Revisiting the Shelby Miller “mystery”

Months after the 2013 postseason concluded with another Red Sox victory, it has emerged that the Cardinals never communicated with young phenom Shelby Miller about his lack of use in the postseason. In an interview with the Associated Press, Miller elaborated on the topic and made it clear that he did not know why pitched just one postseason inning.

The Cardinals and manager Mike Matheny were roundly criticized during the playoffs for rostering two players that they did not use despite plenty of opportunity to do so. Those players were Miller and reliever Edward Mujica. As fans, we assume that there is some internal rationale behind the decision to carry these players and not use them. Perhaps the two players weren’t fully available due to a minor injury but could help out in a pinch. Miller’s comments call that reasoning into question.

Many supposed that Miller was dealing with shoulder soreness or fatigue. It would seem that was not the case. Said Miller, “Physically, I felt amazing,” and “I felt good. I didn’t feel any better or worse than I did during the season.”

Not to climb up onto a high horse, but if that was the case, the Cardinals owed Miller an explanation as to why he was put on the shelf. It’s one thing to manage a young pitcher’s innings, especially one with All-Star-caliber stuff who could be with the organization for another five-plus seasons.

But any innings-management plan should come in consultation with the player—even if the player has no say in the matter. Miller claims to have no hard feelings over the experience, but this is the kind of thing that can affect a player’s morale.

There is some scientific evidence that managing a young pitcher’s workload can help prevent injury. That may be doubly true of October innings. The evidence is inconclusive, and in many cases, the damage probably has been done long before the player becomes a professional. Nevertheless, the Cardinals have every right to try to leverage science to their long-term advantage. Just communicate that with the player.

Another possible explanation for why Miller was seldom used is his late-season performance. In August, Miller posted a 4.55 ERA, which was his worst month of the season. However, his peripherals were healthy, with a slightly elevated walk rate as the main blemish. His ERA improved in September, but his strikeout rate crashed from 24 percent to 12 percent. Miller showed an ever-so-slight decline in his fastball velocity, too, which could explain why the Cardinals might have thought he was injured.


But again, if the Cardinals were concerned about injury, they should have talked to him. Not to ask how he felt, because players can’t necessarily be trusted to be truthful about discomfort. More importantly, pre-injuries don’t always come equipped with pain. What the Cardinals should have done is confer with him about the data and assure him that he was a big part of the club’s future.

The Cardinals had good starting pitchers ready and able to carry the club through October. Miller would have been a boon in the bullpen, but they had good arms there, too. Which brings us back to the million-dollar question—why roster him?

If it’s true that the Cardinals were worried about injury, then why place Miller in harms way at all? He was seemingly reserved for a mop-up role, which was precisely the wrong role if the concern was health. If the concern was purely performance, then the Cardinals did themselves a grave disservice by not using Miller.

Miller termed his usage a “mystery,” and it’s an apt description. There are a couple of obvious reasons why the Cardinals might have been cautious about using Miller, but choosing not to communicate with him on the topic is simply befuddling. The club’s silence may indicate that the real reason Miller was not used was simply too hard to communicate.

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  1. Adam said...

    As far as internal rationale, according to Viva El Birdos earlier this month, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch mentioned during a published chat that Miller was shut down because of injury concerns. The VEB piece links to the Goold chat, and also raises questions that Goold doesn’t address.

  2. Grandpa Boog said...

    I’m very old, but the conjectures above remind me of an Andy Griffith TV show in which the men of Mayberry conject and spread rumors about a shoe salesman really being a TV talent show scout, except he really is just a shoe salesman. Is it possible that Matheny simply decided not to use Miller vs. Pittsburg, a team that killed him (Miller) during the regular season? Then for the WS, Matheny may have decided on other pitchers; nothing more or less than that? That is a manager’s prerogative, and he need not explain or justify his every move to the media. Al Lopez in 1954 decided not to use an aging but still effective Bob Feller in Game 4 of the 1954 WS, in which the underdog NY Giants swept the Indians, after Clevland had won 111 regular season games in the then-154 game schedule. Feller had gone 13-3 with a 3.06 ERA but was passed over for Game 4. Lopez received much discredit by the media and fans for that move, as a tired Bob Lemon, a 20-plus game winner, got nailed again by the Giants. Why did Lopez decide on a tired Lemon over an aging but rested Feller? Because that’s what he decided to do. As Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth (Act 3), “Nothing is but what is not.”

    —Stay tuned.

  3. Jim said...

    These two were rostered because they needed 25 guys to fill out the roster.  I would bet that many times there have been players on world series rosters who never played.  I may try to look this up and see.
    I know that Bobby Kielty was allowed to pinch hit in the seventh inning of game four of the 2007 series when Boston thought they were in control.  Kielty hit a homerun and it proved to be the winning run of the series.  Also, the last major league game Kielty played.  He was almost a non-participant.

  4. Paul G. said...

    Jim does have an interesting point.  Who was eligible to be on the Cardinal’s post-season roster who was not on the roster and was healthy?

