Alright, here it is. The post you animals have been clamoring for: The Covering the Corner review of Owen Miller’s 2022 season.
I get it. You, like most people, are big fans of positional versatility. The Swiss Army Knife player is your favorite because anyone can play 130 games at one position, but it takes a real talent to be ready to play at multiple positions at any time. So, as we’ve been recapping each player’s season, you’ve been eagerly refreshing the site, checking our Twitter, or waiting for your friend to text you that the Owen Miller review has been posted.
Much like Miller’s season, however, the review goes downhill from here.
For a utility player, Miller had a decent 2022. He had a serviceable line of .243/.301/.351 with an 85 wRC+ and wOBA of .287 to go with a 0.6 fWAR. There are two problems with this, though. First, Miller’s insanely hot start to the season propped up an otherwise very poor season. Second, Miller was not a utility player, as he played in 130 games and started 118, including 71 at the traditionally offensive-minded first base.
In April, Miller went full supernova, hitting .400/.466/.700 with a wRC+ of 227 and wOBA of .487. Of course, a sample of 58 plate appearances is enough to tell us exactly nothing about a player, and Miller very quickly cooled off. In May, over his next 99 PA, Miller had a line of .211/.253/.322 with wRC+ of 60 and wOBA of .251. That second month of the season was much more instructive on how to think of Miller as an offensive threat — or, more accurately, how to think of him as not an offensive threat.
Though also a small sample, the May numbers reflected his overall offensive production very well. From May 1 through the end of the season, Miller hit .222/.278/.305 with a 65 wRC+ and .259 wOBA. Those offensive numbers are not great, but they’re the kind of production a team can tolerate from a flexible player who offers defensive versatility. Miller was in the 91st percentile for outs above average this season while making appearances at first (primarily), second, and third base. His offensive production was not far from players such as Adam Frazier of the Mariners (.238/.301/.311, 81 wRC+, .297 wOBA, 91st percentile OAA) and Isiah Kiner-Falefa of the Yankees (.261/.314/.327, 85 wRC+, .285 wOBA).
Cleveland did not use Miller like an offensively limited player, though, and instead hit him in the heart of the order as if his April outburst was always on the cusp of being repeated. Miller appeared in the lineup at every spot except eight and nine. With offensive black holes like Myles Straw and Austin Hedges also in the lineup, this might be excused, but the fact that Miller was the Guardians’ second-most frequent clean-up hitter (34 times) is egregious. (Not to mention hitting Miller second an incredible six times in the last 20 games.)
Frazier might be the best comp for Miller here, as he led off for the M’s for most of the first two months. Scott Servais learned how to effectively use Frazier, however; after May 31, Frazier hit higher than sixth in the Mariners lineup only 14 times. After Sept. 17 he exclusively hit in the bottom third of Seattle’s lineup. Likewise, Aaron Boone batted Kiner-Falefa above sixth just 10 times in his 142 games, most frequently (62 times) slotting him in the eighth spot of the Yankees’ batting order.
Perhaps I’m too optimistic, but I still see some value in Miller beyond his pretty awful May to October performance. The key to tapping into that value, though, would be using Miller according to his skill set. Just because Miller can play first base, that doesn’t mean he needs to make 71 starts there. While there’s certainly value in playing an above-average fielder at first, the team would almost certainly find more value by putting a better hitter there (or simply pairing a better right-handed hitter with Josh Naylor). The team would almost certainly have better luck playing Miller like the utility player he is, too.
Terry Francona did an incredible job in 2022, this much is unquestionable. But it’s really hard to understand how he saw what Owen Miller did from May on and utilized him as if he were one of the team’s better hitters. Hopefully, Miller’s role in 2023 is a bit more coherent.
Owen Miller’s 2022 Stats
We’re reviewing (almost) all the Guardians players from 2022 now through November, starting with the top-10 MVPs as voted on by eight Covering the Corner staff members. Players were awarded points based on their one through 10 individual rankings and were ranked as such. You can find all the Year in Review posts here.