With about six weeks before the start of spring training, all seems rosy and bright in desert. After all, the Diamondbacks strengthen their pitching staff with the acquisitions of pitchers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller, and the prospect ahead appears optimistic.
Despite this generated feeling of enthusiasm, there could be some serious issues lurking on the horizon. One deals with Miller and the other could be the adjustment of Yasmany Tomas, the man with a $68 million contract and a great deal still to show the organization and their fans.
For Miller, Arizona will be his third team in as many years, and pundits question why teams have moved the 25-year-old native of Houston so frequently. Several reasons have surfaced. The most common, and perhaps disturbing, is Miller’s insistence, in the words of Frank Sinatra, to do this “my way.”
“This” is a reference to Miller’s assertion to throw his four-seam fast ball and essentially ignore other pitches. According to the web site Fansided, no pitcher since 2013 has thrown the four-seamer more frequently than Miller, and that’s at 71.9 percent of the time. With predictability, hitters wait for the four-seamer, and their ability to foul off the pitch increases Miller’s pitch count.
Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals on the first round (19th overall) in 2009, reports indicated Miller did not embrace The Cardinal Way, a successful criterion for improving a player’s productivity. In an effort to diversify his arsenal, the Cardinals wanted Miller to develop secondary pitchers and be more effective in pitching to location. Miller rejected this direction and, in difference to All-Star catcher Yadier Molina and former catcher and current St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, stayed with his four-seamer. In the 2013 post-season, Miller (for the 2013 season was 15-9, 3.06 ERA) was used in just one game, and that was for one inning against the Pirates. The rationale here was Matheny would not trust Miller’s insistence to basically throw one-pitch during critical, post-season play.
In 2014, his season record for the Cardinals fell to 10-9 and ERA increased to 3.74. Again, he was used in sparingly, and appeared in two post-season games. Starting against the Dodgers and Giants, Miller received a no-decision in each game. In the subsequent off-season, he was dealt to the Braves for outfielder Jason Heywood and, last month, traded by Atlanta to the Diamondbacks.
Now, Miller comes full-circle and teams up again with Tony La Russa, who was part of the Cardinals’ organization when Miller was drafted. Miller also comes into the company of La Russa’s pitching guru Dave Duncan, who is currently working with the Diamondbacks as a pitching consultant. Arriving next month at Salt River, the Diamondbacks spring training facility, Miller will be surrounded by experts in the field and those responsible for commencing The Cardinal Way. Miller now has the up-coming spring training to embrace The Diamondbacks Way.
There was no question that the Diamondbacks gave up a great deal to obtain Miller. By trading starting outfielder Ender Inciarte, right-hander Aaron Blair, a potential starter in the rotation and shortstop Dansby Swanson, the overall number one pick in the 2015 draft, the Diamondbacks, many believe, compromised their future. The up-side, counters La Russa, general manager Dave Stewart and field manager Chip Hale, is that Miller bring an enormous talent to the table and a reliable starter.
For the 2016 season, and based on numbers of the past, Baseball Reference predicts Miller will have a sub.500 season. For the coming season, Miller will go 9-12 with a 3.33 ERA, 181.1 innings and one save out of the bullpen, said the web site.
If the Diamondbacks are to rely on Miller as their number two starter behind Greinke, Miller’s numbers will have to be greater than predicted. If he embraces The Diamondbacks Way, that could happen. At this point, the success or failure of Miller’s initial season in the desert relies on his desire to be coached, to diversity his pitches and shed his previous dogmatic image.