I generally wake up every morning thinking about something that’s been weighing on my over the past few hours, days, or weeks, so when I woke up this morning thinking about Andrew Miller, I wasn’t much surprised. I got some coffee, showered, shaved, and scoured the internet for something I didn’t know…all while thinking about Miller. On one hand, maybe for the first time since really early April, I was excited about what I saw Miller do on the mound for the Cleveland Indians, and in the other hand I remembered, he hasn’t made an appearance in three games?
But let us work through this one piece at a time, because the root of this was one brilliant outing, in which Miller, for the most part, looked the part of the dominant lefty we were all mesmerized watching in late-2016, when he and Corey Kluber hoisted the team on their shoulders and carried them to the final moments of a World Series Game 7.
Now I know this is how sports’ fans tend to feel after short, brilliant performances that probably don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of life, even for a pitcher with the track record of one Andrew Miller.
This probably isn’t a good indicator of a resurgence…yet.
I’m probably overblowing his performance…today.
…there are signs that just might be a precursor to a Miller rebound.
From the time the Indians acquired Miller through the end of 2018, his mostly two-pitch arsenal has been devastating. Miller averaged almost 95 MPH on his four-seam fastball, and his back-foot/back-door slider mix was devastating. He’d mix sliders of all speeds to confound hitters, and loved working that inside-outside, back-door/back-foot, fast and slow to absolutely humiliate hitters on both sides of the plate. The Indians’ have never had a pitcher quite as devastating in the bullpen, as Miller was to finish the 2016 season, and throughout 2017.
The slider produced an insane 45% swing/miss, and the overpowering heat was a not-so-shabby 20%. In other words, Andrew Miller was the best in the business.
There isn’t really anything in any of those stats that suggesting a decline in production for Miller, although there were some health issues that started to pop of for the then-32-year old.
In 2017 and 2018, Miller has had some leg issues, mostly of the knee variety. In August of 2017, Miller went on the DL in early August with “right knee soreness” that turned out to be “right knee patella tendinitis.” After missing 16 days, Miller re-aggravated the knee again on August 22, which put him back on the DL. From July 30th through September 13th, Miller made only three appearances.
In 2018, Miller went on the DL in late April with a left hamstring strain. He returned on May 11th, but after six appearances totaling 4 1/2 innings, Miller ended up on the DL again, once again with “right knee inflammation,” which kept him off the mound for a little over two months. According to Miller, this is an injury that directly relates to last seasons injuries, and Miller has alluded that he probably needs to just get used to pitching with knee pain.
While three DL-stints don’t necessarily mean anything nefarious, when you are 33-years old, playing Major League baseball, utilizing said knee in a repetitive manner to make professional hitters look like they’re swinging a noodle in a hurricane, the phrase “chronic knee problems” start keeping you up at night.
Then, you look at the numbers, in 2018, and true panic starts to set in. Here are Miller’s numbers prior to his last appearance.
His four seam and slider velocity were both notably down, and his usage changed a bit as well, as he was throwing more four seamers. His four seamer was getting more balls, less strikes, and less swings, and while his slider was getting a slight bump in K’s, and a slight drop in balls, they were swinging a lot less at the pitch, and his whiff percentage, and his swinging missed dropped there as well.
There’s just a lot to worry about there, especially considering age, injury and progression.
While realizing that looking at the few games Miller pitched is an especially idiotic and small sample size, it’s fair to look at those numbers as a potential trend towards the future.
So disregard the following sample size as anything more than hope. In his last appearance, Miller regained some of his pre-2018 form. I know, I know, it’s only one game, and since he hasn’t pitched at all since, there’s reason to wonder about that performance. But, before we worry, let’s take a closer look at the data.
Miller’s velocity was back up on his four seamer, and while his slider velocity was down a bit, it’s clear that he was trying to dial it in, right from the start. Utilizing single-game data for most of this information is a bit of a wash, but the swinging whiff rate is interesting, and encouraging. Both were up, and while it’s impossible to notate if this is going to occur over time, the fact that it occurred at all seems somewhat significant.
While it’s fun to look at that data, it’s almost always better to see exactly what I’m talking about. For the most part, the Andrew Miller eye test backs up the data, with a few interesting exceptions. So here’s Miller’s last appearance, pitch-by-pitch.
His first batter was Miguel Sano, and it turned out to be the best battle of the three batters he faced. On his first pitch, he threw an 81.7 MPH slider, low, but right in the middle of the zone. It wasn’t anything tricky, but it was clear that Sano was likely taking the whole way.
Miller’s second pitch was the most interesting of the bunch to me. He threw his first four seamer, and it was clear that he was sort of ‘letting it loose.’ It was nowhere close to the zone, about six inches inside, but came in at 94.1. For Miller, this isn’t anywhere near his top-end velocity, but it almost looked like he was seeing what was there if he let loose.
