Justin Miller has been one of the surprises of the season for the Washington Nationals. But what has made the right-handed reliever so successful in 2018.
One of the major surprises of the Washington Nationals‘ season so far has been the incredible success of relief pitcher Justin Miller. Since joining the organization, he’s yet to allow an earned run through 22.2 innings between the major leagues and Triple-A.
The journeyman was initially brought in as bullpen depth for the organization. Now, his success could catapult him into a high-leverage role for the Nats. This may become even more key with Brandon Kintzler potentially needing a DL stint after he left Saturday’s game injured.
It’s another feather in Mike Rizzo’s cap to be able to recognize the improvement Miller has made. Miller was previously an ineffective reliever with Detroit Tigers and Colorado Rockies between 2014 and 2016.
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So what’s transformed him from that lackluster reliever to the shutdown guy we see now?
Well the raw stats indicate most of his peripherals are the same. His fastball and slider velocity has held more or less the same at 94.1 mph and 86.2 mph respectively.
His fastball spin rate, according to Baseball Savant, is only a tick up from 2016. Back then he sat at 2309 rpm, and now he averages 2399 rpm.
Yet his swing rate outside the strike zone has jumped all the way up from 22.9 percent in 2016, to 35.4 in percent in 2018. And hitters’ contact rate against Miller has dropped from 78.6 percent during 2016, down to 68.1 percent so far in 2018.
So it seems that hitters, for some reason, are swinging and missing a lot more against Miller. But his repertoire hasn’t really changed drastically in that time.
Well the primary difference for Miller is that he has modified his delivery to be more of a cross-fire pitcher. This makes it incredibly difficult for hitters to pick up his fastball. See the video below of Miller pitching for the Rockies in 2015, with a very upright and square stance.
Compare that to some footage of him against the Baltimore Orioles this year. He starts with his front foot further to the right-hand side of the rubber. He also lands closer to third base in 2018.
This naturally means the ball comes out at a more difficult angle for batters. And also the ball follows a diagonal path, rather than a fairly straight path previously. Allowing his delivery to deceive hitters more this season.
This has allowed Miller to unlock his potential, and now sports an incredible 17.2 K/9 and even a -0.71 FIP. Yes, you read that right, he has a negative FIP. Although this torrid pace will be difficult to keep up, he should be able to remain a valuable piece for the Nationals.
Justin Miller is set to be a huge part of this bullpen moving forward in 2018. Although he turns 32 on Wednesday, the Washington Nationals will still have 3 more years of control on Miller. So if he maintains this success, we could be seeing him for several more years.