It’s been a rough season so far for Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller. Miller is 1-5 with a 6.64 ERA in nine starts so far in 2016.
It’s hard to determine what the direct cause of his struggles is, but it just hasn’t been good for Miller so far. Whether it’s his high walk rate or scraping his knuckles on the mound, Miller has been a disappointment. One contributor to his problems could be the decreased velocity on his fastball.
While playing for Atlanta in 2015, Miller’s fastball sat around 95 mph. But this season, his fastball velocity has been down quite a bit. There have been times during his first 9 starts where his fastball has dipped as low as 92 mph. For some pitchers, that’s a good velocity. For example, Zack Greinke does not throw particularly hard, sitting around 90-92 mph.
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But it’s all about location with Greinke, whereas Miller is usually a power pitcher and tries to blow his fastball by hitters. In fact, 78 of Miller’s 171 strikeouts in 2015 came off his fastball, according to FanGraphs. So far in 2016, Miller has recorded only 27 strikeouts, 19 coming off the heater.
This odd dip in velocity has made Miller’s fastball much more hittable. Last season, Miller gave up 43 hits on his fastball. He has already given up 25 hits off his fastball in 2016. Subsequently, opposing hitters are hitting Miller’s fastball out of the ballpark more often.
Miller has already given up four home runs off his fastball so far this year after only giving up six last year in Atlanta. Look back at video from Miller last season. When he was at his best, his fastball would rise up and out of the zone with great velocity and that is how he accrued many of his punchouts.
In his last three starts, Miller has pitched much better. In those three starts, he has thrown 17.1 innings and gave up eight runs combined. That doesn’t sound all that bad, right? No it’s not all that bad. But what is still a little concerning are the high number of hits and the low number of strikeouts. In those three starts, Miller has given up 21 hits while only striking out eight batters.
What is the cause of Miller’s decrease in velocity? It’s a possibility that nobody knows. It could be a physical issue or it could be mental. Miller has said that he is trying to be too perfect with his pitches. So, instead of just rearing back and letting the fastball fly, he’s trying too hard to throw the perfect pitch, which could lead to the lower velocity.
Whatever the case may be, Miller needs to find consistent success if the Diamondbacks want to stay in the race for the NL West title, and it all starts with his fastball.