After a night like last night, you probably knew you’d spend today reading about Brad Miller. The Seattle Mariners’ shortstop-turned-DH-but-only-until-he-learns-the-outfield had himself a game against Rick Porcello last night, going two for three with a walk and two home runs. It was a highlight performance for Miller, but this post isn’t about that game. Not in isolation, anyway. This is just a simple acknowledgement of what Miller is at the plate.
He’s good. Brad Miller is a good hitter. No need to bury the lede, especially since it’s becoming rather apparent as of late. We kind of figured this was the case even a year ago, when Miller was struggling his way through a rough season at the dish. It’s only taken him until mid-May to get his career wRC+ back to average, after posting an 86 over a full season.
When Miller was struggling to hit a year ago his strikeouts jumped and his BABIP fell. He went from a K% of just 15.5 in 2013 to 23.1% a year ago, while watching his BABIP dip from a reasonable .294 to a less inspiring .268. But he still was flashing speed and providing plus value on the basepaths, so it’s not like he just forgot how to run out grounders. He wasn’t even hitting more ground balls – less, in fact. It was just a BABIP slump. Those happen, all the time, often for no reason whatsoever.
In 2013 Miller was good. In 2014 he was bad, and despite a concerning jump in strikeout rate he mostly appeared to be feeling the BABIP blues. This year his average on balls in play is .308. That would seem typical for a player of Miller’s skill set, except that he’s hitting over half his balls in play on the ground – higher than even his 2013, and perhaps indicative of a guy who’s BABIP would hover closer to .290-ish. So he’s not at an unreasonable level right now, even if some negative regression should come as less than a surprise.
Miller’s strikeouts are hovering at 20.8% right now, which is just barely above his career average. Seems like a reasonable level, though there’s room for improvement and Miller’s ever-increasing walk rate suggests that he just might be able to drop the Ks a little. That walk rate, by the way, has gone from 7.2% in 2013 to 8.3% last year to 9.2% in 2015. Like I said, there were positive signs even last year.
So there’s been a little positive regression as well as some legitimate growth. But Miller’s running a 127 wRC+ right now – virtually the same level of offense that Kyle Seager provided for the Mariners last season. That’s a huge improvement over where he was last year. How’s he doing it? What’s been the missing element?
Power! Miller’s always had really enticing power, especially for a shortstop. He hit ten homers last year, but a lack of general extra-base prowess kept his ISO at .144. Somewhat surprisingly, that was barely down from 2013 when his isolated sluggingg was .154. Even while flashing his power, there was a missing element of consistency. The doubles machine wasn’t quite tuned yet.
And now it’s tuned. Miller’s got a .217 ISO, which would have been the highest on the 2014 M’s and currently trails only Nelson Cruz on the 2015 squad. His two triples are tied with Seth Smith for the team lead. Only Seager and Robinson Cano have more doubles. Only Cruz, Mike Zunino, and Logan Morrison have more home runs.
With a .264/.331/.481 slash line, it’s safe to say that Miller’s bat will play at any position. Hell, he’s been spending a ton of time at DH lately while doing field work before games. His line from that position, which typically “penalizes” hitters and hurts their stats? .368/.500/1.053. And look, he’s the starting shortstop today! He can hit anywhere, and also has up-the-middle defensive ability (even if the early-season errorfest became pretty unwatchable). Brad Miller is an extremely valuable player.
Brad Miller is a good hitter, and it looks like he’s finally arrived in full. There’s no guarantee he’ll keep this up because the Mariners are a heartbreaking team that only exists to make us feel dumb, but then again, he just might. All the signs are pointing in the right direction. He looks good at the plate and has the results to match. Now just imagine if the Mariners’ plan for him defensively works out! It looks like we’re about to find out if Brad Miller is one of the game’s best.
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