Rays fans have gotten familiar with Andrew Miller over the years. He was a prospect and then major league pitcher for the cross-state Florida Marlins and he is now a reliever for the Rays’ division rival Red Sox. But we could have known him much better. He could have been an our team.
With their 3rd round pick in the 2003 MLB Draft, the Rays selected a 6’7″ lefty named Andrew Miller out of Bucholz High School in Gainesville. Three years later, Miller was selected by the Detroit Tigers with the 6th overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft. Miller certainly got more bonus money getting drafted and signed by the Tigers- in fact, he got a 3.55 million dollar bonus as part of a 5.45 million dollar major league contract- but it may very well have ruined him.
Miller signed with the Tigers on August 6th. He was in the big leagues by the end of the month to assist with the Tigers’ playoff run. Miller made just 3 relief appearances at High-A, and he did dominate, striking out 9 while walking just 1 in 5 shutout innings. But it was crazy to skip him three levels all the way to the big leagues. Of course he got hammered, posting a 6.10 ERA with 10 walks compared to 6 strikeouts in 8 relief appearances and 10.1 innings. That could not have been a confidence-building experience for Miller.
Miller split 2007 between the minors and majors. He made 7 inconsistent starts at High-A, going 1-4 with a 3.48 ERA, a 6.1 K/9, a 3.3 BB/9, and a 0.2 HR/9 in 41.1 IP. The Tigers then brought him up to Double-A, where he dominated, going 2-0 with a 0.59 ERA, a 7.0 K/9, a 1.5 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 4 starts and 30.2 IP. He still didn’t strike out a batter per inning. In two Triple-A starts spanning 6 innings, he allowed 6 runs on 6 hits, striking out 9 but walking 5. Miller was dominating enough to warrant significant time in the big leagues. As a Rays example, David Price posted a 12-1 record, a 2.30 ERA, and a 3.00 FIP in 6 High-A starts, 9 Double-A starts, and 4 Triple-A starts before coming to the big leagues at the very end of the year (and stepping up in the postseason). In 7 High-A starts, 4 Double-A starts, and 2 Triple-A starts, Miller posted a 3-4 record, a 2.77 ERA, and a 3.37 FIP despite spending more time at the lower levels. Yet Miller was in the big leagues intermittently from May to August. As expected, it did not go well. Miller tossed 6 shutout innings in his first big league start, a spot start on May 18th, but he struck out just 2 while walking 3 and allowing a home run. That would be a sign to come more than anything else. In 13 big league starts, Miller went 5-5 with a 5.63 ERA, a 7.9 K/9, a 5.5 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9 in 64 IP (just 4.9 innings per game). His FIP was just 5.23. Once again, that could not have been got for his confidence.
Did the Tigers know then and there that they had screwed up Miller big-time? We’ll never know. But you don’t see teams trade their early first round picks just a year and a half after they were drafted very often. The Tigers included Miller among 5 prospects in the blockbuster trade that netted the Tigers Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.
With the Marlins, Miller was in the big leagues basically the entire season and once again it did not go well. He went just 6-10 with a 5.87 ERA, a 7.5 K/9, a 4.7 BB/9, and a 0.6 HR/9 in 20 starts, 9 relief appearances, and 107.1 IP. His FIP was 3.95, but his xFIP was 4.46 as he was lucky in terms of flyballs going for home runs. Imagine that- he was lucky in terms of flyballs going for home runs and still posted a 5.87 ERA on the season.
In 2009 for the Marlins, Miller improved slightly on the surface, going 3-5 with a 4.84 ERA in 14 starts, 6 relief appearances, and 80 IP during his time in the big leagues. But he posted just a 6.6 K/9, a 4.8 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9, coming out to a 4.51 FIP. 2010 was much worse. Miller got plastered in 7 big league starts and 2 relief appearances, going 1-5 with an 8.54 ERA, 28 strikeouts, 26 walks, and 6 homers allowed in 32.2 IP. The Marlins sent him down to High-A, and there he posted a 1.72 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 15.2 IP; however, he walked 15 as well. The Marlins sent him up to Double-A where he was as bad as ever. Miller went just 1-6 in 18 Triple-A starts with a 6.01 ERA, just 66 strikeouts (7.0 K/9), 61 walks (6.4 BB/9), and 6 homers allowed (0.6 HR/9) in 85.1 IP. On the season between the majors and minors, Miller went just 3-14 with a 6.94 ERA (!), a 7.9 K/9, a 6.9 BB/9, and a 0.8 HR/9 in 28 starts, 2 relief appearances, and 133.2 innings pitched. His FIP was 4.91, not nearly as bad as his ERA- but it’s hard to be much worse that that. (You could walk more than you struck out and allow 2.0 homers per 9 innings and post less than a 6.94 FIP.) Following the season, the Marlins traded Miller to the Red Sox for virtually nothing: reliever Dustin Richardson, who would not pitch a single major league game for the team before getting waived in June of 2011.
For the Red Sox, Miller continued to struggle at the big league level, going 6-3 with a 5.54 ERA, a 6.9 K/9, a 5.7 BB/9, and a 1.1
HR/9 in 12 starts, 5 relief appearances, and 65 IP. But he may have discovered something at Triple-A, where he showed improvement, going 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA, an 8.4 K/9, a 4.8 BB/9, and a 0.3 HR/9 in 12 starts, a relief appearances, and 65.2 IP. This season, Miller has indeed made significant progress. He tossed shutout ball in his first 8 appearances of the season for the Red Sox before allowing a Nick Johnson 2-run homer on Wednesday night and on the season he is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA, an 11.4 K/9, a 2.1 BB/9, a 1.0 HR/9 (just the one homer), and 4 holds in 8.2 IP. He has shown a nasty curveball and the ability to locate all his pitches to keep the ball on the ground.
Miller has the type of arsenal that we know the Rays love from lefties. He has always thrown a fastball that touches the mid-90′s, a sharp-breaking curveball, and a solid changeup. Maybe all he needed to reach his potential was a little time to develop- time that he never received from the Tigers and Marlins. Finally Miller is starting to show signs of life, but this is his 7th big league season and he’s already 27 years old. And for a pitcher who was supposed to be a topflight starter, working as a middle reliever has to be considered a disappointment. Would the Rays have done the same thing? They couldn’t have possibly. Even though Miller would have been drafted in 2003, before Andrew Friedman took over as general manager, he woud have been a high school pick that could not have possibly been rushed too much. How would he have turned out? We will never know, but it could not have turned out any worse than it is now.