Free Agent Folder #1: Brad Miller

Well, it was a long time coming! Sorry for the absence but I took some weeks off to concentrate on various projects I had to complete in the pursuit of my lifelong dream: working in a baseball front office. I can’t say it has gone well, but I had the opportunity to get to know a plethora of amazing baseball minds, and that is worth the effort.

I’m back where I belong for now, here delivering the goods, this time with a new list, more precisely a Free Agent Folder: in this set of entries I’ll focus on 2nd-3rd tier names in the FA market, those under the radar signings that come up clutch more often than not, and I’ll present you 3(0) reasons why you should, and shouldn’t, buy on a certain player, to then close the book with a contract and destination prediction out of my baseball magician cap.

As everyone else does, I love when a NRI, MiLB contract or 1-year pennies deal guy shows up in a big way, carrying his team of aptly paid stars and overpaid veterans for weeks or months to guarantee himself a better paycheck in the following season: where would have the Red Sox gone without Hunter Renfroe’s $3M bargain? And does Atlanta even go as far as the Playoffs without trading for prove-it 1 year deal signings Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario?

That’s why, while you wait for Carlos Correa to sign a $300M megadeal and for someone to waste an astronomical amount of money on the enigma known as Javy Baez, don’t be surprised when your team will ship a prospect to Pittsburgh at the deadline for Yoshi Tsutsugo’s $4M annual contract, or when Pedro Severino will smack 20 bombs in a Brewers uniform: those are the small deals nobody talks about and promptly depicted as GM masterpieces come July.

In that sense, allow me to introduce another work of art your general manager should paint:

Need a bat? Call Brad Miller!

Why buying?

- He hits the crap out of the ball

Brad looks like, and sort of is, a 1980s baseball player teleported to our times: no batting gloves, he walks to the plate, raises his bat and hits the ball hard all the time every time. He’s one of the less talked about members of the prestigious 90–90 club, as in 90th percentile or better in both average and max EV, a comrade of the Soto and co. socialites, he’s up there to crush baseballs, a feat he achieves more often than not, HardHit% and Barrel% in the red, with a penchant for obliterating fastballs, over 95 mph avgEV.

Notably he’s not as much of a dead pull machine as one could think: his power, HR stroke is to RF but he gets a ton of hard contact straight up the middle and that explains why his numbers are not impacted, even better, when the classic LHB shift is employed. Going the other way beats the shift, smashing a liner back in the SS-2B hole does too.

Lastly, his consistency is to be amazed by: his Barrel% has been well over 10% four seasons in a row, with his Weak% never reaching 3% in that stretch. There’s something to be said for someone who’s that reliable in providing a contact profile so skewed to the Hard side, and that’s Brad Miller in a nutshell.

- He walks a bunch

The most unsuspectable trait a baseball player with Brad Miller’s looks and antics, grip it and rip it batstyle, could possess is plate discipline: you wouldn’t be surprised if such an old school baller came out swinging on everything that comes to the plate, whether or not that is a strike.

Well, get your Pikachu shocked expression ready: Brad Miller is a fine plate conoisseur.

Yet again, Brad is a model of consistency: he swings more than average at balls right in the Heart of the plate to then avoid all other risky pitches, laying off more than your casual MLB batter on offerings in the Shadow/Chase/Waste zones, his patience is noteworthy as is his 11% career walk rate, reaching an elite 15% in 2016 and 2020, not that long ago if that matters.

In the last three years Brad cut his Chase% to an high but acceptable 24–25% range, while keeping his Swing% at around 45%, not a “fake”, passivity-driven discipline as in many other cases: he knows when to hold them, and demolish an in-zone breaking ball, and when to fold them and lay off a pesky slider in the dirt.

- He’s making more contact

Whenever a batter gets to the ball with Miller’s thump, a question arises: does it do that often enough to be productive?

Remember the 90–90 club? Miguel Sano is a member too, and his 3rd, no joke, percentile xAVG belies the fact that the gargantuan Minnesota slugger does not get to hit a lot of balls, albeit when he does they go in places only God knows about.

Brad is not a high AVG hitter, the Yuli Gurriel special, but he can put the bat to work for a .240 clip and, most importantly, he showed promising signs in 2021:

While his 2020 results are to be taken with a grain of salt, small sample size and pandemic making their case, 2021 was a full season, one of positive developments for Brad’s bat-to-ball results: his Whiff% againts Fastballs is still high but the price he’s willing to pay in exchange for annihilating them to bits, moreover he almost had a career low, and best, at not missing breaking balls in the zone and he also improved his statline against the offspeed stuff.

