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Exploring Andrew Miller’s disappointment

The Cleveland fireman was a bit bummed by his successful outing in Detroit. Let’s examine why.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday evening, Andrew Miller was disappointed. Sure, he'd just kept the Cleveland Indians in the lead against their greatest division rival, and he did it with a flurry of strikeouts, most notably striking out Miguel Cabrera to end the eighth inning. But that was where the disappointment came from. As mighty as the matchup was on paper, it ended, by Miller's own admission, with a literal lucky break.

"It was not what I envisioned when I threw it," Miller told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. "It just ended up being a good backdoor location and sometimes you get lucky."

In a results-based business, that strikeout is enough. But let's take a look at the process by which he dispatched Cabrera.

Last week I wrote a bit about the rudimentary sequencing Miller pairs with his assorted pitch filth. As I described there, Miller's comparatively high slider use informs on this first pitch:

What is a little confusing here is Cabrera swinging at a pitch that, by all rights, he should have laid off. Even if he didn't pick up on the slider until too late, it stands to reason that the first pitch of a Miller at-bat would be his slider. He throws it in excess of 55 percent of the time but only hits the zone 42 percent of the time for his career. An experienced hitter would know that.

However, on the other end of that is Miggy's propensity for swinging at the first strike, 37.3 percent of the time over the last five years. That is far above the league-wide 27 percent average. Add to that Miller starting all but one of the five previous at-bats he'd been in that night with a slider, maybe Cabrera out-thought himself, and got caught expecting a divergence toward the fastball because Miller was feeling cute. Smart work by Miller there, if you ask me, simply sticking to his best tool.

The second pitch was probably what Cabrera expected on the first pitch:

A fastball that probably caught too much of the plate. It's actually a little surprising Cabrera didn't attack, that's a place he's crushed in the past. Since 2013 he's slugged over .700 on balls there and hit somewhere around 400., depending on what segment of the zone you decide that is. The below is from the catcher’s point of view.

You can almost read the regret in the way Cabrera takes the pitch. He knows he had one. As for Miller, this is the first glimmer of regret in this at-bat.

Miller stuck with the fastball next, getting it to 1-2:

That's a good location for the pitch, and perhaps a better receiving job by Yan Gomes would have earned another strike and a bit of Cabrera complaining. Instead it just made the whole event more interesting.

There's nothing you can feel about this pitch but pride if you're Miller. That’s everything you want to do with that pitch. Either you catch Miggy in between looking for another fastball, you get him to whiff on an inside pitch (which makes him grumpy anyway) or you get him to foul it off. There is no way for Cabrera to hit that with any real authority. Not only that, it allows Miller to throw another slider or a fastball anywhere down in the zone, due to the break on that one.

Miller has talked in the past about his ability to shape his slider, give it more or less depth, more or less break, and this is a great jump-off point. If anything this would be better to open the at-bat, allowing for one with more snap to get Cabrera looking silly as he whiffs and almost gets hit in the back foot. But either way, this is a great pitch.

It’s not all great though, and the next pitch proves maybe Miller was a little rusty. Pitch four allowed the setup of an outside fastball, among other things, which MIller went with. Unfortunately…

Cabrera spits on it. Nobody is perfect. But it was a little, I don’t know, disappointing (THERE’S THAT WORD) since we’ve seen Miller dot the outside corner at 96 or so dozens of times. Sure he had a pitch or two to play with. But against a player of Cabrera’s caliber, there’s no such thing as a waste pitch. This one gave Cabrera a glimmer of hope.

Damn near a mirror image of two pitches prior, and Cabrera can simply spoil it. It’s really a setup pitch for everything else Miller does, and even when he’s not at the top of his game, as he didn’t seem to be this evening, he still could go back to the classics.

This is where I can understand the disappointment. These guys are competitors. Yes, Miller got the strikeout, the ultimate victory in the battle against the mighty Cabrera. But it was a strikeout looking. For someone like Josh Tomlin or Kyle Hendricks, who live on guile and trickery, masking what they’re throwing until the last minute, that’s fine.

But Miller admitted this one got away from him, and it just happened to clip the strikezone. He probably wanted a strikeout like the one he delivered to Brian Dozier late last August. A flailing, a falling, making Cabrera look the fool. Instead he won the battle by accident. That’s no fun. You can amp yourself up for that final flourish, and if instead it’s just suddenly over, it’s like watching The Fellowship of the Ring without knowing it’s a trilogy*. It just sort of ends and you’re sitting there, going, “What?” That was Miller Wednesday night.

*Author’s note: This actually happened to my father. Imagine that disappointment and confusion.