Tightening Brad Miller’s Leash

Brad Miller is no longer taking walks or getting hits. That’s obviously a problem, because it means he’s killing your team in average, failing to drive in runs and not getting on base to score runs or steal bases. Entering the seasons as the Fangraphs consensus number nine at shortstop and not ranked by a single person as outside of the top-10, Miller has instead repaid owners with the 24th-best performance at the position, providing net positive value only in home runs (he has three).

The .187-7R-7RBI-3HR-0SB line is obviously troubling. The realities underneath it – specifically, his suddenly-anemic walk rate and sky-high strikeout rate – are even more troubling, though hopefully they represent a short-term issue.

It’s difficult to figure out how a player with a strong plate discipline profile suddenly just abandons it. Miller didn’t have a walk rate below 11 percent at any level he played at for more than 100 plate appearances, and his strikeout rate in the minors peaked at 17.1 percent. Even as a rookie in 2013, those numbers were a respectable 7.2 percent and 15.5 percent, respectively.

Through 79 plate appearances in 2014, though, Miller has walked just twice – a walk rate of 2.5 percent – and struck out 23 times – a strikeout rate of 29.1 percent. He had profiled as a Matt Wieters or Kendrys Morales in terms of discipline but has instead become a J.P. Arencibia.

While it’s early still, small samples are all we have. Strikeout rate begins to stabilize for the entire league sample after about 60 plate appearances and walk rate at 120, so we’re far enough along that there’s reason to be concerned. Primarily, Miller has begun swinging at everything outside of the zone, swinging in the zone less, and making contact far less regardless of where the pitch is located.

Brad Miller O-Swing O-Contact Z-Swing Z-Contact SwStr%
2013 31.20% 65% 66.80% 90.70% 8.60%
2014 37.60% 55.30% 62.90% 86.40% 13.10%

Adding to the issue is that Miller suddenly can’t hit a fastball or a slider, which combine to make up nearly half of the pitches he faces. He’s whiffing more against change-ups and curves, too.

Brad Miller FB Whiff/Swing FB % SL Whiff/Swing SL % CH Whiff/Swing CH % CU Whiff/Swing CU%
2013 16.80% 35.90% 31.50% 11.70% 32% 7.40% 17% 11.40%
2014 24.20% 33.80% 48.20% 11.90% 36.40% 10.10% 34.80% 16.20%

Last season, pitchers were able to tempt Miller with pitches low (anywhere, but specifically low and away) and high over the plate, coaxing 62 whiffs on 163 swings on pitches in those areas (48.1 percent). This year, he’s seeing pitches in those zones frequently (about 12 percent of all pitches), whiffing on 25 of 48 swings (52.1 percent) in those locations. What’s worse, that spike in O-Swing rate is coming on these pitches that he can’t hit, with his swing rate in those zones jumping from 38.3 percent in 2013 to 43.4 percent so far in 2014.


INTERLUDE: Turns out that the Boss and I were working on similar pieces at the same time. Instead of duplicating, Eno Sarris provides us some additional context for Miller’s increase in swing rate:

This stabilization fruit has been skinned by more than one writer, and the first time Pizza Cutter / Russell Carleton took a swing at it, he noticed that swing percentage stabilized around 50 plate appearances. That makes sense — the denominator for swing percentage is pitches seen, and we’ve been a big proponent here for looking at per-pitch numbers before you look at per-plate-appearance numbers. You see four or five pitches per plate appearance, so those numbers will become meaningful four-to-five times as fast.
Reach rate wasn’t covered in that article, and it doesn’t have the same denominator as swing rate. Where swing rate is over all pitches, reach rate is over all pitches outside the zone. Considering the league-wide zone rate is 47% this year, we could do some bad math and figure that reach rate takes about 100 plate appearances to stabilize. So Miller still has a few games to try and push that reach rate in the right direction, maybe.

Take a look at his swing map, and it tells the same story: swinging less inside the zone and swinging more outside the zone, particularly up high. That’s lefties on the left and righties on the right, this year compared to last year so that warm colors mean more swings, and regressed to league average thanks to Baseballheatmaps.com:


While Miller is still flashing pop with the three home runs and a .160 isolated slugging, his poor early returns have led the Seattle Mariners to make two moves to insure against his struggles:

*Drop him in the order, slotting him ninth. Non-pitchers hitting seventh-to-ninth last season scored runs in just 9.55 percent of plate appearances (and 31.9 percent of their times on base), averaging an RBI every 10.3 times up. Players hitting first or second, as Miller had been before the demotion, scored runs in 12.5 percent of their plate appearances (and 38.9 percent of their times on base), averaging an RBI every 11.7 times up. The trade-off is clear: a few more RBI opportunities, depending on team context, at the expense of runs.

*They called up Nick Franklin, who was hitting .395/.469/.744 in 11 games at Triple-A and wasn’t atrocious as a rookie himself in 2013, with a wRC+ of 90.

