As part of our Trademas in July series, we’ll take a look at potential trade targets for the Pittsburgh Pirates

With just days left until the August 1st non-waiver trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to be floated as a team who would be interested in acquiring starting pitching.

The latest rumor du jour comes from John Perrotto of the Beaver County Times. Perrotto reports that the team is in talks with the Arizona Diamondbacks regarding Shelby Miller.

Miller is a name known to many Pirates fans. The 2015 All-Star came up with the St. Louis Cardinals, posting a 26-18 record across 63 starts with the Redbirds. Though Pittsburgh has had success against him – they slash .278/.376/.522 versus the right hander – Miller seemed to be well on his way towards a career as a front-line starting pitcher.

And then, the wheels fell off.

After a 2015 with the Atlanta Braves that saw him post a 3.04 ERA and collect his first All Star nomination, the Arizona Diamondbacks famously overpaid for his services, and the resulting 7.14 ERA and 1.74 WHIP earned him a demotion to Triple-A Reno.

Now, with the D-Backs feeling a change of scenery might be the best thing for both parties, do the Pirates line up as possible trade partners? Is Miller even a good fit to begin with?

Profile and Performance

Miller has five pitches in his toolbox but relies chiefly on fastballs of the four-seam, sinking, and cut variety. He mixes in a curveball about 11 percent of the time and can pull out a changeup only occasionally. The sinker is a new wrinkle that he developed in 2015, when he threw it 23 percent of the time.

It is curious why Miller sticks by the sinker when teams hit it so well. Over the past three years, the lowest batting average against the pitch has been .326 in 2015. Of all of his pitches, the curve seems to be the most effective, with opponents hitting it at a .217 clip.

Once aable to average close to 96 mph on his fastball, Miller now sits just under 94, but maintains good velocity on his cut and sinking varieties. He can dial the changeup back to 86mph, It, too, has a bit of sinking action that adds to its deceptiveness.

Miller has a career SO/W ratio of 2.21. He has never had much natural strikeout ability, and has walked 3.4 batters per nine for his career. Before this year, he consistently out-pitched his FIP while making at least 30 starts since he became a full-time big leaguer.

Career-to-date

 

Year ERA GS SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W Awards
2012 1.32 1 0 13.2 9 2 2 0 4 16 1.85 0.951 5.9 0.0 2.6 10.5 4.00
2013 3.06 31 1 173.1 152 65 59 20 57 169 3.67 1.206 7.9 1.0 3.0 8.8 2.96 RoY-3
2014 3.74 31 1 183.0 160 78 76 22 73 127 4.54 1.273 7.9 1.1 3.6 6.2 1.74
2015 ★ 3.02 33 2 205.1 183 82 69 13 73 171 3.45 1.247 8.0 0.6 3.2 7.5 2.34 AS
2016 7.14 14 0 69.1 87 55 55 13 34 50 5.65 1.745 11.3 1.7 4.4 6.5 1.47
5 Yrs 3.64 110 4 644.2 591 282 261 68 241 533 4.02 1.291 8.3 0.9 3.4 7.4 2.21
162 Game Avg. 3.64 33 1 194 178 85 79 20 73 160 4.02 1.291 8.3 0.9 3.4 7.4 2.21
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/28/2016.

The Case For Miller

  • Miller has been a workhorse at times, and can be a very effective pitcher on a solid club. Before 2016, his ERA stood mainly in the low threes – with a FIP-influcnced 3.74 in 2014 – and solid if unspectacular peripherals.
  • Miller is under control through 2018, and will hit his second year of arbitration in the offseason. He made $4.35 million in his first go-round, and his down year may keep the price static. If it does, that is a tremendous value even considering his struggles.
  • There may be a bit of familiarity with Pittsburgh Pirates brass due to Miller’s time in the NL Central. Though Ray Searage‘s reputation has taken a bit of a hit this year, he may already have a plan percolating for the right-hander.
  • With his well-documented struggles, Arizona may be desperate to rid themselves of Miller, driving the price tag down.

