Miller Time? No Thanks

Miller vs KC My response to the news Brad discussed, with some disbelief, that the Yankees are in "serious pursuit" of Andrew Miller: At best, I might be ok with Miller as a break-glass-in-emergency fallback for losing David Robertson. Like I wrote in October, I think D-Rob is easily worth $50m, and possibly $60m, over 4 years, and that's probably enough to land him. But there's always some chance some random team pulls a Cano and offers 25% more than everyone else, in which case I'd pass on beating an $80m offer, and settle for Miller.

But if the question is which guy we'd rather have for a relatively similar price (and I don't view a difference of $2-3m a year as enough to tip any scales), I don't think it's even close. Yes, Miller had a great 2013 and 2014. But the peripherals and the consistency aren't nearly enough to expect a similarly great next 3-4 years.

  • Far Too Many Walks. His 2014 walk rate (2.5 BB/9) was a total aberration: every single prior year, he walked 4.5-7.2 per 9, including a less-awful-but-still-bad 4.7 after becoming a full-time relieved. Over 1 walk per 2 IP is nowhere near acceptable for a closer. Did he suddenly turn a corner by figuring out some way to halve his walk rate at age 29? Sure, maybe -- but I wouldn't count on the next four years being like his one good-control season rather than like his seven awful-control seasons.
  • Dependence on Extremely High K Rates. What took Miller's game to the next level was the rise in his K rate when he became a full-time reliever, from 6-7ish K/9 in 2006-11, to a very strong 11.4 in 2012, to a super-elite 14.1-14.9 in 2013-14. Can he sustain K rates in the 14s several years into his 30s? That's doubtful. Sure, you can remain an elite reliever without league-leading K rates if you have great command too -- which it's too optimistic to expect from Miller (see above).
  • So, Decent Odds You Get This Guy: 3.04 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 0.8 HR/9, 4.7 BB/9, 12.5 K/9. That's 2012-13 Miller, his first two years as a reliever, when his K rate skyrocketed but he still showed poor control -- note not only the very high BB rate, but also the relatively high HR rate, which can be a mark of weak within-the-zone command. This guy is passable but too wild to trust with one-run games, and too dependent on a K rate more likely to come down to earth than to remain in the 14 range.

I won't rehash D-Rob's merits, except to reiterate the sum-up in my prior Robertson-fanboy post:

Unlike the wild early-20s Robertson, late-20s Robertson isn’t the high-wire act of inconsistency you saw with, say, prime Papelbon, whose walk rates meandered from 1.0 to 3.8 BB/9. Robertson’s last three years have shown remarkable consistency: FIPs of 2.49 to 2.68; BB/9 of 2.4-3.2, with amazingly similar K/BB rates of 4.17-4.28; and through age 29, no drop in velocity….

Like I said, maybe some crazy GM will blow away Robertson with $80m in unmarked bills – in which case, sure, it might make sense for Cashman to bite his nails while hoping Miller's deal-with-the-youknowwho remains intact through 2018. But Miller is nowhere near as strong a bet as Robertson to remain a passable, much less very good, closer for the next 3-4 years. If the Yankees end up with Miller, the only question in my mind will be whether Miller makes it through three, two, or even one of his four years before the wildness makes Girardi stop trusting him with saves or other high-leverage situations. Which is to say that if the Yankees lose Robertson, there may be better uses for $50-60m than a guy unlikely to remain a trusted pen member for the length of his contract.