The message to Miller seems pretty clear: he can probably figure this slump out, the pop and defense are certainly enough to keep him in the everyday lineup, and he’s probably been at least a little unfortunate (he owns a .224 BABIP, though his batted ball profile is to blame for some of this), but his leash is not infinite.

I’m still holding on Miller in deeper leagues, both because there’s still top-12 upside here and because his trade value would be non-existent, but I’ve moved him to the bench where possible. Players generally don’t show strong walk rates in the minors and then forget how to tell the difference between a ball and a strike or forget how to hit fastballs to this degree. This is more “slump” than “new reality,” but it’s a bad enough one that I’m insulating myself from it until there are some positive signs of a turnaround.

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

29 Responses to “Tightening Brad Miller’s Leash”

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  1. ML says:

    Holding him as well. Particularly in a MI type league, there just isn’t the depth at SS on the waiver wire. Hopefully he fixes it.

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  2. coreyjro says:

    Was at the game last night and he was just lost at the plate. I absolutely believe in him but he’s probably droppable in shallower leagues, just be ready to jump back in when he gets going.

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  3. Jack says:

    Great analaysis! In a league that counts Errors and uses OBP would you drop Miller for any of Escobar, Crawford or Jeter?

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  4. Emcee Peepants says:

    Could this be a case of a guy who was red-hot in spring training, thus resulting in a changed approach where he is swinging at everything, thinking he can hit everything?

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  5. Jay-Z says:

    I am with ML; I want to drop him but there is zero depth at SS and he also qualifies at 2B.

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  6. Adam says:

    In a shallow OPS league with a MI slot. Howie Kendrick is available. Pull the trigger on dropping Miller?

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  7. maqman says:

    Miller might not be replaced by Franklin, who is have his own problems at the plate in The Show. However Chris Taylor, the shortstop at AAA Tacoma, last night hit his second home run of the game in the fifth inning and doubled in his final at-bat of the night. He finished the game 3-for-4 with three runs and four RBIs. After his big night, Taylor is hitting .364 with a .667 slugging percentage in 17 games.

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  8. Brian says:

    In looking at SS replacement for Miller, what about Rollins? He’s available in my league, and while I admittedly thought he was done, he’s looked pretty good the first few weeks. On pace for a career-best wRC+ and his best wOBA since his monster 2007 season. OPS league, and with pop and speed and .830 OPS, he’s looking mighty appealing at the moment.

    Is this sustainable or is this an #April/SSS issue?

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  9. ulysses says:

    so bonifacio, dozier or miller? 10 team league, i’m thinking i drop miller. I also have seager annoying me… I can pick up dozier and bonifacio for seager and miller but for some reason I like seager. what do i do? thanks!

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  10. Josh says:

    Still own Miller, but with his start combined with Gyorko, Segura and EE, I’m already in a pretty distant last. Would you cut Miller for any of Owings, Semien, Schoop or Gennett, or continue to hold?

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  11. eljarhead2017 says:

    I’m in a very deep head-to-head mixed league (16 teams, 25-man rosters) and there aren’t a lot of palatable options on the wire at SS. (We’re talking Yunel Escobar/Mike Aviles as the best choices.) I’m considering just benching Miller until he gets it together and just not playing anyone at SS rather than dropping him, because I know if I drop him someone will snatch him up. I could also drop Kole Calhoun to make room for a shortstop, as he’s eating a spot on my bench because I ran out of DL slots.

    This is an extremely long question, but does anyone have any thoughts on this? Thanks in advance!

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      Who else is on your DL?

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    • Poinmonster says:

      In the exact same boat. Considering trading Venable or Singleton (stashed) for Solarte in the hopes that when the ride stops for Yangervis, Miler will have figured it out, but I’m too paranoid that either trade would make me look silly eventually. Might just not play a shortstop for a little while.

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  12. John says:

    Wild overrating of a Seattle Mariner by the Fangraph’s community? I’m shocked.

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  13. Ulysses says:

    What is springers worth in a ten team 3 OF 2 util league? I have gyorko and springer is just on my bench. I was going to drop spring get for dozier considering I only use him in case of someone sitting out.

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    • Grant says:

      Springer is worth: seven dollars, six euros, five rubles, four rupees, three yen, two yuan, and one partridge in a pear tree.

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  14. Ruki Motomiya says:

    A Mariner middle infielder with good plate discipline suddenly finds himself doing much worse after a promising rookie season? Hmmm…

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  15. LOL says:

    But #6org told me that he’s the best SS in the AL right now!

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  16. ExposYourselfOnFlloydYoumans says:

    Dustin Ackley called….he want’s his article back.

    I am stuck with Miller in a deep 12 team keeper league with OPS and MI slot.

    Anyone here think Micah Johnson is more worth an NA slot than Franklin (who is available)??

    Ok in english.

    Micah Johnson or Nick Franklin in a 3 year keeper with no $ value on players.

    Minus Mariner bias.

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