2016 Hitter Review: Brad Miller
So far in this series we have taken in depth looks at how Corey Dickerson, Logan Forysthe and Evan Longoria fared during the 2016 season. This next installment will touch on Brad Miller. While Brad proved incapable of filling the team’s need at shortstop, he more than made up for it by having one of the better seasons for any batter last year. His is yet another power-driven profile that comes with big-time tradeoffs in contact, but the benefits are fairly obvious.
Compared to the 483 other players that took at least 60 plate appearances you can see where he differentiates. An everyday starter, the team did well to get him a ton of time, while still shielding him from lefties when they could, with only 123 seen in 2016. This allowed him to rack up the extra-base hits, shown as well as anywhere by having 23% of his hits go over the fence. Of the guys looked at so far Evan was at 21%, Dickerson at 19% and Forsythe at 15%. I think this is one area where Miller looks ripe for regression. Unlike his those first two, who also showed heavy skew towards hits going for extra bases, Miller has as a relatively lower number of doubles. This leads me to believe that a few of his homers in 2016 might turn into doubles in 2017 so that the ratios balance out a little bit.
Switching gears over to the non-balls in play you find that he ran basically a league average walk rate, but that comes with the downside of a bottom-third strikeout rate. He puts enough in play to mostly avoid the three-true outcomes label, but if I’m expecting the slugging percentage to come down, then I’d love to see the strikeouts come down a bit. Improving both rates could lead to him taking a step forward where many probably don’t think there’s much room left.
The lack of singles brings his batting average down the lower end of the mid-tier, and his more average than good walk rate pushes his on-base percentage percentile down even further. He remained a productive hitter in the aggregate due the obscene power numbers. This shows up best in the ISO, which removes the effect of his bottom-third BABIP, where he grades out on the lower end of the elite.
His batted ball profile shows a slight skew towards outfield flyballs at the expense of his liners, and the HR/FB rates seems like another cause for concern. I’m a believer in Miller’s power, but with enough luck inherit in flyballs leaving the yard I would bet on him not being in the 89th percentile next year. As previously mentioned, some of those non-homers are going to turn into doubles and triples, but some will be caught, and all will inflate his SLG less than a homer would.
His wOBA and wRC+ are mostly fine despite running such a well below average OBP, which again speaks to the power, and park, respectively. I do think his approach is a little below average by Good Approach, Good Result (GAGR), but it works for him. His swing rates, both in, and out, of the zone are a little elevated, but not crazy. Where he gets hurt, though, is in his in-zone contact, which is really quite low. The power does a good job of keeping pitchers out of the zone, but even when they come in there it ends up in whiffs often enough that his swinging strike rate places in the bottom-third. He’s a fine base-runner that doesn’t add anything with the steals, and despite a league average ground ball rate, he has the wheels to beat out the double play. You can also see that he has a bit of an issue with soft contact despite being only slightly pull-heavy.
I love the season that Brad Miller just put up, but I think there is enough cause for concern here that it’s likely he takes at least a small step backward at the plate. Perhaps, that is just fine as he hopefully moves into a position where the offensive demand for the position isn’t nearly as high as over at first. His approach works well enough that he shouldn’t change it just to try to manufacture some walks to raise his OBP a little bit. I think that would take too much away from the rest of what he does, which is great, but is probably due to fall back a little. Finding a way to increase contact without having to trade power is the white whale for most hitters. If Brad Miller can find a way to do that this year then he’s going to open an awful lot of eyes.
The samples can get small here so use your smarts, but the thing that jumped out to me here is how very good he is against the right-handed breaking ball. You can see that it’s a big time swing and miss pitch, but he puts a good amount in play, and when he does he hits the piss out of the ball. A batting average and slugging percentage on contact, or BACON and SLGCON, respectively, of .372/.859 is completely obscene. He sees these offerings around a quarter of the time from a righty, but my guess is that that is going to go down going forward.
Fortunately, he holds his own against the other pitches quite well. The change up gets put in play a little more often than the fastball, which gets mostly converted to foul balls, as the whiff rate is similar for each pitch. That’s not necessarily a great thing. Seeing a BACON that low leads me to believe that he rolls over on those change ups quite often. On one hand, pulling a slow grounder to the right side is going to help him stay out of the double play, but it still produces an out. He has a fair ability to drive the pitch, but his results against the heater stand out much better.