If you watch that video, you can tell from his reaction that he wasn’t surprised, or upset. He threw it, it was there, and he was ready to move on. In hindsight, Miller systematically threw his stuff, in an attempt to dial it all in.
His third pitch to Sano was another pretty straight foward slider, a little more inside, that Sano fouled off.
On Miller’s fifth pitch, you can see Roberto Perez lined up down and in for the fastball, and Miller misses his spot by a country mile. Miller does his 94.7 on the pitch, which Sano watches go by for another ball.
On the 2-2 count, Miller goes back to his four seamer, and this pitch just looks off from the get-go. I’m not sure if he released the ball too early, but you can see Perez again line-up inside the plate, and Miller misses outside. It came in at 93.7.
On the 3-2 count, I expected perhaps a 3-2 back foot slider. Instead, Miller threw a four seamer that was up, and a little bit in on Sano. It also looked like he took a bit off, but it hit Perez right where he put his glove. I think it fooled him a bit too. Sano chopped it for an easy play for Francisco Lindor.
Max Kepler was up next, and Miller threw another four seamer that was up in the zone, and in just enough that Kepler couldn’t get extended. This one hit 94.5.
Here’s a better look at the swing. Kepler’s arms aren’t extended, and the pitch still hits inside the barrel of the bat, resulting in an easy fly ball, again to Lindor. One pitch, a second out.
This brought up Miller’s final hitter, Ehire Adrianza. Miller started things off with a 79.7 mph slider that was way off, and Miller was pissed. If you watch the clip, you’ll see his reaction right after the pitch, then he smacks his leg.
The next three pitches are exquisite. Miller starts things off with an 80.5 MPH back-foot slider that Adrianza has no chance at.
He follows that up with 81 MPH back-door slider that Adrianza just stared at.
Then comes my favorite pitch, a 94 MPH heat-seeker, in which Miller climbed the ladder, changed eye-level, and had Adrianza swinging with prayers behind it. The prayers didn’t work. Adrianza’s reaction sum up elite-Miller in a nutshell.
That three-pitch sequence saw all “three” of Miller’s best, with nary a Louisville Slugger touching a Rawlings.
So what’s my takeaway? If you watch each pitch, one-by-one, it gives the appearance of Miller trying to figure things out, and then doing so during his last batter. It almost looks as though he were trying to aim his pitches, straight up until his last three.
Since that outing, Miller hasn’t made an appearance. I’m not stating worry, necessarily. Since returning on August 3rd, Miller has made four appearances, totaling four innings. On August 7, Miller had gone 1 2/3 innings, so perhaps he was just going to get the weekend off, especially with the division all but wrapped up, and the Indians playing decent baseball. It’s not like there were multiple opportunities. Perhaps Miller could have relieved Hand during his 1 2/3 inning stint on Saturday, but it seems that Francona may have been trying to give Hand a clean inning, after walking his first two batters on Saturday. Perhaps he could have found a spot to get him in the game on Sunday, but the Indians were up by a lot, and even though Cody Allen had pitched the day before, a righty was coming up to the plate when he entered. If you believe in match-ups, it was probably the way to go.
So it’s likely that the Indians simply didn’t need Miller, and if he’s healthy again, there’s nothing wrong with giving him some bench time to keep him healthy over the final few weeks, before the Indians step into the playoffs.
But Miller’s next outing should be interesting. Will his velocity continue to resemble the pre-2018 Miller? Will it falter again? Will the Indians continue to give him three or four days off, especially with the extremely durable Brad Hand available, and with September call-ups looming? Whatever happens, watching Terry Francona try to dial Miller in, while also keeping him rested, will be one of the best storylines during the end of the 2018 regular season.
Miller’s last outing was certainly a step in the right direction.
The Indians’ recent promotion of Greg Allen has provided some early dividends, but I wanted to take note of his game this past Thursday night.
With the game tied at 4-4, Allen led off the inning, and on an 0-1 pitch, roped a single to get on base.
Then, on an 0-1 count, Francisco Lindor put the bat on his shoulder while Allen stole second. Stealing a base in and of itself isn’t a big deal, but this one was. Not only did Allen put himself in scoring position, with nobody out, but he was dead to rights. Watch the video. Allen realizes the ball beat him, and takes an outside line on the slide, to beat the throw. I’ve been pounding the drum about Allen’s baseball IQ for two years, and this is exactly what I was talking about.
Lindor moved Allen to third on a ground out, setting up Michael Brantley’s heroics.
With all of the outfield injuries, it’s time to give Greg Allen the rest of the season to get comfortable at the big league level.