Analyzing Andrew (Miller)

This recent post by R.J. Anderson over at FanGraphs once again got me thinking about perennial enigma Andrew Miller. With Miller floundering in his last two Spring Training starts, his hold on the fifth spot in the rotation is dwindling fast. What can we see from his 2009 performance that may be of interest in understanding him?

As many of you may know, Andrew Miller started off his career basically in the majors. Due to a contract stipulation negotiated into the deal he signed when he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers, he actually came up and pitched 10 innings in the big leagues after only three games in High-A ball. Since then, he’s only pitched 126 innings in the minors and 251 1/3 innings in the majors. While you might have liked to see some developmental time in the minors for Miller (essentially, he’s been a major leaguer since he began his professional career), this sort of “rushing” isn’t all that surprising or uncommon. Players coming out of four years of college are expected to be close to major-league ready; often these guys receive maybe a full season in the minors before coming up to the big leagues.

The problem is that Miller did not appear to be a fleshed-out pitcher coming out of college. We all know that one of his biggest problems is his high walk rate. It turns out that this is not something that was new to his major league experience. Here’s a chart of Miller’s performance from college into his professional year (chart originally from The Baseball Cube).

Year Team Lg Age Org Lvl IP HR9 BB9 K9
2004 North Carolina ACC 19 - NCAA 89.0 0.5 4.9 8.9
2005 North Carolina ACC 20 - NCAA 96.2 0.4 4.8 9.7
2006 North Carolina ACC 21 - NCAA 123.1 0.3 2.9 9.7
Lakeland FSL 21 DET A+ 5.0 0.0 1.8 16.2
Detroit AL 21 DET MLB 10.1 0.0 8.7 5.2
2007 Lakeland FSL 22 DET A+ 43.1 0.2 3.3 6.0
Erie East 22 DET AA 30.2 0.6 1.5 7.0
Toledo IL 22 DET AAA 6.0 0.0 7.5 13.5
Detroit AL 22 DET MLB 64.0 1.1 5.5 7.9
2008 GCL Marlins GCL 23 FLA Rk 1.0 0.0 9.0 0.0
Jupiter FSL 23 FLA A+ 12.2 0.7 0.7 7.8
Carolina Sou 23 FLA AA 5.2 0.0 6.4 9.5
Florida NL 23 FLA MLB 107.1 0.6 4.7 7.5
2009 GCL Marlins GCL 24 FLA Rk 7.0 0.0 5.1 12.9
Jupiter FSL 24 FLA A+ 4.0 0.0 2.3 11.3
Jacksonville Sou 24 FLA AA 6.0 0.0 3.0 7.5
New Orleans PCL 24 FLA AAA 11.2 0.0 10.0 12.3
Florida NL 24 FLA MLB 80.0 0.8 4.8 6.6
Major League Totals – 4 Season(s) 261.2 0.8 5.1 7.2
Minor League Totals – 4 Season(s) 133.0 0.3 3.6 8.4

I highlighted the problem columns. Basically, Miller has had high walk rates all of his career, and moving up to the majors early in his professional career probably did not help.

Why does Miller walk so many people? FanGraphs’ Plate Discipline stats may clue us in on the reason. In his career, hitters have swung at 20.6% of pitches outside of the strike zone according to the BIS data FanGraphs uses. In his last two seasons with the Fish, hitters have swung at 19.3% (2008) and 18.8% (2009). Essentially, Miller’s offerings outside the zone have been passable.

I figured taking a look at Pitch f/x would be of some use to us. I broke down Miller’s pitches into categories against lefties and righties and checked out his basic numbers. Here’s what I got.

Selection

Pitch Type vs. LHB vs. RHB
FF 65.0% 69.3%
FC 11.0% 8.3%
BP 17.4% 11.5%
CH 6.6% 10.9%

I’m fairly certain Miller is throwing two types of fastballs, just from scouring scouting reports. I called it a cutter based on Pitch f/x classifications, but I don’t think it’s a “true” cutter. Pitch f/x also has Miller throwing both a curve and a slider, but I lumped them together because I don’t think there’s a difference. I’ve always heard of Miller throwing a slider, but I won’t bother to break up between them. I just called it BP for “breaking pitch.”

Lots of basic stuff here. The breaking pitch gets thrown more often versus same-handed hitters than opposite-handed hitters, implying some sort of platoon split (like a slider). He primarily throws the fastball, with the “cutter” in much lower frequencies. The changeup is his pitch against righties.

How has that affected his numbers? I’ll be getting to that shortly, provided I can find out how to run SQL queries on my SPSS stats program. Once I get a chance to, I’ll be getting to the project of Andrew Miller.

Topics: Andrew Miller, Miami Marlins

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  • JoeA.

    Michael,

    I think Miller should be the poster boy for the Marlins as to what happens when players are rushed to the majors. In the mean time, his service time clock is ticking and if/when he finally puts it together, it will most likely be just in time for him to win for some big market club.

    • Michael Jong

      JoeA,

      You’re right on point here. I’m actually surprised at how messed up his minor league time was. I knew he came up early, but he’s essentially spent half a season in the minors outside of rehab stints. Basically, his 2007 season was split between the majors and minors, then he came to Florida and had to pitch up in the bigs full time.

  • John Herold

    I think it’s also a tale to remember for current prospects. There’s a lot of talk of wanting Stanton on the 2010 roster from fans. But it’d be massively rushing him. Maybe he hits out the gates. Probably not. And when he then starts hitting, he’ll be in arbitration/on another team.

    How a player performs in his first 6 (well, 7) years is what’s most important to us as a franchise, not what the player might become down the road. This is one of my issues with trading for Miller in the first place. Even when we traded for him, it was “He has no control now, but neither did Randy Johnson. RJ then become a beast at age 29, just give him time to grow up.” We can’t waste time on players that need to grow.

  • JoeA.

    Stanton’s exactly who I was thinking of John. He was great in high A but not so great in AA last year and now there’s rumblings that he’s going to make the big league club. Based on what? Spring training? Please! Didn’t we learn about small sample sizes with Cameron Maybin? Like you said, it’s most important to the Marlins that these young players are ready to contribute the moment they reach the big leagues. We have six years of these guys, why not make the most of it. The Rays are a club that has this down. Desmond Jennings is going back to AAA and I wouldn’t be surprised if Matt Joyce or Wade Davis go back as well. When these guys make it to the bigs they will be major contributors for them. In my opinion both Logan Morrisson and Stanton should have a full year at each level.

    • Michael Jong

      JoeA,

      You and John are right on the money, as usual. Stanton is too valuable to the team as a full-time, starting caliber player to risk losing a year of his prime production playing him at age 20. Let the kid stew in the minors a little while longer; the team has enough decent players in the outfield to keep him down for a little while. There’s simply no rush.