Andrew Miller pitched decently, hooray!

Look, I know it’s not Marlins-related per se, but there seems to be a theme going on here regarding the potential future success of players the Marlins traded away. You’ve already heard me ranting about the “great” move to pickup the likely mediocre Cameron Maybin, and now FanGraphs author Jonah Keri is lauding the Boston Red Sox for picking up Andrew Miller.

You don’t give up on talent like Miller’s, and the Red Sox did well to throw a minor league deal at a talented pitcher who could help them address what looked like one of the team’s biggest weaknesses earlier in the season: the back of the rotation.

As friend of the Maniac and Baseball Nation writer Marc Normandin points out, Miller has been something of a different pitcher recently:

Miller is making his first start back in the majors tonight, but he has also undergone a potential metamorphosis. While he started the year with the same absurd walk rates he was known for, a new approach and emphasis on attacking the strike zone has reversed his fortunes. In his final 25-1/3 innings and four starts for Triple-A Pawtucket, Miller struck out 26 hitters and walked just four.

Honestly, that’s great for Miller, and I wish him success. And what Keri mentions in the first link is correct: dumpster diving for players who are former prospects with some shine left in them can be a valuable part of the team building process. Hell, the Marlins have been doing that for years, building bullpens from season to season with little investment in money via the signing of veteran free agents looking to bounce back. But let us not forget the players who we are talking about, particularly in the case of Miller.

Majors, Pre-2011 294 1/3 17.1 12.5 2.0 .340 5.94 4.70
Minors, Career 297 2/3 20.9 12.5 0.9 .296 3.66

This is the essence of Andrew Miller before he had his solid 5 2/3 innings over the weekend. This includes his excellent three starts in Pawtucket before being brought up from Triple-A. In the minors, he exhibited almost the exact same control problems as he did in the majors. In the majors, he struggled to find ways to get hitters out. He was oft-injured and hardly effective when off the disabled list. His velocity continued to dip as the seasons went by, down to 90.9 mph in 2009 and 2010. He accumulated around 920 balls in play in his career and accumulated a .340 BABIP. Part of that is luck, but given how poorly he had pitched in every other department, it seemed like it could very well be a case of a pitcher who simply could not get hitters out.

Four starts later, with three of those starts in Triple-A and the one major league start being not particularly impressive either, and there are words being thrown out about how great a find Miller was this offseason. While his start was nice, it was not top notch. His ERA matched his FIP, both in-game and career, and the numbers weren’t great. Yes, he was likely a bit unlucky to allow so many hits and homers, but he was just as likely to be a bit lucky in getting his strikeouts. His velocity was up, which is about the only positive indicator we could use for his one game. He may very well have changed, but he may very well hav also been lucky.

Meanwhile, Javier Vazquez has done this recently:

Vazquez IP FB Vel ERA FIP
First eight starts 39 1/3 88.2 7.55 5.52
Last seven starts 37 90.4 5.11 4.40

This change is through a more significant number of starts against more significant competition, yet the general consensus is that we would need more data to determine whether anything really has changed. The allure of the former prospect in Miller finally “figuring it out” and somehow improving dramatically at age 26 is far more appealing to the story of Vazquez’s regression to somewhere closer to his old self.

Again, I hope that Miller continues his success in Boston, but I have my doubts. Sure, the Red Sox lose nothing if Miller does not succeed, but if he does, shouts of Miller being given up on “too early” will rain down on a Marlins front office that has already been questioned heavily about the Maybin trade. If Miller somehow succeeds and becomes halfway decent, it will have been against all odds and in a situation which never would have worked out in Florida. If he doesn’t, than he just becomes another footnote in the long line of prospects that failed. Ultimately, the Fish did not have much of a choice but to give up on a guy whose signs all pointed to “prospect on which to give up;” whether he succeeds or not in the future does not hold bearing on the Marlins’ decision.

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