Miller covers all three macro-categories with great to decent results, a search-and-destroy approach he employs by picking his pitches to swing at, refusing a lot of bad proposals and some bargains in the process, and when he does swing and hit, boom goes the dynamite.

Why not buying?

- His extra contact is going to the ground

A Brad Miller who hits the ball more often should be nothing but good news, in the form of scorching line drives and pull bombs, unfortunately though that’s not the case:

Half of the fastballs and more than 50% of the Offspeed pitches Miller gets his potent bat to are directed to the ground, and as much as I like someone who can dishelve a baseball at 115 mph, I don’t like it that much when that missile is straight to the second baseman via infield dirt.

This is also part of Miller’s consistency, one that is not as appealing as his HardHit allure:

Brad always had a problem elevating the ball, with a career SweetSpot%, the rate of balls hit between 8° and 32° LA strongly correlated with damage and productive outcomes, well below league average, a sum of long heavy-ground periods and small stints of airborne contact.

That most of his newfound balls in play are of the GB variety is not a surprise, although it lets you wonder how much better he could fare if he had the ability to magically improve his LA, something that is not as easy as 1–2–3 as the cases of Eric Hosmer and Yandy Diaz tell us.

- He is strictly a platoon bat

This is one of those times an image speaks a thousand words’ worth: Brad shouldn’t see a LHP slinging the ball his way anytime soon. 2021 results, a loss of .100/.150/.300 in the AVG/SLG/OPS slashline is on par with his career rates and further proof that at this point Miller has to be penciled for a grand total of 0 ABs if the opposing team has a southpaw pitching that day.

Still, he covers the heavier side of the platoon and he does it well, an above average batter against RHP with his +Stats, OPS+ and wRC+, routinely over 100, he deserves 400–450 PA and the occasional pinch-hit appearance in a big spot, something that he relished last season to a tune of .945 OPS with RISP.

Miller may not be an everyday starter, something he has almost never been to be fair, but that doesn’t mean he can’t provide as one, he needs to be used correctly both in situation and defensively because…

- He is almost positionless, but…

Don’t look now but Brad had his MLB introduction at SS with the Rays and his defense was between really bad, DRS and UZR, and atrocious as per OAA. That scaled him down to a futility infielder role, a lot of 2B/3B and occasional starts at first and in the outfield corners, with DH turns more often than not:

Brad the Bat may have a last trick up his sleeve: his 2021 results as a 2B, in a small sample of innings, are actually solid and his above average Sprint Speed testimonies that he’s far from a useless defender, rather he seems to have good jumps and reactions while lacking in routes when in the outfield, a sign that maybe his defensive IQ is not that high.

He can hold his own near the keystone though, a position that hides his lack of arm strength and has never been so flexible and adaptable to an infielder’s traits now that positioning is so developed that a gazillion shifts are routinely employed, until those’ll be banned as I’m afraid they will.

That makes him even more interesting on the market, even in the outside chance the DH is not extended to NL baseball: Brad is more than playable at second, an area of need for several teams throughout the league.

Who should go for it though? Prediction time!

There’s a franchise who knows him well and has a hole the size of the Grand Canyon at 2B, a lineup that lacks pop and lefty sticks and an owner who is more than up to the task when it comes to signing players: Philadelphia enjoyed Miller’s resurgence and should keep him in tow, another LH power threat with Harper, as known of a quantity a player can be and a fan favorite too.

At times last year Brad carried the Phillies with timely hits and 2-run shots, so, even if Didi Gregorius should move to second to accomodate one of the big name FA shortstops, watch out for Baez if he doesn’t go back to NY, I’d argue that PHI needs more pitching than hitting, for that Miller should provide more than enough value at a reasonable price, to then splurge on a Marcus Stroman to anchor a solid rotation and add a bullpen piece while they’re at it.

I foresee an annual, $6–8M deal, with an option for year 2 and that would be in line with the 0.9 WAR FanGraphs, more precisely Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS model, predict him to be worth come 2022, a low bar I’d be confident for him to take the over if he’s given 400 PA, RHPs only and a shot at 2B.

Brad Miller may be a reminder of baseball gone by, pick a stick and hit the lick out of a ball or miss it trying to do so,one without strange rituals or batting gloves, just a man rocking his bat to the plate looking to do damage, but I expect him to be quite good in 2022 baseball too, 20+ HR, low batting average and more walks than you may think.

All stats and graphs from Baseball Savant