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How "real" is Shelby Miller?

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Shelby Miller leads the National League in ERA, but can the Braves expect this level of success to continue?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Shelby Miller is better than advertised.

When the Atlanta Braves acquired the 24-year-old starting pitcher as part of a package in exchange for Jason Heyward, expectations were mixed. On one hand, Miller was a former super-prospect that had proven his abilities at the Major League level with a stellar rookie season in 2013. On the other, the right-hander struggled mightily in 2014, to the point where the Cardinals appeared to be "selling low" on a once-prized asset.

To this point, Miller has exceeded any rational expectation, and that isn't up for debate. Through eight starts, Miller has posted an obscene 1.33 ERA across 54 innings, and that has come with improvement in both his strikeout rate and walk rate when compared to the brutal 2014 campaign.

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Quite obviously, a 1.33 ERA is unsustainable for any starting pitcher in Major League Baseball (yes, even Clayton Kershaw), so it is natural to assume that Shelby Miller will regress in the coming days. The question is, simply, how much.

There are a few indicators that the return to Earth could be a sharp one for Miller. First, his FIP (3.28) and xFIP (3.77) indicate that his ERA is greatly inflated. While some in the anti-saber crowd would point to those numbers as fictitious, there are simpler measures to evaluate Miller's "luck" to this point. Those numbers include a sky-high 88.8% strand rate (3rd-highest in MLB) and a .183 BABIP against (lowest in MLB).

For the uninitiated, stranding runners at an 88.8% rate and seeing batters fail to reach base to the tune of a .183 batting average on balls in play indicate that Miller has simply been the beneficiary of some increased luck. That isn't to disparage his performance because, well, Shelby Miller has been electric at times. It is, however, an indicator that the future could be a bit rocky for the big right-hander, especially given his lack of strikeout upside (7.17 per 9 innings).

No one expects Shelby Miller to lead the National League in ERA over a full season, and while this has been fun, it's going to come to an end soon. The real question is where the actual baseline for Miller ends up, and that will be the barometer by which the Heyward trade and, more importantly, Miller's future in Atlanta are evaluated.