The Historically Unlucky Shelby Miller

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Shelby Miller faced the Mets the other night and, as most already know, he’s been having somewhat of a hard-luck season. Miller entered play on September 21st with a record of 5-15 despite a very good ERA of exactly 3.00 on the year.

shelbyMiller pitched well against the Mets, allowing only two runs over six innings. Naturally, he lost again. Miller hasn’t won in 23 consecutive starts

It is not uncommon for starting pitchers on bad teams to have worse records than they deserve thanks to lousy defense or run support, but there was something about Miller’s year so far that felt historic to me. So I decided to dig into the numbers.

As it turns out, we haven’t seen a season like Miller’s in a very long time, perhaps ever.

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Miller currently has a 3.00 ERA (good for a 127 ERA+) over 192 innings, which is a pretty good year. In fact, Miller is 10th in the NL in ERA, right between Max Scherzer (12 wins) and Carlos Martinez (14 wins).

Since 1917, there is not a single other pitcher who had that good of an ERA over that many innings who failed to win  more than five games. You just don’t have an ERA of 3 or better in major league history and win so few games. It just doesn’t happen. See chart, below.

The last pitcher to post similar numbers to Miller was George Dumont, who in 1917 was 5-14 despite a 2.55 ERA. The big difference between Miller and Dumont, aside from the fact that Dumont pitched partially in relief, is the fact that the run-environment was so low 98 years ago that Dumont’s 2.55 ERA was barely better than league average (Dumont’s ERA+ was 107).

There are few other player-seasons even in the same ballpark as Miller. Only 17 pitchers since 1901 have had an ERA+ better than 120 (Miller’s is 127), pitched 190 innings or more, and had even 7 wins or fewer. Miller would have to win his last two starts of the year to get to 7 wins.

Only one pitcher in the modern era comes close to Miller’s misery, and that is Joey Hamilton, who went 6-9 in 1995 despite a 3.08 ERA and 132 ERA+ over 204 innings.

If that all wasn’t enough, one more fact. No starter with 30+ starts and an ERA+ of 110 or better — very loose criteria when compared to Miller’s 127 ERA+ — has EVER had a worse winning pct than Shelby Miller (.238). It’s never happened. Zero guys. Zip. Nada. So keep in mind when you talk about Miller that you’re not just witnessing an unlucky season, you’re witnessing one of the unluckiest seasons of all time.

Sorry, Shelby. At least you can be glad it’s 2015 and pitcher wins have given way to some gentler metrics. Best of luck down the stretch and good luck in 2016.

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Brian Mangan is an attorney who lives in New York City.

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