Middle Infield Help is On the Way: Introducing Brad Miller

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Slingin’ David Stearns has striked again. This time, it’s for a power-hitting middle infielder who should help at a position of need.

Late last week, it was announced that the Brewers had shipped away first baseman Ji-Man Choi to the Rays for Brad Miller and cash considerations (2.2 million). Many of the Brewers faithful probably at first reacted sourly to the deal, but look deeper and there is a lot to like in Brad Miller.

Brad, 28, is from the Orlando area and he played college ball at Clemson. Miller was initially taken in the 39th round by the Rangers in 2008 but chose to play college until he was taken in the 2nd round by the Mariners in 2011. He rose through Seattle’s system quickly, making his major league debut in 2013. In 76 games and 335 plate appearances that year, Miller slashed a strong .265/.318/.418. Miller took a step back his sophomore year, with his batting average dropping to .221, but in 2015 he bounced back nicely, slashing .258/.329/.402 with 11 homers and 46 driven in.

Shortly after the 2015 season, Miller was traded to the Rays in the Logan Morrison/Danny Farquhar trade. When taking a look at Miller’s stats, it’s his first season in Tampa that stands out. Miller clubbed, by far, a career-high 30 homers and 81 RBI’s that year, and set numerous career highs across the board, including in games (152) and plate appearances (601). Look behind those numbers, though, and Miller posted a high K% of 24.8, and a rather disappointing .243 BA and .304 OBP. Still, Miller posted a good wRC+ of 111 and a 9.4 offensive WAR.

The next year, Miller took a sizeable step back, with injuries and inconsistencies ruining a chance to build off of his strong 2016 season. Miller played in just 110 games in 2017, having to deal with multiple lower body injuries. His play reflected that, with his average plummeting to a career-low number of .201 and a .337 SLG. His wRC+ that year was also well below average at 83. One positive from that year was an uptick in Miller’s OBP. At .327, it would be the second highest OBP of his career, mainly because of a strong walk rate. Miller had never posted a walk rate of over 10% in his career, but he posted a 15.5% walk rate in 2017. His 63 walks were by far a career high, despite logging just 338 plate appearances. It is logical to conclude that his struggles at the plate can be attributed to his injuries, but Miller was able to show a newfound discipline at the plate.

Before being DFA’d by the Rays on June 7th, Miller had been sneakily putting together an effective season. While his K rate was extremely high at around 29%, Brad had put together an improved triple slash of .256/.322/.429, with his batting average being the highest its been since his last year in Seattle. Miller has also only been on the DL once this year, with a short-lasting groin injury early in April. His walk rate has fallen below 10%, but nonetheless, it is encouraging to start to see Miller regaining his typical form at the plate.

So what are the Brewers going to get out of Miller?

Let’s start with the positives. Miller was immediately optioned to AAA when he was acquired, but expect him to be with the team by the end of the weak. He will come to the club at a position of need, as Miller’s middle infield experience will help the Brewers in the struggling area. As of right now, the group includes Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard, Orlando Arcia, and utility man Hernan Perez. Sogard and Arcia have been absolutely atrocious at the plate this year, with the latter looking extremely lost lately. Sogard has been batting sub-.200 all year, while Arcia has just recently sunk to the Mendoza line. While Hernan Perez hasn’t been as bad as those two, he is still posting a below average wRC+ and career low percentages across the board. Only Jonathan Villar and the injured Tyler Saladino have made noticeable contributions at the plate, with the former starting to resemble his phenomenal 2016 season.

Bringing in Miller automatically gives the Brewers an offensive upgrade up the middle, and gives them the option to send down Arcia or Sogard. Sogard makes sense because of his dreadful production, but Arcia appears to need time in Colorado Springs to work on his stroke. Just watch him over the past few games, and it’s apparent that he’s lost.

Miller, a lefty, will likely platoon with one of Arcia, Sogard, or Saladino when he returns. Villar looks safe to stay away from the competition for AB’s, as he has second base locked up pretty well so far. We all know David Stearns values versatility, and Miller has some. He has experience in the corner infield and outfield spots aside from being a middle infielder by trade. Like the outfield situation, Craig Counsell will once again be faced distribute at-bats, this time in the infield. It will be interesting to see where Craig plugs who and how.

Average speed, strikeout problems, and inconsistent on-base skills will probably keep him in the 5-7 range in the order. His power and run production could help Miller to carve out a role in the 5 spot when he’s in the lineup.

Miller’s major downside to his game is his defense. He hasn’t posted a positive defensive WAR since 2015, and his defensive grades are below average at every position. He averages about -2 defensive runs lost per season, and this has led to him receiving DH appearances. Miller should benefit from playing next to guys like Villar, Perez, Sogard, Arcia, and Saladino, all of whom have been strong defenders this year.

Ultimately, the Brewers are getting a veteran bat with some pop to put into the struggling middle infield equation. If Miller can just hit to his career averages on offense, he will already be an upgrade to the lineup. Nearly every guy Stearns brings in seems to have an impact, and if Miller can hide his defensive woes, this has the chance to be a sneaky good addition.

(Advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs)

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