Andrew Miller had an extremely uncharacteristic outing against Team Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Miller didn’t even last an inning, serving up two home runs and allowing four runs total for Team USA in a 7-5 loss to the Dominican Republic. Miller has only allowed two home runs once in his career as a reliever. The normally dominant and consistent Andrew Miller split time between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians last year and pitched 74 1/3 innings in the regular season, followed by 19 1/3 more innings in the postseason. He had a 1.45 ERA during the regular season with a 13.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Miller’s implosion in his first outing of the World Baseball Classic had nothing to do with the high amount of innings last year or feeling fatigue from the short offseason due to the Indians deep postseason run. His struggles came down to two fundamental issues: pitch usage and pitching mechanics.
First, lets look at his pitch usage during the regular season. Miller used the slider 60.6% of the time during the 2016 season, the most for any pitcher that throws a slider. However, as he works through spring training he usually throws his slider only 30% of the time, relying on the fastball for 70% of his pitches. In short, his best weapon is not available as often and is not the same quality as his mid-season and postseason form. Because it is still early in spring, Miller also is having mechanical issues associated with throwing his fastball and slider.
Miller was also struggling with mechanical issues on his fastball and slider, throwing out of two different arm slots for each pitch. This made it easier for hitters to identify which pitch they were going to see from the lanky left-hander.
To start, Miller is more upright when he is going to throw his fastball (left) as opposed to throwing his slider (right). This is the first early indicator to the hitter which pitch they can expect. The second issue is with is release point.
When releasing the fastball (left), Miller is at a higher 3/4 arm slot than he is when throwing the slider (right). While these subtle differences might not seem like a big deal, hitters can identify these points to give them the competitive edge against a pitcher. Combine the low percentage of sliders for Miller at this point in the year and the mechanical issues that will need adjusting as spring moves forward and you get a very bad outing.
Now Indians fans, should you be concerned? Not yet. Mechanical adjustments are normal during spring training. That’s why teams don’t hold a ton of stock in spring stats. The difference here is that the WBC is world class competitive baseball during the major league spring training. Pitchers are on strict pitch counts and have their own agendas on what they need to do to prepare for the regular season. While it is unfortunate that Miller did not have a typical outing, its not something to be alarmed about. If Miller continues to struggle towards the end of March and early in the regular season, then be worried Tribe fans.