The Case Against Miller

  • Looking at a few choice peripherals tells us that Miller has very little strikeout ability. His O-Swing (pitches outside the zone that batters offer at) and swinging strike percentages are both well below average.
  • That lack of deception and swing and miss stuff leads to more hard contact that many would be comfortable with – 35.5 percent in 2016. His career ground ball rate of 42.4 percent underwhelms.
  • Due to the overwhelming haul the Diamondbacks gave up for him, Arizona might want to recoup some of their organizational losses, increasing the price tag.

What it Might Take…

As it just so happens, MLB Pipeline put out their midseason Top 100 and Top 30 per-team prospects lists today. If we look at the Diamondbacks’ current system, they have an interesting mix of multi-positional prospects, giving them an unusual amount of flexibility. One glaring hole is third base. It might take a package centered around Ke’Bryan Hayes to make this deal work, though his current injury status plus inconsistent play with the West Virginia Power may dampen any enthusiasm.

Despite Miller’s struggles, Arizona is pretty well stocked at the major league level with young arms. Of course, Zach Greinke is in tow, but other names such as Robbie Ray, Archie Bradley and Rubby De La Rosa should shore up the rotation after the ace.

In that light, the Pittsburgh Pirates wouldn’t have to give up any major league ready arms – and nor should they – for Miller, but a package built around quantity rather than quality could get it done. Still, a top 10 prospect would have to go back to Arizona in light of Miller’s remaining years of control.

Conclusions

Was Miller’s success before his days in Atlanta due having an excellent team around him? Was his all-star year a flash in the pan?

That may be too many questions to firmly put the Pittsburgh Pirates in the camp for Miller. In this case, familiarity may not breed contempt but rather, comfort. If the organization has a firm plan on how to correct Miller’s faults, they could likely grab Miller without giving up too much.

Feature Photo Credit – Zachary Lucy – Used under Flickr Creative Commons

Jason Rollison

Jason Rollison has been analyzing baseball and the Pirates in one way or another for 4+ years.

Jason’s previous stops include rumbunter.com, Pittsburgh Sporting News, Call To The Pen and several print publications. He also covers the State College Spikes for the Centre County Gazette (State College, PA)

When it comes to analyzing baseball, he likes to take a middle-of-the-road approach, with one foot on the analytics side of the fence and the other on the old-school side. Having said that, he is a sucker for pitchf/x. Jason has appeared as a phone-in and in-studio guests in numerous outlets, including Trib Live Radio and 93.7 The Fan (CBS Sports Radio)

  • If they would take someone like Alen Hanson for Miller straight up or maybe have them toss in a bit of cash.. then consider it. But Hanson’s value could probably be best used elsewhere.

    I think shelby is a great target to bring back from the dead but we already have a handful that are just as likely to be live arms to fill out the rotation later this summer and next year. Why add 5M in payroll next season when you dont’ have too?

    BUT it is only going to be about 5M (unless he makes a major comeback).. should he return to form he would be an excellent trade chip next year this time should we have the problem of too much pitching.

    • Pirates Breakdown

      You make an excellent point about being a trade chip next year…when the logjam of staring pitching would be even greater.

      Sidenote, thanks for always reading and commenting, we appreciate it!!

      • even if I don’t agree with the posts i like reading them.. and for commenting.. well i have ideas.. most are probably bad but probably some good ones too hopefully someone ‘important’ sees the good ones here as i’m to lazy to update my own blog lol 😉

        So continuing the hypothetical… What would a resurgent Shelby Miller be able to bring back in trade next season? Last off-season he was swapped for a top 20 MLB prospect at a high value position, a fringy pitching prospect and a quality (at the time) every day outfielder.

    • Pirates Breakdown

      You make an excellent point about being a trade chip next year…when the logjam of staring pitching would be even greater.

      Sidenote, thanks for always reading and commenting, we appreciate it!!

    • leadoff

      I agree, Hanson would be a good one on one trade, Hanson is pretty well blocked in the Pirate system and Miller has a lot of potential. For some reason Hanson’s name does not come up much in trade talks, but IMO, any player that is blocked should be someone the Pirates dangle out as trade bait.

    • leadoff

      I agree, Hanson would be a good one on one trade, Hanson is pretty well blocked in the Pirate system and Miller has a lot of potential. For some reason Hanson’s name does not come up much in trade talks, but IMO, any player that is blocked should be someone the Pirates dangle out as trade bait.