Cleat Geeks

What To Do With Shelby if Struggles Persist

As the boo’s rained down from the stands, a visibly shaken Shelby Miller stood hunched over screaming at himself as San Francisco Giants outfielder, Andrew McCutchen, trotted around the bases making it a 6-0 game in the fourth inning of Miller’s regular-season home debut last Saturday. Coming off his regular-season debut in Miami where he gave up 5 earned runs in 3.2 innings, it’s fair to say that through his first two starts back this isn’t the type of production – 0-2, 11.42 ERA, 2.07 WHIP – that Shelby, the organization & fans had hoped for after over a year-long hiatus due to Tommy John surgery.

He understands the current circumstances surrounding himself and the team, “It’s getting to the point of the season when we have to win ballgames…and I didn’t give us a chance to do that tonight,” he said after Sundays poor outing. He went on, “Right now we’re getting close to the All-Star break and we’re playing division teams that are right behind us trying to get 1st place away from us and I’m going out there and not pitching well. So that’s more of what I’m upset about,” after being asked if he could take any little victories away with him after his performance.

Shelby started tonight against San Diego – bottom-4 in avg, on-base %, slugging & OPS – and with the team currently in the midst of a pennant chase, and holding a slim division lead (0.5 gm lead over LA), If he can’t find his form against the soft-hitting Padres, Manager Torey Lovullo & Co., definitely should consider another plan of attack for the righty. We also know how deep loyalty runs with the second-year manager, so it’s definitely not a given that he would pull the plug, for the time being, after just three starts. However, San Diego is just 3-10 over their last 13 games.

At home against the Padres, Shelby Miller took the loss, which is his third without a win. It took Miller 17 pitches to fall behind in the first inning. He did open up the third inning with back to back strikeouts and did that again in the forth topping out with his fastball at 97. This outing he went 5.1 innings giving up five hits and five runs, three of them earned. He walked two and gave up a solo shot while striking out seven. This outing allowed him to reduce his three start ERA to 9,00 %.

According to Dr. David Geier’s – award-winning double-board certified orthopaedic surgeon and board member of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine – article titled Pitching Performance After Tommy John, within the last five years researchers at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan analyzed pitching performance data for 168 MLB pitchers who had undergone UCL reconstruction (Tommy John). Specifically, ERA, WHIP, walks, winning % and innings pitched. Data covered the 3 years prior to surgery and the 3 years after. Here were their findings:

Our results suggest that UCL reconstructive surgery does a tremendous job in allowing players to return to their same level of sport but it also describes a decline in pitching performance after undergoing reconstruction. We also found that there is a statistically significant decline in pitching performance the year before reconstructive surgery and this decline was found to be a risk factor for requiring surgery” said lead author Robert A. Keller, MD.

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Decline in Pitching Performance After Undergoing Reconstruction is why fans and organizations need to temper expectations immediately after Tommy John surgery. More times than not it’s going to take at least three seasons before the pitcher turns back into his old self.

Statistically Significant Decline in Pitching Performance the Year Before Reconstructive Surgery is in correlation with Shelby as he had an ERA above 5.00 over the previous year before his surgery, compared to a 3.37 combined ERA from the two seasons before that (’14-’15).

During his four minor-league rehab starts, Shelby had a 4.66 ERA and 1.34 WHIP to go along with 6 walks & 28 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. While his two starts with single-A Visalia – 0.77 ERA, 0.60 WHIP over 11.2 IP – were great, it’s the two starts with double-A Jackson that should’ve been a telltale sign that the 27-year-old, former 1st-round pick probably needed a little more seasoning against stiffer competition before being called up after missing nearly 15 months due to elbow surgery. In those 7.2 innings in AA, Shelby walked 6 with 10 K’s, en route to a 10.57 ERA & 2.48 WHIP.

With minor-league options still remaining and the fact Shelby is now just barely over five major league service years, meaning he can decline a demotion to the minors (can’t imagine him declining one though considering he just came back from major surgery), the most likely plan of attack is if he keeps struggling would be sending him back to AA-Jackson to try and build his confidence as a starter, against good competition, then bring him back up to the big club to see if he can help this season as a starting pitcher. While that sounds all good, the best likelihood for Shelby having a real positive impact on this team down the stretch would seemingly be out of the bullpen.

The most obvious candidate to replace Shelby, if there were a move made prior to Buchholz’s return his oblique injury (no specific timetable on his return), would be recalling Matt Koch. In his three starts in Reno since being demoted from the big club, Matt Koch has given up 7 earned runs in 19 innings for the Aces and leads all current starting pitchers on the team in ERA (2.52) and WHIP(1.08) this season in his limited minor-league action (25 innings; made 1 start with Reno prior to being recalled in early April). In 79.2 innings with the D’backs this season, Koch held his own by going 5-4 with an ERA of 4.40 and a very respectable 1.20 WHIP, while giving his team a chance to win more often than not.

While 8th inning flamethrower, Archie Bradley, as developed into one of the games best reliever’s since being moved to the bullpen prior to last season – 1.85 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 3.56 K to BB ratio in 114 innings – his overall career numbers still aren’t great – 3.86 ERA, 1.35 WHIP – due to his 177.1 innings as a starter. As basically a two pitch starting pitcher, who relied heavily on his fastball, Archie produced an ERA of 5.18, WHIP of 1.57 and K to BB ratio of 1.87 in those 34 starts between 2015-’16.

Prior to his move to the bullpen, Archie threw his fastball, best pitch, 70% of the time and averaged under 93MPH on it. Since moving to the ‘pen, the big righty is throwing his best pitch even more, 79%, and harder, 96 MPH avg. stats via Fangraphs.

Even though Shelby has been more of a three pitch pitcher (FB 68%; Curve 15%; Cutter 13%) than Archie (FB 73%; Curve 23%; Change-up 4%), it would seem that going back to his roots and relying even more on his fastball may be in his best interest.

With the Braves and Cardinals, Shelby had an ERA around 3.20 and was throwing his best pitch, fastball, nearly 70% of the time. Since his arrival in AZ, he’s throwing his fastball just over 60% of the time and has an ERA North of 6. The numbers in the parenthesis is the average velocity of his fastball.

The easiest way to get the most of his fastball again would be in a role similar to Archie’s, in the hopes that similar production would soon then follow. Until then, we shouldn’t be holding our breaths that Shelby will turn back into that pitcher from his St. Louis and Atlanta days this season, even if he goes out and dazzles against the lowly Padres.


Team Notes:

Steven Souza activated from the DL and in tonight’s starting lineup

Dyson placed on 10-Day DL with a Right Groin Strain

RHP Joey Krehbiel optioned to Reno

RHP Silvino Bracho was recalled from Reno

RHP Randall Delgado will be activated tomorrow from the DL (7/6)



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