More properly said; Andrew Miller’s inexperience is the only thing holding him back from being a #1 or #2 pitcher for just about any team in the major leagues. What has been known about Andrew Miller from the moment that he was drafted last year is that he is an incredible talent and he already has the pitches to get out major league hitters. This is why he went in the first round and why he received a $3.55M signing bonus. His talent is limitless and his ceiling extremely high but his lack of innings at any level in professional baseball are starting to show through in each of his starts.
I was worried when the Tigers called him up and stuck him into the rotation. He was doing extremely well and Leyland’s reasoning was that Miller provided the team the best chance over any other pitcher they could start. Leyland has always put talent over experience in his statements but not actions (ie, Jose Mesa & Neifi Perez) though in this case it was true. My fears have panned out to be largely unfounded as Miller has given the Tigers a chance to win in nearly every game he has started with a few flaws:
1) He allows too many base runners. He has a .346 OBP against him (.395 against right handed batters) which constantly has him pitching from the strech and puts added/unneeded pressure.
2) He doesn’t last long into games and actually hasn’t lasted more than 5 innings since July 6th. With the Detroit bullpen performing poorly this is surely not helpful.
Last night was a perfect example of all of Andrew Miller’s contrast between raw talent and inexperience. The first three innings of the ballgame he appeared to be unstoppable as he racked up the strikeouts and gave up only a few bloop singles (minus one bad pitch to Jermaine Dye) and no walks. This unraveled quickly in the fourth inning as he allowed a couple hits and hit a batter and gave up an opposite field grand-slam to the free swinging Juan Uribe, whom he had struck out earlier.
While it’s easy to say inexperience I wanted to dig deeper into where this inexperience was playing out for Andrew Miller. The answer became pretty obvious when compared to even a comparatively inexperienced pitcher in Justin Verlander.
Getting ahead of the count immediately is important for any pitcher. It widens the strike-zone to batter and puts the pitcher in a position of control; to some degree. As a pitcher you’d like to your first pitch to get you an out or get you to a 0-1 count. From the first pitch there are essentially three possibilities: 1) the ball is put into play 2) strike (0-1 count) 3) ball (1-0 count).
When you compare Miller and Verlander on the outcome of the first pitch they are pretty close:
|Andrew Miller||Justin Verlander|
|Strike (0-1 Count)||121||43.84%||264||46.40%|
|Ball (1-0 Count)||117||42.39%||246||43.23%|
Andrew Miller, like Justin Verlander, attacks batters immediately and ends up ahead or with the ball in-play about 57% of the time. When the ball is put into play Miller is a bit less effective than Verlander with a BA of .353 vs .291 but this isn’t where the main difference is. Once Miller is behind the count he becomes significantly less effective:
|Andrew Miller||Justin Verlander|
When Andrew Miller is ahead of the count he seems to trust his pitches and they work out well for him. When he gets ahead of hitters immediately they bat an amazing .100 against him. When he falls behind he becomes quite a bit less effective though this isn’t because he doesn’t have the stuff it is because he doesn’t trust his pitches.
Justin Verlander, when falling behind in the count, continues to challenge hitters; Andrew Miller tends to back away. This difference is due to experience and ultimately confidence that is usually gained more safely (and easily) in the Minor Leagues. But for Detroit this year he is forced into learning this lesson in a pennant race and for our sake lets hope he is a quick learner.