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.