shelby miller

Braves very smart in acquiring Shelby Miller

Tuesday night Shelby Miller of the Atlanta Braves shut out the Philadelphia Phillies by a score of 9-0. Maybe trading Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals was a good idea after all, a really good idea.

Heyward, 25, was by far the biggest name in the trade made this offseason between the Braves and Cardinals. Heyward was traded along with right-hander Jordan Walden to the Braves in exchange for Miller and minor league right-hander Tyrell Jenkins.

The immediate reaction was that St. Louis had gotten the better end of the deal, except for the large and looming fact that Heyward will be a free agent after this year and Miller will not.

The Braves got a good deal too as they are re-building or “re-tooling” for the  2017 season and had gotten a good, young starter who would still be under team control.

Still, I don’t think either team realized that the Shelby Miller the Braves received would be pitching quite as good as he has been so far this season. He began mixing in his sinker in the middle of last season and it’s helped put him on track to be the ace he can be.

Even though Miller, 24,  had been extremely solid for St. Louis he wasn’t their star. He wasn’t Adam Wainwright. He wasn’t a big name. He’d even struggled a bit between mid-2013 and mid-2014.

Shelby Miller & A.J. Pierzynski. Getty Images.
Shelby Miller & A.J. Pierzynski. Getty Images.

Miller left St. Louis with after playing in parts of three seasons with a 26-18 record, a 3.33 ERA and two complete game shutouts.

So far this season Miller is 4-1 for the Braves in a league leading six starts. He also leads the league in complete game shutouts.

As noted, the young pitcher shutout the Phillies Tuesday night. He did so using only 99 pitches, becoming the first pitcher this season to throw a complete game, let alone a shutout, using under 100 pitches. He allowed just three hits, one walk and struck out eight batters in the process.

He’s sporting a 1.66 ERA over 38.0 innings, striking out 31 batters and allowing just 7 earned runs, three of them were home runs meaning four of those runs were simply bad pitches left out over the plate.

He allowed a two-run shot to the Phillies’ Ryan Howard back in April along with two solo-shots to Tucker Barnhart and Mike Leake of the Cincinnati Reds.

Miller is not allowing many players to reach base and has been in control of his pitches. It’s no wonder the Cardinals drafted Miller in the first round of the 2009 amateur draft.

He also finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2012 finishing behind the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig and the award winner from the Miami Marlins, Jose Fernandez.

Since then Miller hasn’t made headlines for his poor behavior the way Puig has. Nor has he had any major injuries like Fernandez, who has already undergone Tommy John surgery and missed an entire season. Miller has quietly done his job and done it well.

Now, I’d heard of Miller but he wouldn’t have been the first pitcher I would have chosen for my fantasy team. To be honest I didn’t know much about him. It may be that I live out here on the West (& best!) Coast.

My lack of knowledge surrounding Miller could also be because I follow the American League more closely than the National League. I did know of him. I think that it’s just been that Miller has been quietly doing his job, working to improve and not drawing too much attention to himself.

He was also somewhat overshadowed by the rest of the Cardinals’ elite pitching staff. In 2015, Miller has not been overshadowed.

Slated to be the Braves number three starter, he has pitched more innings and has a lower ERA so far this season than Alex Wood (4.23 ERA) and Julio Teheran (3.86 ERA). He has emerged as the team’s ace.

Whether or not his success continues remains to be seen. However his track record from St. Louis suggests that it will continue. The more experience he seems to gather the more of an ace Miller is becoming.

And he is always willing to listen and learn from his coaches and other players. Back in November Miller told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his sinker,

“Justin Masterson came over from Cleveland and he was with us (Cardinals) for that time, and I just picked up on what he was throwing. He’s a guy who’s had a good sinker in the past, and I just kind of tried his grip out and was comfortable with it, and I really started throwing that pitch a lot. I started going deeper into games with it and being a little bit more efficient.”

Obviously, observing and learning has helped Miller go deeper into games, given his very efficient 99 pitch complete game shutout.

Jason Heyward is a career .261 hitter. His lifetime average  could’ve been higher, although there is no real evidence to prove that. It’s a possibility considering he was ravaged by injuries in 2013 and was limited to playing in just 104 games that season.

In five full seasons with the Braves Heyward played in an average of 136 games a season, including 2013.

Heyward was runner up for the National League Rookie of the Year Award to San Francisco Giants’ catcher Buster Posey in 2010. He was named to the NL All-Star team that year playing in 142 games while batting .277 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI.

Jason Heyward. Getty Images. Shelby Miller.
Jason Heyward. Getty Images.

Heyward had his best year in 2012 playing in 158 games, batting .269 but with 27 home runs, 21 stolen bases and 82 RBI. He also has won two Gold Glove Awards, one in 2010 and the second in 2014. In 2014 Heyward hit well above average, batting .271.

Heyward also has a very high lifetime WAR of 24.7 but he appears to lack raw power, hitting only 11 homers last season.

The trade between the Cardinals and the Braves looks relatively fair when you compare the histories of the two major players in the trade.

However, the speedy right fielder is only hitting .224 for the Cardinals this season with two home runs and just five RBI. He has stolen just three bases in 2015.

It’s only May, but Shelby Miller is proving himself to be an ace. While Heyward, on the other hand, needs to pick it up at the plate in order for him to be the asset to the Cardinals that Miller has been to the Braves. His glove alone can’t make him that huge of an asset.

Even though the Cards have the best record in baseball, I’d have to bet that with Wainwright out for the season they still wish they had Shelby Miller.

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