Breaking down Brad Miller for 2014

Believe it or not, when I solicited future shortstop topics last week, the name that came up the most was Brad Miller of the Seattle Mariners.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Miller just fine, and I thought his .297 wOBA ZiPS projection was low, too. It’s just…it’s Brad Miller. People got on me for analyzing if Adeiny Hechavarria would ever steal enough to have value, but the people demand a Miller analysis?

He’s 33rd in shortstop value for the year but at age 23 he has some potential growth, and at this position the path to being fantasy relevant is a pretty smooth one. So let’s have a look.

Why were readers so surprised with Miller’s wOBA projection (which, as a reminder, was simply his ZiPS rest of season projection, since that figure is similar now to what it will look like for 2014)?

Year Level BB% K% ISO wOBA PA
11-12 A 10.5% 16.5% 0.177 0.412 532
12-13 AA 12.1% 16.2% 0.166 0.397 345
13 AAA 12.3% 14.8% 0.240 0.442 122
13 MLB 7.0% 14.7% 0.141 0.313 286
ROS/14 MLB 7.6% 19.6% 0.112 0.293

Basically, his ROS projection is telling us that his minor league track record doesn’t mean a whole lot, and he’s possibly even overperformed this year. This could make sense for someone who was old for the levels when he played there but that wasn’t the case.

Ideally, we’d have an Oliver projection to go from since the Oliver method creates Major League Equivalencies to translate minor league stats to major league projections. The only other ROS projection we have is Steamer, which also adjusts minor league stats, though the exact method for doing so is less clear.

Year Type BB% K% ISO wOBA
2014 ZiPS 7.6 19.6 0.112 0.293
2014 Steamer 7.8 16.4 0.136 0.317

Steamer’s much higher on Miller in rate terms, although the lack of walks given his minor league track record is still somewhat surprising.

What’s also interesting is that despite BABIPs no lower than .333 all through the minors, neither system suggests a BABIP above .300 for Miller. Given that he has some speed an a nice batted ball profile for reaching base (21% line drive, 46.6% ground ball), I’d tend to be a bit more optimistic. With that said, his xBABIP is just .289 right now, perhaps because he’s hit nine infield flies.

Anyway, if we trust either system, we’re looking at a batting average for Miller in the .250-.260 area, so even if you’re optimistic about his improvement you’re only bumping him up to .275, tops, being reasonable. That’ll play at shortstop, especially if Miller can contribute counting stats.

Runs and RBI are somewhat difficult to predict due to the variance inherent with them and the impact of the rest of the roster. Miller has primarily hit leadoff for the Mariners and has usually been followed by Nick Franklin and Kyle Seager. That’s a pretty nice young infield the Mariners are building around, but it’s not exactly a murderer’s row and an assurance of runs for Miller. He’s currently right around league average with a run every nine plate appearances – if that’s projected out over 600 plate appearances, he’s looking at about 65 runs.

As mentioned, RBI are a bit more fickle, but pencil him in for 60 (prorating his current rate across 600 plate appearances), and now he has .260-65-60 as his baseline before we head to the two categories people seem to care about most.

In terms of power, Miller’s flashed double-digit power at all levels and that tool has shown growth this season. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, his frame could also hold some additional bulk, perhaps leaving him with more power in the coming years. However, I think if you’re just making a 2014 projection than his current .141 isolated slugging is about as high as you can reasonably go. Let’s call that 10 home runs – less than his full-year total including the minors (17), sure, but that’s exactly what you’d expect.

As far as the running game goes, Miller’s current total of four steals has to be a bit disappointing to owners. He stole 23 bases in 2012 but has just 10 across levels this year. Miller doesn’t possess blazing speed but he has a quick stride. Unfortunately, he was also caught seven times in 2012 (a fine 76.7 percent success rate) and seven more in 2013 (just 58.8 percent).

We know that stolen base success rate doesn’t uniformly go up with experience or go down as speed abandons a player, but we do know that single-season stolen base success is not nearly a large enough sample to judge a player by. For his professional career, Miller is 34-for-48, a 71 percent success rate.

The bigger concern might be Eric Wedge. While he hasn’t “had the horses,” the Mariners are near the bottom of the league in stolen base attempts since he took over in 2011 (24th in baseball). His Cleveland Indians were also in the bottom third of the league in attempts from 2003 to 2009.

So the absolute best case scenario for Miller might be 10 steals. That would mean a line of .265-65-60-10-10. If that seems low, consider that Ben Zobrist (.277-68-64-11-10) is currently the seventh most valuable shortstop in fantasy and Mike Aviles (.267-49-40-9-8) is 21st. If those are the bars set up for Miller as a high and low for 2014, I’d suggest that’s a pretty solid fantasy impact for a second year player.

I wish I had the “guts” for the projection systems to really get inside and see how they handle minor league stats (for example, I don’t believe ZiPS includes current-year minor league stats). But for now, this category-by-category breakdown will have to do – I think, at the very least, it shows Miller to be firmly on the fantasy radar for 2014, perhaps even startable in deeper leagues.

