On February 12th, 2020, the Cardinals signed veteran INF/OF Brad Miller to a 1yr/$2M deal in order to fill a much-needed utility role, formerly filled by Yairo Munoz. Miller is coming off his best offensive season to date, boasting an impressive 126 wRC+ and a .260/.329/.565 slash line. He also kept his head above water defensively, holding a respectable +3 DRS in the outfield and 0 DRS on the infield.
Miller’s 2019 season got off to an average start in Cleveland, posting a .250/.325/.417 slash line in just 13 games, but he was average no longer after he got traded to the City of Brotherly Love. When Miller got to Philly, something clicked. Maybe it was the coaching staff, or maybe it was the fresh Pennsylvania air. A magic answer likely doesn’t exist, but whatever it was worked. Miller crushed every ball in sight wearing a Phillies uniform, putting up a spectacular 136 wRC+ and .260/.331/.610 slash line. You read that right; a .610 SLG%.
All of that is impressive to say the least, but hey, it was only one season. Miller has never really been known for a high SLG% before (.409 career SLG% prior to 2019), so maybe this was just luck. That’s a fair argument, but let’s say it wasn’t luck. Let’s say that Miller is just a better hitter now. In this scenario, there would probably also be a jump in his underlying stats to go alongside the surface ones, yes? That’s where this gets a bit exciting.
When looking at his expected stats in 2019 as compared to 2018, a few things stand out to me:
A jump in xSLG (.427 to .510)
A jump in xwOBA (.310 to .344)
A jump in Barrel% (10.7 to 12.8)
A HUGE jump in avg. Launch Angle (10.9 to 16.8)
So, cool. These stats present a simple equation: A (increased barrels) plus B (higher launch angle) equals extra-base hits. Basic algebra. But what exactly changed? What was the secret sauce that caused this sudden spike in SLG%? Again, there’s no perfect answer here, but an educated guess would be that his prior struggles against breaking pitches turned into his greatest asset. The following are his expected stats vs breaking pitches over the last three years:
Yeah, so that’s probably relevant. Now, to be fair, Miller saw just 153 breaking pitches in 2019, which is a decidedly smaller sample size than the 248 he saw in 2018 and the 336 he saw in 2017. That being said, that’s still an incredible jump in quality of contact.
So now the question should be, “is this repeatable success?” and in all honesty, no one has the answer right now. Players have career years and fall off the next season all the time. Unless your name is Mike Trout, nothing in this game is guaranteed. That question is for Brad Miller to answer this year, and he will get the opportunity to do so. In any case, Miller is almost guaranteed to be a significant upgrade to the aforementioned Munoz, and should complement Tommy Edman well in the super-utility role. Even past Miller’s obvious value as a spot-starter, his addition also improves the Cardinals’ depth when it comes to bench bats, which has been particularly weak for the last few seasons. Clearly, depth at any position is a positive, and with the addition of Brad Miller, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single position in which the Cardinals don’t have tremendous depth.
Overall, I like this deal a lot. It reminds me of the Matt Wieters deal from last year, in which the Cardinals took a small chance on a catcher well past his prime, and ended up getting a fan-favorite player who provided much needed insurance when Yadi went down with injury. That’s exactly what Miller is: insurance. If worst comes to worst, the versatility of Edman and Miller provides peace of mind, and I think most front offices would jump at the opportunity to pay $2M for that valuable commodity.
Cover art by @cardinalsgifs
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