  5. Jim said...

    I found three more you could write about, Morales, Mujica and Cruz.  Short series, don’t need everyone except . . .

  6. Todd said...

    “The club’s silence may indicate that the real reason Miller was not used was simply too hard to communicate.”

    That seems like giving the Cardinals too much credit (and I say this as a Cardinals’ fan who has great confidence overall in the way the team is run right now).

    The only arguments I can think of that runs along the same lines are arguments about unknowable aspects of God and why that makes it okay that we don’t understand some phenomenon (like why evil exists or whatever).

    Regardless of what you think about THAT argument (I realize mentioning it may create a huge digression, and I apologize in advance if it does), clearly it doesn’t apply here- Mozeliak, Matheny, et al are certainly not so smart that they are reasoning at a level above us mere mortals. If they can understand and articulate to themselves why they didn’t use Miller, surely they can communicate it to him and to us as well.

  7. Big in Japan said...

    Based on what I’ve read, it started out as a bad matchup against the Pirates, then it became about holding him back in case of a need for emergency long-relief that never happened. Then by the time the World Series rolled around, he was considered to have sat on the shelf too long, and the Cards were worried about sending him out in a spot where he might fail.

    I don’t know if that makes sense, exactly. They probably could’ve found him an inning or two against the Pirates to keep him fresh and available – perhaps in game 5, once the Cards established a comforable 6-1 lead entering the 9th. But that’s not what happened, and based on what *did* happen, the Cards decided it made more sense to keep Miller under glass, awaiting an emergency that never emerged.

  8. Leo Walter said...

    Big In Japan : I think your hypo is very plausible. But as Brad Johnson replied to argon that doesn’t explain the lack of an explanation over the almost 3 months following.

  9. Leo Walter said...

    Big In Japan : I think your hypo is very plausible. But as Brad Johnson replied to argon that doesn’t explain the lack of an explanation over the almost 3 months following.

  10. lisa gray said...

    If they didn’t intend to use him, why waste a spot on the postseason roster?

    Why not tell him IF they were shutting him down because of total innings pitched or something of that sort?

    I would assume it was something personal, because actions like this usually turn out to be that. If i was Miller, I would be very worried about what they mean to do with me this upcoming season, and might could expect to get traded, maybe sent down. I would be worried not because I wasn’t used, but because they refused to discuss anything with me before, during OR after the Series.

  11. Jason said...

    Last I checked the Cardinals don’t owe anyone(even Miller)an explaination. They own his rights and can use him as they see fit. I would agree that it’s along the lines that Big In Japan stated. Maybe they were looking to ahead to the offseason to trade him and didn’t want to risk injury and maybe they’re still looking to move him and don’t want to put it out there that he has potential shoulder issues. Or maybe they wanted to limit innings if at all possible.

  12. Jim said...

    Jason, I can’t let that one go.  In November, I would have been happy to see a trade of Tulowitzki for Miller and the Cardinals’ top AAA pitcher.  It didn’t happen and the Cardinals filled their shortstop position.  But it’s interesting you bring that up when it was my pipe dream.

  13. argonbunnies said...

    My guess: Miller was on the roster as a back-up plan in case one of the other starters got shelled.  They didn’t tell that to any of the players, because they didn’t want the other starters looking over their shoulders.  If you tell Miller, “If Kelly gets knocked around, you’ll take his next start,” you can bet that info will get back to Kelly.  Apparently the Cards felt it was more important to express faith in the guys on the mound than to explain themselves to a guy who might not be.

  14. Brad Johnson said...

    That’s simply not how you manage people in the 21st century. Not just in baseball but in general.

    Your hypothetical is plausible, except that they’ve had months to talk to Miller since that happened. Most people would be disgruntled to be treated that way with no explanation. Miller is probably “most people” despite what he says to the press. Therefore, it stands to reason that they may have avoidably upset the morale of one of their most valuable assets.

  15. Green Mountain Boy said...

    What am I missing? Shelby Miller is an adult, a promising Major League pitcher, on a very good team, who was with the team and in the rotation all year. If he was wondering why he wasn’t being used despite his season-long contributions and being on the post-season roster, why didn’t he just ask? Isn’t that what professionals do?

  16. lisa gray said...

    green mountain

    i don’t know why he doesn’t ask, unless he thinks that for some reason, he is in trouble for some reason and asking will get him in worse trouble

    i am wondering MORE why his manager and pitching coach have not spoken to him about this, when it is something that could very easily have been addressed. and it isn’t – gee, we had NO idea that anyone including the pitcher, had concerns. it was all over the WS broadcast, the saint looey papers, BBTN, etc

    guys remember stuff like this come arb/copntract extension time

  17. evo34 said...

    It’s pretty simple. They considered him the worst pitcher on their post-season roster, based on his declining performance throughout the year. You don’t use your worst pitcher in the playoffs unless you need to.

    And yes, I think this speaks volumes to the current level of confidence the Cards have in Miller’s ability. I suspect if they could get “true” market value for him in a trade right now (i.e., a comparably regarded propsect), they would do so.

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