Shelby Miller hasn’t put together a quality season since Barack Obama was President, so a team with World Series aspirations like the Dodgers seem to be an odd fit on paper. But the converted starter now looks to be the latest project for Mark Prior and the Dodgers staff as he looks to rejuvenate his career and continue the new approach he seemed to find last year on the Giants.
Miller has reportedly signed a 1-year deal with the Dodgers worth just $1.5 million guaranteed that will be heavy on the incentives.
Miller was an All-Star at 24, but Tommy John surgery then led to ineffectiveness to the tune of a 7.02 ERA and 5.21 FIP over 202.2 innings split between starting and relieving over the last seven years. However, in recent years he converted to relief full time and has seen better results, particularly last year with the Giants, who seemed to get him on track.
While he “struggled” in the majors in 2022 with a 6.43 ERA, he actually posted a 0.40 FIP and 1.90 xERA thanks to a whopping 46.7% K rate with 14 strikeouts and three walks. That came in just seven innings, but he achieved quality results in the minors as well, with a 2.87 ERA and 69 strikeouts with a solid 21 walks in 53.1 innings.
But more than the stats, it was how he achieved this turnaround that was likely more interesting to the Dodgers. In the past, Miller was a fastball, cutter, and curve pitcher that mixed in an occasional change, and even recently as 2021 was still working with three pitches and 60+% fastballs. However, in his successful showcase stint with the Giants, he cut his arsenal down to just a fastball and slider, actually throwing the latter (55%) more than the former (45%). With his fastball back in the mid-90s (topping out at 97ish) and a slider being thrown a few ticks harder than ever, he’s also getting more swings and misses than ever.
Small sample, but the stuff grade normalizes quickly and puts him in the upper echelon of sliders with a very good fastball to boot.
Furthermore, the slider has generated 45 minutes of seam-shifted wake, the more of which has proven to improve results against hitters. As a bonus, the spin almost mirrors that of his fastball, which should make it harder to pick up.
Quite frankly, when looking at some of the outings he had last year, it’s curious he didn’t get a longer run in San Francisco.
Granted, it’s hard to ever be too sure with a player who hasn’t produced end product for as long as him, especially with his injury history, but you don’t have to look very hard to see at least a quality middle reliever already, much less whatever the Dodgers get out of him with further refinement. Miller now seems healthy and his two-pitch arsenal look absolutely legit, so in a market where relievers are getting silly money and years, he seems like a solid bet to help bolster the pen in 2023.