Game 149, Mariners at Cardinals
Erasmo Ramirez vs. Shelby Miller, 11:15am
Shelby Miller, the former #1 prospect for the Cards, is putting together an excellent rookie campaign; in another year, he might get some rookie of the year votes, but with Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey in the league, that’s just not going to happen. MIller uses his mid-90s fastball and big curve to rack up strikeouts, and he’ll also throw a couple of cutters and change-ups to give hitters another look. That he’s already an above-average MLB pitcher isn’t a huge shock – he was the Cards first round pick in 2009, and overpowered the lower minors in 2010 and 2011. That’s why many (including me) were surprised when he showed up in the PCL and got annihilated. Through June of 2012, Miller had given up 51 runs and 16 HRs in just 15 starts spanning just 71 innings. His velocity seemed to be down (though he was still putting up a decent K/9), and he simply wasn’t able to pitch out of trouble.
Like Rangers’ prospect Martin Perez, something clicked for him in the middle of the year, and he was able to regain the form that allowed him to destroy the AA Texas League. After dominating in a late-season call-up, he started 2013 in the Cardinals rotation, and he’s been excellent all season. His 3.6 FIP isn’t perfect, but the RA and K% (just about 25%) are good signs. His problem this year (and last, actually) has been the long ball. Miller’s fastball is thrown from a 3/4 angle and has led to a lot of elevated contact. It’s not a very high vertical movement pitch like Wacha’s, but it’s the primary reason Miller’s posting a GB% below 40%. His curve actually *does* get grounders, but for a valuable pitch, it gets a stunning lack of whiffs. I know curves aren’t always designed for swinging strikes (as they freeze hitters instead), it’s interesting that Erasmo Ramirez’s curve has a higher whiff rate…and it’s Ramirez’s third- or fourth-best pitch. Indeed, if you just looked at some plate discipline or pitch fx data, you might be surprised by Miller’s K%. His o-swing’s below league average. His curve generates contact, not strikes. He allows more contact overall than the league average. Part of the answer is that he’s always around the zone. His zone% is well above average, and he throws his curve for strikes instead of trying to get batters to chase it low and out of the zone.
Related to the HR problem is a factor that makes this a better match-up than you’d think: Miller’s always struggled against lefties. Miller’s curve actually has sizeable platoon splits, and his overall splits this year are fairly high. It’s a small sample, but it matches the pattern he showed in the minors; he had a 4.84 FIP vs. lefties in the PCL last season. The M’s line-up isn’t a bad one to face Miller, and while Guti starting ahead of a lefty bat isn’t ideal, the M’s still need to see what he’s capable of. Triunfel over Brad Miller is clearly sub-optimal, but the M’s didn’t have a choice after Brad injured his hamstring yesterday.
1: Ackley, 2B
2: Almonte, CF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Gutierrez, RF
6: Saunders, LF
7: Quintero, C
8: Triunfel, SS
9: Erasmo Ramirez, SP
It’s looking increasingly like Ackley’s move to CF is on life-support, if it isn’t over. Part of this may be related to Nick Franklin’s struggles offensively and defensively there, but I’m guessing the proximate cause is Abe Almonte’s emergence as a switch-hitting option in the OF. That’s cool and all, but doesn’t make the M’s off-season decisions regarding Ackley, Franklin and Saunders any easier.
In case you missed it, I wrote about the new NPB single-season HR king Wlad Balentien (and the first foreign contender for that record, Randy Bass) below.
Erasmo Ramirez has had a really odd season, with an uncharacteristic walk rate, HR troubles, and now platoon splits (none of which plagued him last year). That said, he’s been a solid option for the past month. But given Paxton’s emergence, he could probably use a solid close to his 2013 season to ensure he’s still penciled in to the rotation in 2014. Given his arm troubles, I think it’s likely he could take a big step forward next year, especially if his command returns. But with two injuries in two years, he’s got to show he can withstand the grind of an MLB season (especially given his stature). C’mon, Erasmo.