Stock Watch: Shelby Miller tops list (even if he didn't top Bob Gibson)
Pirates relievers Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli plus Rays third baseman Evan Longoria join Miller as this week's Bulls.
By one occasionally cited statistical measure, rookie right-hander Shelby Miller this week pitched the greatest game in St. Louis Cardinals history.
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According to Bill James' Game Score, Miller’s one-hit 3-0 gem against the Colorado Rockies scored a 98, the highest ever for that great franchise.
Miller’s performance was undoubtedly great, and it’s made better by the fact the Rockies actually have been hitting well on the road this year. But sorry, I'd still take Bob Gibson’s 17-strikeout shutout against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series, considering the competition and context.
No matter, Miller’s brilliant outing, in which he allowed a single to Eric Young Jr. to start the game, then set down the next 27 Rockies, is plenty good enough to lead this week’s Stock Watch. And there’s no arguing that.
Here are all the Bulls and Bears …
1. Miller, Cardinals SP: In spring training, the guy in Cardinals camp that really wowed the scouts was Michael Wacha, the No. 1 pick a year ago who in the words of one "could play Adam Wainwright ’s stunt double." Anyway, Miller (one of the top pitching prospects and a former No. 1 pick as well) was locked in a battle for the No. 5 starter spot with Joe Kelly , who had decent numbers in 16 starts last year and slightly better numbers than Miller this February and March.
Naturally, the Cardinals made the right call. The right-handed Miller (5-2, 1.58 ERA) is second only to Matt Harvey among pitching sensations in the National League, and his one-hitter with 13 strikeouts and no walks established him as the runaway favorite for NL Rookie of the Year honors. The performance preceded Wainwright’s own brilliant one-hitter against the Rockies, as St. Louis forged the best record in baseball.
The thing the scouts love about the 22-year-old Miller is a "classic delivery that can be repeated," in the words of one NL scout who saw him several times this spring. "He has more upside (than Kelly). He was just a little off with his fastball command," the NL scout said of the spring. "But with the delivery, he can establish command. If you can establish command, I’ll bet on you."
Miller also has "a great curveball, improved change-up, good overall mix and some deception," according to one rival GM. It all looks like a recipe for stardom. This is only the beginning.
Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon , Pittsburgh Pirates RPs: Nobody's bullpen back-end has been as good as the Pirates this year, and it’s not especially close. Melancon, after all his struggles last year in Boston, has a 0.47 ERA to go with 13 holds and 18 strikeouts as a set-up man supreme. Grilli, the new closer, is now 15 for 15 in saves with a 1.15 ERA. Between them, they have a 9-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, with 45 strikeouts and five walks. Good job by the Pirates remaking their pen on the relative cheap. Not that anyone could have predicted this part, but the old closer, Joel Hanrahan, who went to Boston in the trade that brought Melancon to Pittsburgh, announced this week that he needs flexor tendon surgery that will keep him out the rest of the year.
3. Evan Longoria , Tampa Bay Rays 3B: He's had seven walkoff hits, including five home runs. But the two-run shot against San Diego Padres closer Huston Street was the first one that pulled a win out of a deficit. The hit may also wind up pulling the team out of the doldrums. As for Longoria, he is hitting .333 with nine home runs and 26 RBI, not to mention playing his usual ridiculously good third base. If he’s healthy, he’s great.
1. Ryan Vogelsong , San Francisco Giants SP: The Giants have Barry Zito and (most importantly) Tim Lincecum going good now, but Vogelsong has hit such a slump that he has the worst WAR among starters at -1.4. His walk and strikeout numbers are actually very good, but he’s being tattooed by hitters to the tune of .323 overall batting average. What’s worse is the .417 batting average with runners in scoring position. That’s the big reason for the 7.78 ERA and the recent speculation about whether he stays in the rotation. He’s one of the game’s best reclamation stories after earlier career struggles that caused him to spend three years in Japan. So if anyone can pull themselves out of a slump, it is probably Vogelsong.
2. Jonathon Niese , New York Mets SP: Folks were talking about Niese having a breakthrough season, but he seems too be going the other way, at least at the moment. He was 0-2 with a 16.20 ERA this week and has become one of the Mets’ bigger issues in their recent slide. Niese (2-4, 5.93 overall) now has more walks than strikeouts (a league-leading 22 walks, to 21 strikeouts). He blames the problems on a recent back issue that forced him to alter his delivery. He says he’s fine now. His numbers don't look too healthy, though.
3. Weeks brothers, 2Bs: They've made it before, as they tend to be streaky players. Jemile Weeks is currently buried in the A’s minors, and hasn’t even seemed like an Oakland option even when the A's were having second-base issues. He is currently hitting .291 for the Sacramento River Cats so perhaps he'll have a chance at some point. Meanwhile, older brother Rickie’s 3-for-18 week for the Milwaukee Brewers has left him at .183 (with 41 strikeouts). Of his nine RBI, five came in one game against the Pirates, who for some reason are a perennial Brewers patsy. Being streaky, he’ll probably get hot and start producing big. But for now, he’s on the list, along with his brother.