitters and did not dance around the plate tentatively with his location.
  • Of his 29 pitches, 21 pitches were strikes. That is a 72% clip and a most welcomed sign for a manager like Mike Matheny who expects nothing less than relief pitchers who can pound the strike zone and keep batters from taking free passes to first base.
  • Of Miller’s 29 pitches, his pitch-type distribution is as follows: 21 fastballs, 5 changeups, 2 curveballs and 1 slider. Typically, young pitchers tend to have more confidence in their fastball as evidenced here. 14 of 21 fastballs Miller threw went for strikes, but more importantly, 7 of the remaining 8 pitches he threw, all off-speed pitches, went for strikes as well, indicating that Miller has command of all of his pitches.
  • All 4 of Miller’s strikeouts came on fastballs on the outside corner. Anyone that knows a thing or two about pitching will tell you the 3 L’s of pitching: Location, Location, Location. With Miller’s ability to gas up his fastball in the mid-90’s, he could have the mindset that he does not need to worry about properly spotting his pitches because batters can’t catch up to the velocity. However, in this day in age, every MLB hitter can hit the fastball if mislocated. That Miller has the ability to throw juice and hit the catcher’s mitt with such regularity is a recipe for many strikeouts, and at the very least, weak swings by opposing hitters. If Miller can stay on the corners consistently, there is no doubt in my mind that he has the makings of a dynamite pitcher for Cardinals going forward, perhaps even as a secret weapon come stretch and playoff time.
  • Miller had been starting games in the minors for the Cardinals, so it is interesting to note that he has been put in the bullpen for Matheny’s club. One theory I have is that Miller can be a bridge guy, a long-relief man of sorts, who can string together a few innings in a pinch to keep the other Cardinals relievers well-rested given their increased usage over the last couple of weeks. Miller could prove to be very valuable in that role for the Cardinals.

All told, what more can I say other than that Shelby Miller looks like the real deal and more. Cardinals fans should be excited to see the kid with the hometown team for the next month and for many years to come. This kid has all the tools; fortunately for us, we’ll  have the privilege of witnessing him blossom into a dominant pitcher right before our eyes. He is no project – he is ready now.

 

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