Rays: The Case for Brad Miller as SS
By Mat Germain
The Rays dealt Nate Karns in a package for Brad Miller and others this offseason. It’s never easy giving up pitching in trade, but in Miller’s case, it may be a significant upgrade over last year’s SS, Asdrubal Cabrera
In order to provide Rays fans – and others – with me renewed hope for a better outcome in 2016, I thought it worthwhile to look at one of the few areas where the team has gone through a significant upgrade this off season.
With that in mind, I’ll look through the comparisons of Brad Miller and Asdrubal Cabrera through some of the most significant Sabremetrics, defensively and offensively speaking. So that we all know what each means, in general and how it applies to Miller, I’ll include the definition as provided by Fangraphs.
Brad Miller is seemingly set to take over SS from Asdrubal Cabrera in Tampa Bay this season. Assuming everything goes as planned and he earns the role, what will it mean for the Rays and their chances to compete in 2016?
Some basics about the two we’ll compare:
- Cabrera is 30 years old, Miller is 26 years old
- Cabrera made $7.5m in 2015, Miller made $527,600
- Cabrera will make $8.25m in 2016, Miller will make $527,600
There a very good chance that most Rays fans are unaware of just how much better Miller was in 2015 than Cabrera defensively speaking. Here are the statistical comparisons:
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DPR (double play runs): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, based on the number double plays versus the number forces at second they get, as compared to an average fielder at that position, given the speed and location of the ball and the handedness of the batter.
Miller provides a 2.5 DPR upgrade over Cabrera. He should provide the Rays with a better opportunity to complete double plays.
RngR (range runs): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity.
Miller provides a 6.8 RngR upgrade over Cabrera. This is the most significant upgrade defensively speaking as he’ll cover more ground and get to more balls, which in turn should get the Rays off the field a lot quicker.
ErrR (error runs): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by the number of errors he makes as compared to an average fielder at that position given the same distribution of balls in play.
Cabera wins this category by a 2.7 margin. The thing is, when you consider how many more balls Miller gets to and how well he turns double plays, you can more easily forgive the odd error. It implies that he tried to get a play in that may have resulted in an errant throw. I can live with that.
UZR (ultimate zone rating): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined.
Miller provides a 6.7 UZR upgrade over Cabrera. Continues to confirm the fact that Miller covers more ground but also combines it with the DP and errors to provide a more complete picture of the value of those in a complete package.
UZR/150 (ultimate zone rate per 150 games): The number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games.
Miller provides a 11.5 UZR/150 upgrade over Cabrera. If this isn’t enough proof that Miller is a significant upgrade over Cabrera, I don’t know what is. In fact, it makes me question how the Rays lived with Cabrera at SS in 2015 for so long?
Def: All of that combined makes Miller a 4.7 upgrade Defensively over Cabrera.
League-wide, Miller was 12th overall in Def with a 4.6 rating. He was 9th in DPR, he was 10th in RngR, 15th in UZR, and 16th in UZR/150. Overall, that makes Miller one of the top half defenders at SS in MLB. (the stats used were for SS with a min of 50 innings)
If you’re thinking, alright, so Miller has him beat defensively speaking but I’m guessing Cabrera has him licked offensively, you’re off base.
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ISO: Using is ISO is very simple. It tells you the number of extra bases the player averages per at bat and signals to you the degree to which a particular hitter is a power hitter. Around .140 is league average and hitters in the .200+ range are typically the premier sluggers.
Cabrera holds a slight 0.020 lead on Miller in ISO. While this applies well to 2015, projecting into the future and taking in the fact that Miller’s reaching his peak hitting years, while Cabrera has likely reached his peak.
BABIP: This is a self-explanatory stat, but you can read the link if needed.
Both Miller and Cabrera are slightly above-average in terms of BABIP. Neither hold an edge in this case.
wOBA: Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. While batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall short in accuracy and scope, wOBA measures and captures offensive value more accurately and comprehensively.
Both Miller and Cabrera are slightly above-average in terms of wOBA. Neither hold an edge in this case.
wRC+: Weighted Runs Created (wRC) is an improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs. wRC+ measures how a player’s wRC compares with league average after controlling for park effects. League average for position players is 100, and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average.
Both Miller and Cabrera are slightly above-average in terms of wRC+. Neither hold an edge in this case.
BsR: Base Running (BsR) is FanGraphs’ all encompassing base running statistic that turns stolen bases, caught stealings, and other base running plays (taking extra bases, being thrown out on the bases, etc) into runs above and below average. It is the combination of Weighted Stolen Base Runs (wSB), Weighted Grounded Into Double Play Runs (wGDP), and Ultimate Base Running (UBR) which are all available on the leaderboards and player pages.
Both Miller and Cabrera are slightly above-average in terms of BsR. Neither hold an edge in this case.
As you can see from the offensively based statistics, for the most part, these two shortstops have very similar output. The main difference being that Cabrera has a little more power now, and that Miller may still have another level to reach since he’s still young enough to get to improve.
When we combine the defensive abilities and offensive abilities of Miller and Cabrera, we can see why the Rays made the change. Not only will Miller make $7 million less than Cabrera made last year, but he should provide the Rays with a significant defensive upgrade and continue to provide them very much the same offensive output. There’s also a chance he’ll improve on the offensive side, which would be a bonus for the Rays.
Next: Rays Next-in-line players, position-by-position
The positive impact Miller could have as he helps starters and relievers shorten their innings and get outs more effectively would be a welcome boon to the 2016 Rays. As they get set to take on rivals who can spend on major upgrades throughout their rosters, they’ll take any edge they can get.
As a Rays fan, the knowledge that the team should get a better performance at SS than they received in 2015 should be encouraging. Welcome Miller aboard and hope that he continues to grow on his 2015 performance.