Youth was the name of the game for the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff. The club received a Major League-leading 36 wins from rookie pitchers, the most since 1941 when the franchise record of 42 was set.
Shelby Miller led the way with 15 victories.
Entering spring training in a competition for the fifth spot in the Cardinals rotation with Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal, Miller prevailed. The 23-year-old Texan went on make 31 starts while posting a 3.06 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 173 1/3 innings pitched.
Miller was the first Cardinals rookie pitcher since Rick Ankiel in 2000 to start 30 games. His total was the most by a club rookie since Dick Hughes’ 16 in 1967. Miller placed third on the St. Louis rookie strikeout list with 169, following Ankiel (194) and Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean (191).
Not just among rookies did Miller excel – he ranked 10th among all National League pitchers in ERA. He tied for sixth in wins, tied for 13th in opposing batting average (.234) and was 12th in strikeouts per nine innings (8.78). His season’s highlight was at Busch Stadium on May 10. After Miller gave up a single to start the game to Eric Young, Jr. of Colorado, he retired 27 straight to complete the one-hitter. His 13 strikeouts tied the Cardinals rookie record. (The game is being replayed on FOX Sports Midwest on Christmas Day.)
The workload seemed to have taken its toll, however. After June 17, Miller worked six or more innings in just seven of his last 19 starts. On August 7th, there was a major scare. Miller exited after his second pitch of the game was lined off his throwing elbow by the Dodgers’ Carl Crawford. At that point, his season ERA was 2.89.
After getting a couple of extra days rest, Miller yielded a season-tying high of eight hits and five runs in his next start, at home against the Pirates. All told, over his nine post-injury starts, Miller went 4-2 with a 3.46 ERA, hardly terrible.
However, his peripherals told another story. Miller’s strikeouts dropped from 9.8 per nine innings all the way down to 6.4 as his walks increased from 2.6 per nine to 3.8 post-injury.
Still, no one anticipated what would happen in the post-season. Not only was Miller not in the rotation, he was virtually invisible.
After just one token relief appearance in the National League Division Series, Miller was benched for the entire Championship Series and World Series. The apparent reason was concern about his innings load, though it was never completely rendered specific nor does it explain why the precious roster spot was not used for a healthy arm.
It does not take away from his considerable in-season accomplishments. Following the World Series, Miller was announced as the third-place finisher in voting for the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year Award. Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was second behind winner Jose Fernandez, Marlins’ starting pitcher.
Though Miller was a name that was rumored to be on the top of most every potential trade partner’s want lists, the Cardinals made their necessary roster chances for 2014 without sacrificing Miller – or any of their young pitching talent. As a result, Cardinals fans should be looking forward to many years of Miller’s dominant pitching.