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Blake Murphy is a freelance sportswriter based out of Toronto. Formerly of the Score, he's the managing editor at Raptors Republic and frequently pops up at Sportsnet, Vice, and around here. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

11 Responses to “Breaking down Brad Miller for 2014”

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  1. MLB Rainmaker says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    I fight this battle time and again with regards to projection systems, but if you can’t recognize breakout players with a projection system, what value is your system? Sure .265-10-10 is a defensible line, but its pretty much worthless in terms of guidance for whether you should hold on to Miller or not.

    To do this as simply as possible, if you compare Miller to all other SS since the ASB (Miller came up 6/28), he’s 12th in WAR, 6th in HR, 6th in R, 4th in RBI, and 12th in SB. All this as a rookie, at 23, in his first taste of major league ball; and he did it while maintain his minors K rate. Just from those pieces of data, I’d venture to guess most MLB GMs would be pretty excited about that guys’ 2014 season.

    Given his minors track record and assuming player progression, I’d say a .285 AVG, 15HR, 5 SBs line is doable.

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    • Blake Murphy says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      But what exactly makes you think .285 and 15 HR? If minor league #s translate to MLB right away…You’ve got to price in a learning curve.

      As for the ranks, sure, but it’s in a half-season sample with injuries and such. You have to adjust for a pre-season rank (within the bands of 7-21 as outlined).

      I’m all for you thinking he’ll be better but I’d need more than “because of his minor league numbers” to predict it.

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  2. Wobatus says:

    Even given those projections, I’d be shocked if he hit lead off next year and only scored 65 runs.

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    • Otis says:

      He’s hit lead off for all but a few games since he was promoted this year.

      I’m actually shocked to see his pace at 65 runs.

      I play in a points league and he’s been pretty good so far, however this article puts it in perspective from an absolute basis.

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      • Wobatus says:

        He’d be on pace for more like 720 PA over 162 games, 660 over 150. That’s more like 72 or 3 runs, and I expect some slight improvement from him and the roster. Obviously there could be stasis or even regression. If he bats lead off next year, 65 would be fairly pathetic.

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      • Wobatus says:

        Also, his ZIPs (u) and steamer (u) would have him over 80 runs a game over 160 games. That obviously includes mostly what he’s done and not projections, but the ZIPs projection seems low and I think steamer seems more accurate. And I think the article acknowledges the projections seem a little low.

        So far this year, Mariner leadoff hitters have hit .247/.294/.391 in 668 plate appearances and scored 82 runs. This is per baseball reference and for some reason these numbers don’t line up with the number of games actually played (it says 154 games for leadoff batters for example, when only 145 have been played).

        In 2012, Dustin Ackley batted leadoff or second all year. He hit .226/.294/.328, with 12 homers and 13 stolen bases, with a .274 wOBA. The team wOBA was .291. He scored 84 runs. This year the Mariners wOBA is .308, and Miller’s ZIPs wOBA projection, which i think is low, is .293. He’s at .317 on the year.

        So, maybe shocking is the wrong word. I’d be pretty surprised though. 65 runs from a full time leadoff hitter is awful and suggests lower production than even the ZIPs projection.

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      • Wobatus says:

        Miller’s MLE from AA and AAA combined this year, translated from his home parks to Seattle (although the data is now couple of years old for Jackson and Tacoma) in 297 plate appearances: .285/.333/.414.

        He had almost the same number of PA in the majors (296). He has slashed .259/.315/.407.

        Combined, that would be approximately .272/.324/.411 for his actual major league line and his MLEs. Similar to but shy of his Steamer ROS, which likely weighs the major league results more heavily.

        Ackley scored 82 with a worse triple slash last year on a worse hitting team. He is probably faster and there may be flukey sequencing and luck there, but I’d wager Miller would be closer to 85 if he batted leadoff and played 150-155 games next year, even just repeating his major league /// line from this year.

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  3. LuckyStrikes says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    I would love to see a similar projection/analysis for Nick Franklin. Lots of prospect debate about which player (Miller or Franklin) would have the better MLB career. I still don’t know who I’d pick…

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    • Wobatus says:

      I’d pick Miller.

      In Franklin’s favor, he’s nearly a year and a half younger than Miller and has a higher ISO. He adjusted well after having spent some time at a new level. But his K rate is significantly higher so far in the majors.

      In Miller’s favor, he can actually play ss, although his small sample UZR isn’t great, but generally he’s a better fielder. He has a higher speed score. And mostly he has a lower K rate.

      Franklin didn’t have awful k rates in the lower minors, and actually was quite low in AAA this year, but I think Miller will make more contact and have higher batting averages, without losing too much in the power department. Franklin may up the power as he ages and also the walks, but I think the positional advantange of ss will make Miller the more valuable player.

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  4. bob says:

    5 steals?
    he had that many in 2013

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  5. Bob says:

    Having watched both of them play, I’d have to say Miller has the bigger upside. Brad definately has more power and a better contact rate. Nick has yet to solve the puzzle of th big league breaking ball.

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