Shelby Miller's strikeout-to-walk ratio is half what it was last year, and it's beset by decline from both sides; he leads the National League in walks, and his strikeout rate is well back of Kyle Lohse's. If you squint at the numbers it's a little like the way he pitched last September.
And-but his velocity is pretty steady. He's throwing a cutter, according to PitchF/X, that he started leaning on right as his command declined. He's two years removed from that weird season in Memphis where he started the year the Cardinals' top prospect, ended it in St. Louis, and spent most of the middle getting beaten up and down the Pacific Coast League.
This is the year of injured pitchers, and anything Shelby Miller does for the rest of the year is going to slip naturally into the groove Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey are digging. Our friend Chris O'Leary already has a page up listing Miller as a likely victim of what he calls the Elbow Injury Epidemic.
And all of that is a possibility. I'm not going to bet against a 23-year-old pitcher eventually suffering elbow and shoulder injuries. Pretty soon suspicion is going to be our default disposition toward young pitchers.
And the weird thing is that there's going to be nothing new at all about that. Baseball fans are born to be suspicious of young pitchers. In 1888 Silver King, at 20 years old, won 45 games; in 1893, at 25, he was finished. In 1934, 24-year-old Dizzy Dean won 30 games; when he was 30 he won the last three games the Dean brothers would ever win.
In 1964 Ernie Broglio, 28, was the broken-down old pitcher the Cardinals traded for Lou Brock. In 2004 Rick Ankiel, 24, made his last comeback as a pitcher. In 2013 Shelby Miller pitched extremely well, and maybe he doesn't know how to do it consistently or maybe he just hurt himself.
Statistics have finally told us what makes a great pitcher great, and we can watch their strikeout-to-walk ratios and know in the moment whether they're going to stay great or not, whether they've earned it. Advances in medicine tell us a dead arm can be revives, and put names on off years that used to be outlined in mist and greeted with pained shrugs.
But we're never going to know enough to stop being surprised. Shelby Miller is a young pitcher, like Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey. The historical anomaly we're dealing with is the end of a moment when we weren't suspicious enough.