When it comes right down to it, experience could be the deciding factor in the Cardinals race for the fifth spot in the rotation. Joe Kelly easily has the edge in that category, looking to build on his unexpected stretch of successful starts in 2012, but Shelby Miller’s promising potential as a top-of-the-rotation starter could win over Mike Matheny. Thursday’s game will provide both pitchers their final opportunity to “show their wares,” so to speak.
Thus far, both have been effective.
Joe Kelly: 2 Games / 4.0 IP / 2 H / 2 R / 1 ER / 0 HR / 5 BB / 1 SO
Shelby Miller: 2 Games / 5.0 IP / 4 H / 3 R / 3 ER / 1 HR / 1 BB / 4 SO
Kelly’s 1 Earned Run (ER) in two appearances – as well as his measly 2 Hits (H) in four innings of work – stands out, especially when compared to Miller’s 3 ER, 4 H, and a homer. But Miller raises more than a few eyebrows with his 4.00 K/BB ratio (strikeouts to walks) and a 1.00 WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched). Kelly’s numbers in both categories? 0.20 K/BB ratio and a 1.75 WHIP. And let’s not even look at the opposition’s on-base percentage (OBP) for both pitchers – *ahem*…Miller’s is nearly half Kelly’s (.238 vs. .400).
Granted, we’re dealing with an extremely small sample size – and in Spring Training no less – but the decision is going to be made on these numbers plus just one more performance on Thursday. So…small sample sizes in Spring Training is what ya’ get.
For my money, the numbers above make it clear Shelby Miller should win the spot. He’s been a more effective pitcher overall, despite the earned runs totals, and he’s worked efficiently and aggressively. While Kelly also flashes aggressiveness, he seems to give up a lot of hard hit balls while struggling with the strike zone from time to time. Miller possesses the ability to dominate a game where Kelly lives dangerously inning to inning.
But Mike Matheny values experience. He likes the fact that Kelly has consistently made start after start at the major league level and shown he can be successful there. He is the “known commodity.” Miller? Well…Miller’s that guy that struggled early in AAA last season before finally pulling it together, swallowing his pride, and learning to pitch. A late season call-up in recognition of his hard work may not be enough to convince Matheny to hand him the ball every fifth day in 2013.
There’s talk from some media-types that Miller could benefit from gaining traction in AAA before filling a rotation spot. I don’t agree. Miller has always had a certain arrogance about him. He knows what he wants, and he can’t wait to get there. Yes, AAA was a learning experience for him last season, but that doesn’t mean he’s not ready for the majors this year. With Miller’s confidence and expectations, I don’t see a reason to baby him in AAA any longer. In fact, it could adversely affect him. Getting stuck in AAA when he can clearly cut it with the Big Birds could actually damage that infamous confidence. And with Miller, confidence is an asset. Slot him in every fifth day with the Cardinals and let his ability make up for what he lacks in experience.
All that said…all signs point to Kelly. At least one national writer claims the Cardinals are leaning towards giving Kelly the spot, and now Joe Strauss is tweeting that gaining traction in AAA could benefit the young Shelby Miller. Combine that with the fact that Kelly is getting the actual start Thursday while Miller is scheduled to appear in relief – a format more likely to allow Kelly to pitch against Major League hitters – and it won’t surprise me in the least to see Joe Kelly claim those last three Spring Training starts for the Cardinals. I still think it’s a mistake.
The fact that Chris Carpenter is out for the season should actually argue in Shelby Miller’s favor…but not for the reasons you might think. With Carp out, the Redbirds are going to feel the loss of a 200+ inning pitcher in their rotation more than anything. Combine that loss with the fact that Garcia’s shoulder is questionable for a full season, Lance Lynn’s durability – especially with his weight loss – is in question for a full year, and the fifth spot will be manned by a AAA arm…and the innings load on the Cardinals’ bullpen should scare you. But the Cards do possess an obvious and effective solution in-house. Joe Kelly in the pen. As a starter-turned-reliever, Kelly could serve as the long man in the pen – pitching multiple innings in less-than-effective starts by the rotation guys – and the spot starter when needed. His potential impact on the overall innings load for the pen should not be underestimated. It could be the difference between a playoff spot in October or a spot on the couch at home for the Cardinals. But Miller is unproven in such a role. He’s always started (except for a few relief appearances last year), and will do so again in AAA if he doesn’t win the rotation job. Why mess with what’s working?
That’ll do it for a unique, one-topic Bird Watching this week. It seems to me the most effective use for both Kelly and Miller would be for Shelby to pitch out of the rotation while Kelly serves as the long man in the pen (a role he filled effectively last season). But if I were a betting man…I would bet Matheny and Mo side with Kelly in the fifth spot this time around.