Shelby Miller Looking Early on to Be One of Worst MLB Trades in Decades

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2016

Arizona Diamondbacks' Shelby Miller pauses on the mound after giving up his third home run to the Colorado Rockies of the fourth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Shelby Miller could throw a no-hitter in his next start. He could rip off a streak of run-suppressing dominance and propel the Arizona Diamondbacks to the top of the National League West standings.

Those things could happen, and if they do, what you're about to read will seem silly and alarmist and premature.

I'm willing to take that risk.

Because right now, "fresh" off another lousy start Sunday, Miller is a raging tire fire. And the trade that brought him to Arizona from the Atlanta Braves this winter is looking increasingly like one of the most disastrous in recent memory.

Before we delve into that, let's survey the carnage that is Miller's stat sheet.

Through 23.1 innings scattered over six starts, he has allowed 27 hits and 22 earned runs. He's struck out 19, which is also the number of walks he's issued. His ERA sits at a gaudy 8.49, and his FIP—which adjusts for factors beyond a pitcher's control—is a still-ugly 7.22.

By any measure, Miller has been one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball.

Miller owns an 8.49 ERA through six starts with Arizona.
Miller owns an 8.49 ERA through six starts with Arizona.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

"We are trying everything. We are working with him," Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale said Sunday after Miller lasted just 3.2 innings in a 6-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies, per ESPN.com. "We want him to stay positive. It's tough. He's not very happy about it."

The Diamondbacks should be unhappy, too. To land Miller along with 21-year-old lefty Gabe Speier, Arizona coughed up a package that included outfielder Ender Inciarte, shortstop Dansby Swanson—the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draftand hard-throwing pitching prospect Aaron Blair.

Inciarte has played just three games for Atlanta because of a hamstring issue, but the 25-year-old is coming off a promising season that saw him hit .303 with 21 stolen bases and 5.3 wins above replacement (WAR).

The 22-year-old Swanson has lived up to his pedigree, posting a .978 OPS in 24 games between High-A and Double-A, and appears destined to make an impact in the big leagues sooner than later.

Blair, meanwhile, made his MLB debut April 24 after posting a 1.42 ERA in three starts at Triple-A.

It's easy to weigh the trade now and scoff in light of Miller's early struggles. But it was widely panned at the time, as well.

As ESPN.com's David Schoenfield opined back in December, "Heck, Inciarte may be worth more than Miller by himself and is certainly proof that executives Dave Stewart and Tony La Russa are out of touch in the analytics game."

To be fair, Miller was an All-Star in 2015 despite his 6-17 record. He eclipsed 200 innings for the first time in his career and posted a 3.02 ERA.

There was reason to hope Milleralong with big-ticket free agent Zack Greinke—could shore up the front end of Arizona's rotation.

The price, however, seemed unreasonably exorbitant before Miller threw a single pitch in a D-backs uniform. Now, it looks like straight-up highway robbery.

Miller (right) and free agent Zack Greinke were supposed to solidify the front end of the D-backs rotation.
Miller (right) and free agent Zack Greinke were supposed to solidify the front end of the D-backs rotation.Chris Carlson/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

Troll through the last few decades, and you can find some seriously lopsided deals.

In 1992, the Philadelphia Phillies acquired Curt Schilling from the Houston Astros for right-hander Jason Grimsley, who never pitched an inning for the 'Stros.

In 1997, the Boston Red Sox sent two serviceable arms in Carl Pavano and Tony Armas to the Montreal Expos for a guy named Pedro Martinez, who wound up doing a few good things in Beantown.

In 2003, the Minnesota Twins snagged Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser from the San Francisco Giants for catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Nathan went on to become an All-Star closer, and Liriano blossomed into an ace-level arm. Pierzynski had one of his worst seasons by the Bay and promptly skipped town via free agency.

In 2008, the Baltimore Orioles got Adam Jones, Chris Tillman and George Sherrill from the Seattle Mariners for left-hander Erik Bedard. Jones became a five-time All-Star, Tillman slotted into the front of the O's rotation and Sherrill saved 51 games out of the Baltimore bullpen. Bedard battled injuries and never did much for the M's.

There are more examples, but that's a representative sampling. Suffice it to say, the Miller swap is in the mix.

If things continue like this, it could well pace the pack.

Again, there's time for a turnaround. Miller is just 25, and he proved what he's capable of a season ago.

In fact, some of his troubles could be the result of pressing and trying to live up to the trade, as Stewart recently suggested.

"Shelby Miller, I think it's more, really, he's just feeling some pressure: of the trade, the players that we traded for him, trying to fit in," the D-backs general manager told SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio. "I think the whole ordeal has just been different for him than it was leaving St. Louis going to Atlanta."

General manager Dave Stewart (left), seen here with skipper Chip Hale, suggested Miller could be pressing to live up to the trade.
General manager Dave Stewart (left), seen here with skipper Chip Hale, suggested Miller could be pressing to live up to the trade.Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press/Associated Press

The only problem with that take is Miller went from St. Louis to Atlanta in exchange for Jason Heyward, a Gold Glove winner and five-tool talent, and pitched well. Surely there was pressure then, too. What's the difference?

Since arriving in Arizona, Miller has battled wonky mechanics and a slight dip in velocity, as MLB.com's Mike Petriello outlined.

Correcting the first issue could well correct the second. And, Petriello added, "Nothing seems unfixable. It doesn't seem to be a health issue, and if Miller turns it around quickly to pitch the rest of the year as he did with Atlanta, no one will remember this."

There's your glass-half-full perspective.

If, on the other hand, Miller can't turn it around, everyone will remember thisfor all the wrong reasons.

All statistics current as of May 4 and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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