As previously mentioned, the team does their best to help him avoid lefties, but around mid-season it was inevitable so he still saw around 20% of his pitches from same-handers. He can handle the fastball well enough, but with a little less power than he shows with the platoon advantage. The breaking ball shows the same elevated rate as against righties, but both the average and power take a large step back from what he does against righties. With roster constraints the team will likely have to sacrifice one of their lefties in every start against a southpaw, and I wouldn’t completely mind if Miller was that guy, but I’m not sure that playing him everyday without paying heed to the matchup would be all that wise.
Moving along, but sticking with pitch types I want to show some heatmaps from 2016. These will come in order of the most to least number of seen pitches:
So righties are mostly trying to pound him away all day. Occasionally they’ll bust him inside, and under his hands to keep him honest, but catching that much of the plate can lead to some hard hit ball, as well. It’s not the worst idea when you see that up, and also in, is one of his bigger coverage holes. The high fastball can be a slippery eel, and it’s fairly common for lefties to struggle on stuff up-and-in, especially when his area of expertise is down-and-away. Look at all that production down there. Miller looks like he can get down with the heater, and uses pitcher predictability against them. I do love his ability to use the whole field here, and even shows over the fence power across the board. That’s uncommon.
Right-Hand Breaking Balls
Learning that he feasts on the bendy stuff is maybe the biggest takeaway of the piece, so far, but I hope this sheds a little more light on what he is doing to put up those kinds of numbers. Pitchers are either trying to backdoor it on the outer edge or sell it as a back-footer before leaving it inner-third. The ones that do end up off the plate in give him fits as he has a mess of swinging strikes down in there, but I think the tradeoff is worth it, because you can see just how well he covers the plate when the breaking ball can’t get down in there. The heatmap kind of looks like someone being hung upside down off a balcony, and I’m sure pitchers know the feeling when they catch too much plate. He’s mostly pulling these though there is a couple bombs left of center. If it doesn’t leave the yard there, though, it’s a fairly easy out.
Right-Hand Change Ups
The change comes in about where you would expect. Like with the curves, the good ones that can start in the zone before accelerating out of it will draw their fair share of whiffs. However, he still punishes enough to help offset all those rolled over groundballs.
Lefty heaters have a couple of common spots, but Brad does have a tendency to chase above the zone. Those that end up just at the top can get whacked. This is a great time to point out that some folks can hate the overly aggressive approach, because it leads to those ugly whiffs on pitches out of the zone. Thing is, if you’re not willing to chase a few of those out of the zone, then you’re never, ever going to get to tattoo the ones that end up catching too much zone. I’ll take the occasionally ugly swing if it leads to punishing pitches that miss their desired location.
Left-Hand Breaking Balls
Lefty breaking balls tell a similar tale. They want to cross the zone to either run off the plate or end up down in the corner for a called strike. It looks like Brad swings at pretty much all of them with the notion that the whiffs off the plate lead to another pitch most of the time and the ones that stay middle can get pulled hard.
Having seen all these snapshots of the season on a whole, I think it beneficial to also take a look at how some of these things trended over the course of the season. Let’s start with focusing on his swing and zone rates, as well as production, on all pitches.
The standout here is how pitchers started leaving the zone more often over the second half of the season. He enjoyed his best production when opposition pitchers were throwing strikes around 35% of the time. For some reason, and despite them continuing to exit the zone more and more, he closed the season by getting more aggressive, which led to his worst results of the season. Methinks Mr. Miller was getting a little aggressive to make sure he got to thirty homers, but what do I know.
Moving along to just those pitches that he swung at you can see that his swinging strike rate increase pretty much all season. That didn’t really affect his ability to put the ball in play a whole lot early on, but by midseason it had started to catch up. Things snowballed from there so that these two rates actually overlapped, and predictably, his production on swings cratered.
Lastly, let’s take a look at just those pitches that were put in play. You can get a sense for why he continued to get more aggressive as the season went on. He was being rewarded for it pretty handsomely. That peak over the last nearly half of the season, before the poor finish, is just incredible production. The power is obvious, but his rate of hits on balls in play is also peaking around .400. A hot streak like that can make up for a lot of downtime. Hopefully we’ll see more of the former and less of the latter in 2017.