It would be pretty incredible to predict Brad Miller would hit 30 homers even halfway into this year. I mean, the guy was brought up as a middle infielder where his bat was projected to be slightly above average to plus. Forecasting major league average power up the middle is nice to have, which is what the most optimistic reviews on him were. Overall you were looking at a decent prospect.
Three years later and Miller had barely been major league average overall, and seemed to have stalled out at 25 without much progress. Although he had a really promising 2013 half season debut, his average and power both went down or stagnated the next two years, and his strikeout went up over 20%. He just didn’t seem to fit in the future plans for the Mariners, especially since the arrival of Robinson Cano had pushed him to almost exclusive outfield duties. So he went off to the Rays, where most projected a fade into obscurity as he didn’t seem to have much of a position there either.
A slow month to start things off wasn’t very welcomed, but thanks to a bunch of other hitters slumping the same, Miller got in his at bats. That’s when he turned on the rockets. In May he hit .291 and added a few bombs for good measure, and the power only got better from there. He ended the season with 30 homers(!!!) and a .239 isolated slugging. Although his average stayed pretty much where it has his entire career, hitting so many more homers (he hit more in 2016 than the rest of his ML career combined) without losing much in the way of contact production only inspires good thoughts about his future.
What we’ve seen from Miller is something a lot of hitters have begun to do more recently, ignore his strikeout rates in favor of more heavy swings and chances to hit long balls. Of course, this doesn’t always work, and it’s guaranteed to have your whiffs rise like crazy (he posted a career high 24.8% strikeout rate in 2016), but it has the potential for what we saw happen with Miller.
Take a look at where his homers came last season:
While spread out decently, there’s a good cluster low and away. Miller excelled in this area of the strike zone more than any other, and as you can see from the legend, it didn’t matter what pitch he was getting. Breakers, fastballs, changeups all alike were sent over the fence during his campaign.
Miller has always been a little more productive in this area of the zone, obviously not to this degree before, but something of note is a more emphasized leg kick he’s incorporated this past year. Below is a video to see how it’s grown from he previous which was more of a step instead of a kick (skip to 1:05 for a slo-mo view up close):
Also note how easy he takes the ball the other way, something necessary when your most productive areas are down and out. His leg kick is high, and allows his torso to follow where the ball is coming in and to put himself in proper position to maximize his generated torque. To show just how well it allows him to spray, look at his hit map from last season:
His ability to spray his hits all over the field comes largely from being able to move his front foot later in the swing process. Without this he would be forced to guess earlier instead of reacting to the pitcher’s mechanics, something he’s shown by his production that he doesn’t have an elite ability to do. Another positive outcome of this has been him hitting the ball harder according to StatCast and scouting measures. His exit velocity has gone up five ticks to 92.1 mph, and his hard contact percentage has increased to 35.1% from a career 29.8%. His leg kick is necessary not just for being able to hit to all fields, but his power and hard contact as well.
Now, some of you may be wondering how an article about Brad Miller wound up in the first base section, but he’s been playing there since the Rays acquired Matt Duffy, who has been moved over to shortstop instead because of some guy named Longoria who stays at third. Miller was not too pleased about this move, venting some strong words and opinions to the media about it, but has played there without a hitch – at least for the public to see. The thing is, Miller is not great defensively, a -25.5 UZR/150 as SS this season in Tampa Bay. At first he’s a much more manageable -3.9, although we should take his 300 inning sample size into account as well.
Miller’s glove is forcing him to stay at first, and with less emphasis needed on defense, he can focus on recreating his 30 homer season in 2017. He has a swing hard and often mentality, and it has taken a toll on his contact rate, but his average has stayed the same and shouldn’t drop lower. He’s by no means a first round option at the position, but he’s a guy anyone can slot in for 25-30+ bombs, and that’s valuable in all lineups. 2016 was no fluke; Miller is a legit power threat.
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