Andrew Miller will forever be one of my favorite players for what he did in the 2016 playoffs. Maybe that’s why, despite the fact he hasn’t played for the Indians in two years and he hasn’t played well for the Indians in three years, I still follow him and want him to do well.
Unfortunately, he’s not doing well right now. A pair of bad seasons and a string of disappointing outings have Miller confused and the Cardinals sitting him for the foreseeable future while he tries to figure everything out.
Acquired in a midseason deal months before the playoffs started, few could have known the kind of impact he’d have in getting the Indians to the 2016 World Series, let alone the way he carried the team on his back in the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays. He pitched in all but one game in that 5-game set, allowing no runs and striking out a bonkers 13 batters in 7.2 innings. Twice he pitched more than a full inning of relief, and he struck out five batters in two separate games.
All told, Miller finished the 2016 postseason with 30 strikeouts and just three runs allowed in 19.1 incredible innings pitched. He followed it up with an equally dominant season in 2017 — perhaps one of the best regular season Indians teams of all time. Then 2018 hit, and things started to go wrong. He had a 4.24 ERA, his strikeout rate dropped by two batters per nine, he started walking everyone in sight, his fastball velocity continued to slip, and his slider was hardly the wipeout pitch that made him the game’s best reliever for half a decade.
The whiff rate with his legendary slider peaked at 26.68% in 2015, according to Brooks Baseball, and slowly fell until 2018 when opposing batters were powering windmills just 17.93% of time. Miller held batters to a .099 batting average off his slider in 2017, but that spiked to .256 in 2018.
Things didn’t get much better when the Indians let him walk in free agency and he joined the Cardinals on a two-year, $25 million deal, either. His first year in St. Louis was almost a mirror image of his final year in Cleveland. There he posted a 4.45 ERA with a walk rate of 4.45 per nine and a strikeout rate of 11.52 per nine. To make matters worse, he was hit hard more than ever before, and as a result a career-high 21.6% of fly balls hit off him went for home runs. It all accumulated to a -0.4 WAR (the first time he had negative value since converting to a full-time reliever in 2012), and a 5.19 FIP.
Miller doesn’t have a lengthy injury history besides a bumpy 2018, but something has clearly changed. It’s mystifying to watch on the outside, and apparently it’s just as confusing for Miller, who said — among other things, “The sensation I have throwing a baseball now just isn’t consistent with what it is when I know I’m good”.
The full report from the Associated Press contains many more similar quotes, each more depressing than the last when you consider how great he was and far he’s fallen in two short years. He just seems lost and confused about what’s going on, and as a fan of his and a fan of great pitching in general, it sucks to see. He turns 35 in May, but that’s hardly a deathknell for relievers. We should have at least had a couple more years of watching Miller twist that delightfully strange face of his while making opposing batters swing at dead air like their life depends on it.
It’s too late in Miller’s career to do something drastic like switch to an outfielder ala Rick Ankiel, but if he truly has the yips it’s hard to know what’s going to happen in the twilight years of his brilliant career. The guy just seems bummed out about the whole situation; nothing would make me happier than to see him click back into gear and just show off that plate-clearing slide a few more times.