OK, so I have clung desperately to the hope that Andrew Miller, the former 1st round draft pick of the Detroit Tigers out of the University of North Carolina, would step up at some point and pitch well. Of course, he’s never shown that he can pitch well, with a career 4.72 xFIP not doing justice to his career 5.53 ERA. But I saw small signs of some potential improvement. The career GB% of 47.3% was a good sign, and maybe with some tweaking he could become the type of pitcher who just worried about keeping it in the park and not making too many mistakes.
This season, however, has convinced me that such a thing will never happen. Miller has been atrocious all year, accentuating the problems that he has always had, and it seems like no amount of Marlins coaching is ever going to help him become a good pitcher.
Take a look at his stats this season, excluding his short rehab stint in High-A Jupiter.
I’m not one to take one season’s worth of numbers and blow them out of proportion, but this sort of horrific performance shouldn’t really surprise anyone. What were the main problems that Miller faced as a major league pitcher (problems that I have highlighted in articles past)?
1. He has poor control, especially over his offspeed stuff, and it results in some very bad walk numbers.
2. He may have an issue with BABIP. His BABIP may be naturally high, which means that looking at things like FIP would overrate him as an average to slightly below average pitcher.
I mentioned those two specific concerns in my article regarding the competition between Miller and Rick VandenHurk for the fifth rotation spot (a spot eventually won by the equally poor Nate Robertson). Sure enough, those are the two exact concerns that were front and center this season for Miller. Admittedly, his year started with an injury, so he likely started the year below his true talent level. Still, it’s a bit disheartening that, for a former top prospect, the brightest point of his season was combining for a no-hitter against batters two and a half years younger than him.
Miller began his actual season in Double-A Jacksonville, and he was horrific there. The strikeouts were around the level he had posted in his major league career (17.3% K% in the majors), but the walks were unacceptably high. The rate of hits allowed also continued to balloon. It is well known that, in the minors, you could expect BABIP to go up a bit due to poorer defense among minor leaguers. At the same time, you would expect Miller, a player who has pitched in 280 2/3 major league innings, to be able to hold down minor leaguers at the Double-A level to at least an average BABIP. The average BABIP in the Southern League this season was .315, well below Miller’s .345 mark. Looking at Miller’s fellow starters, none of the starters who made more than 10 starts on the division-winning Jacksonville Suns had a BABIP greater than .320. Analyzing Miller’s brief major league stint this season would be meaningless, but his performance does reflect similar issues to the ones he showed in Double-A this year. If Miller cannot seem to get Double-A hitters out consistently, than he has no hope of getting major leaguers out on a regular basis.
Interestingly enough, Miller has never really had the chance to prove that he can get minor leaguers out. Can you believe that, including this season’s 101 minor league innings, Miller has only pitched 232 innings in the minors? He has faced only 1033 batters outside of the major leagues. In comparison, Chris Volstad faced more than twice that many batters (2133) by the time he arrived in the bigs. Josh Johnson faced 1719 batters before receiving the callup. Both John Herold and I feel that the Tigers rushed Miller to the majors too quickly, especailly since he had never shown the ability to control his pitches before arriving in the bigs. He “arrived” so quickly and was never sent back for an extended period of time, all the while showing the same sort of problems at each level that he still shows today. By the time he reached Florida, he may have already been damaged goods in terms of stunted development.
Miller will be 26 next year and has essentially no chance of developing into a good pitcher. Because he’s never really been good and the name value of “top prospect” has washed off since 2007, it isn’t likely the Marlins can receive anything in return for him. If he qualifies for arbitration next season (I’m not sure how it will work for him), he is unlikely to receive a tender or contract offer from the Fish. For his sake, I hope he ends up with a team like the St. Louis Cardinals or Chicago White Sox, with a coach who can emphasize control and use of a two-seam fastball or cutter. That will help maximize his positives and maybe minimize one of his problems. Otherwise, he is likely to be done as major league pitcher.