It was a big day for St. Louis Cardinals left-handed reliever Trever Miller on Tuesday even before he took the mound, as the club announced that afternoon that they and the 36-year-old had come to terms on a new contract.
Miller’s new deal is for 2010 with a vesting option for the 2011 season. He will make $2 million in base salary next season with a club option for $2 million in 2011 with a $1 million buyout if Miller appears in 45 games in 2010.
A few hours later at Busch Stadium, Miller time was rapidly approaching.
The Cards had just broken a tie with the visiting Milwaukee Brewers in the seventh inning Tuesday night on Matt Holliday’s three-run home run. Not at his best on the evening, Cards starting pitcher Joel Pineiro was removed to start the eighth in favor of Blake Hawksworth. The rookie then promptly walked number three hitter Ryan Braun.
Manager Tony La Russa had seen enough and called for Miller from the bullpen. Miller’s job was to reprise his usual role – diffuse a dangerous situation by facing the opponent’s toughest left-handed batter with runners on base. Specifically, his mission on Tuesday was to retire dangerous cleanup hitter Prince Fielder, Major League Baseball’s RBI leader.
All Miller did was strike the Brewers’ slugger out. His day done, Miller then saw Kyle McClellan coax an inning- and threat-ending double-play ball from Casey McGehee. Once closer Ryan Franklin completed a shaky ninth, Miller collected his 12th save of the season.
Miller wasn’t the most visible star of the game Tuesday. All he did was what he has done pretty much all season long – get his man. Like Fielder, over one out of every three outs Miller collects is via the strikeout.
Miller’s already strong stats improved on the evening as his ERA fell to 1.75, his WHIP dropped to a microscopic 0.89 and he added his 38th strikeout in just 36 innings of work.
In other words, Miller has struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings this season. In the history of the franchise, that is the seventh-highest rate posted by any Cardinals pitcher with at least 35 innings of work in a season.
Further, Miller is one of only 20 Cardinals pitchers ever to strike out one batter or more per inning in a season (nine per nine innings).
Each of the 20 occurrences has been in the last 50 years, all but three in the last 20. Note that all are/were relievers, with one notable exception – Rick Ankiel in 2000. (As an aside, the mention of Ankiel the pitcher is a sad reminder of what could have been.)
That’s right. Even the franchise’s greatest starters known for strikeouts such as Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean and Steve Carlton were never able to sustain this high of a strikeout rate over an entire season.
Kiko Calero registered the best single-season rate in club history with just under 12 strikeouts per nine innings back in 2003. He is also the only pitcher to make this list in two different years, in 2003 and 2004. He was traded to Oakland following the second of those two seasons and is now in the Florida Marlins’ bullpen.
Footnote: In his first two starts as a Cardinal, John Smoltz has amassed 15 strikeouts in 11 innings. If the future Hall of Famer could sustain that 12.27 per nine innings rate for at least 24 additional innings, he would supplant Calero at the very top of this list.
Strikeouts per nine innings, season, Cardinals, 1901-2009 (35 innings minimum)
Thanks to Tom Orf for the data.