First off: whew! I must say, it was excruciating to endure all five games of that Pirates series, and it was even more mind-boggling to consider the merits of continuing to exist in a world where Pirate postseason series victories against the Cardinals were a real thing that could happen. All of that’s over now, though, and it’s time to focus on a Dodger team that brings a whole lot to the table, namely in the form of that gut-stabbing starting rotation. How well the St. Louis starters perform is obviously going to hugely influence the outcome of this series–so why exactly is Shelby Miller not going to get an opportunity?
The only concrete reason I heard for benching Miller in the NLDS in favor of the bespectacled Joe Kelly was that Kelly supposedly had several Potter-esque spells and a bag of magic dust at his disposal that would almost certainly leave Pittsburgh hitters believing they’d never hit a baseball before (has Clint Barmes ever hit a baseball?). Well, the Cardinals aren’t facing the Pirates anymore, and I’m not a huge fan of team-specific logic anyway. If you read us frequently back when we fully existed, you surely don’t need me to tell you about how small sample sizes make us gag or even spit-take when they’re trumpeted as relevant.
So why not give the Shelbster a nod against the Dodgers? I’m not honestly sure. Sure, Shelby seemed to tire a bit down the stretch, but it certainly isn’t as if he fell completely off the face of the earth. Miller’s 68 2/3 second-half innings still featured 57 strikeouts against 28 walks and an ERA of 3.28; if Joe Kelly ever strikes out anywhere close to a batter per inning, give me a call. Actually, just email me. I hate getting phone calls. Meanwhile, Kelly’s hot finish, which has been well-documented by the local media and loudly shouted by drunk half-fans who still believe in both “runs scored” as a valid statistic and the tooth fairy, doesn’t mean he’s the right choice against a team that just so happens to have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to throw out there.
Kelly posted that slick 1.91 ERA in the second half in large part thanks to plenty of good fortune on balls in play and with runners on base. (Don’t even try to play the clutch card, buddy.) Even with a century-old run prevention metric in his back pocket, there isn’t any way to say Kelly was even Miller’s equal during Miller’s supposedly terrible second half. Kelly allowed plenty of baserunners (his 1.35 WHIP was identical to the one he managed in the first half, and yet his ERA before the break was 3.88), and he only fanned 41 men while walking 29 across 75 1/3 innings. So let’s dismiss this idea that Kelly was masterful down the stretch while Miller floundered, because it simply isn’t true.
Don’t even get me started on a full season comparison. Uh oh, I’ve started! Miller’s first complete season featured a 3.06 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 8.78 K/9 rate, and 2.96 BB/9 rate over 173 1/3 IP. That somewhat abbreviated season was worth 2.1 WAR according to our overly-nosy and sometimes brash stepsister site FanGraphs. Joe Kelly, meanwhile, offered up a 2.69 ERA that is somehow accompanied by a 4.01 FIP, 5.73 K/9 rate, and 3.19 BB/9 rate. Yuck! It’s so pedestrian! Do you want a pedestrian starter taking on a vaunted opponent in the games that serve as the gateway to the World Fucking Series? No, of course not.
I want these numbers to serve one crucial purpose, and that’s to show that if you’re going to send someone in with guns blazing against an established ace like Zack Greinke, let it be Shelby Miller. He actually has the stuff to miss bats, he limits walks more effectively than Kelly, and he’s been better in every meaningful way no matter how you want to slice it. I believe Miller gives the Cardinals a better chance to beat a team like Los Angeles (or any team, really) than Kelly does. I just have no idea whatsoever why Mike Matheny doesn’t feel the same way. Add in Miller’s more advanced repertoire versus how much Kelly’s big fastball would play up in a bullpen role, and a change back to how things were not so long ago simply makes sense. You gotta dance with the girl that brung ya! Or something.
But enough whining, I’m ready for the baseball! I’ll be in attendance for Saturday’s game, all the while hoping against hope that Clayton Kershaw’s armor can be dented. Problem is, I’m pretty sure he’s just wearing more armor under that armor. This truly is the best time of the year.