Shelby Miller missed over two months on the injured list in 2023, but he still had his most productive major league season in years as a right-handed option out of the Dodgers bullpen.
Miller, like his Dodgers teammates Joe Kelly and Daniel Hudson, began their career and had success as a starting pitcher before ultimately moving to the bullpen in their 30s. But Miller’s path to relief success was a bumpy one.
He had Tommy John surgery that wiped out nearly two seasons, limiting him to nine total appearances in 2017-18. Midway through 2019, Miller switched to the bullpen and has been there ever since.
But when Miller signed with the Dodgers in December on a $1.5 million, one-year contract, the 32-year-old had an 8.92 ERA in the majors dating back to 2018, pitching for five different teams in MLB and two more in the minors in those five seasons. From 2018-2022, Miller pitched more innings in the minors (129⅔) than in the majors (79⅔).
He spent most of 2022 in Triple-A, first with the Yankees and then with the Giants. His only time in the majors came in the season’s final two weeks for San Francisco, turning heads by striking out 14 of his 30 batters faced and throwing his slider 57.6 percent of the time.
With the Dodgers in 2023 he used his slider just 16 percent of the time, and mostly against righties. Miller preferred his fastball (57.6 percent) and splitter (26.2 percent), but all three pitches were useful.
In total, Miller had a 1.71 ERA and 3.33 xERA in 42 innings, and pitched in gradually higher-leverage situations as the season wore on.
Miller was effective against both right-handed batters and lefties, but especially so with the platoon advantage. Right-handers hit just .139/.209/.215 against him.
Miller walked a ton of batters early, with 14 unintentional free passes in his first 20 innings, and a 17.3-percent walk rate through May 16. But after that, over his final 20 games and 22 innings, Miller issued only three unintentional walks for a 3.8-percent walk rate.
Nick inflammation sidelined Miller in mid-June, but an MRI revealed further damage, showing a herniated disc in his neck.
“It was a grind. At first, I didn’t think the extent of it would be as bad as it was,” Miller said later in the season. “We were pretty shocked with the results, but it is what it is. It put me out for a little bit.”
Miller missed two and a half months before getting activated off the injured list on August 31, and was pretty much lights out after that. He allowed just seven hits, one intentional walk, and no runs in 12 innings through the end of the regular season, with 11 strikeouts.
The Dodgers used Miller for extended outings relative to short relievers. He had five appearances of exactly two innings during the regular season and one more in Game 1 of the NLDS. Miller allowed only one run on two hits in those 12 combined innings, with 14 strikeouts.
Even with the missed time, his 42 innings were his most in the majors since 2019, and his 42 strikeouts were his most since 2016.
Stats: 1.71 ERA, 3.33 xERA, 3.68 FIP, 3-0, 1 Sv, 42 IP, 42 K, 19 BB
Salary: $1.5 million
Game of the year
In the Dodgers comeback win on April 25 against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, closer Evan Phillips was used earlier in the game in a lower-leverage situation in his first game back after the birth of his son. Brusdar Graterol went on paternity leave that day as well, so manager Dave Roberts turned to Miller to protect a one-run lead in the ninth.
Miller got two groundouts and a strikeout, and 12 pitches later had his first major league save.
Honorable mention for Miller’s game of the year was May 1 in a blowout win over the Phillies at home, when he got the final five outs of the game on the mound. In the top of the eighth with a seven-run lead. the Dodgers double-switched and moved designated hitter Miguel Vargas to first base, losing the DH.
So when the Dodgers sent eight men to the plate in the bottom of the inning, Miller had to bat with two outs and the bases loaded, the only Dodgers pitcher to bat in 2023. He took two strikes and then grounded out to third base against Phillies infielder and blowout-pitcher Kody Clemens.
Miller is a free agent.