Sure, it looks a little whacky, at times, and I completely acknowledge that there have been some ugly errors -- both mental and physical -- through his first 38 big league games, but Brad Miller's defense has probably been a little bit better than you think it has to this point.
We always knew that Miller wasn't going to come up and set the world afire with his glove, making us all forget about the guy who had been playing shortstop for Seattle before him, Brendan Ryan. I mean...:
From day one Miller's profile was that of an offensive middle infielder. He made quite a few errors in college, even, leading many to question his ability to stick at the position long-term, and those miscues continued during his rapid climb through the Mariners minor league system. He's been charged with six errors with Seattle, five of those coming while playing shortstop; three of them of the fielding variety and two of them coming on throws. He throws from what many consider an unorthodox angle (or angles, plural) for a shortstop and he really doesn't 'WOW' you with his defensive tools. His .959 fielding percentage ranks 37th out of the 40 MLB shortstops that have accumulated 250 or more innings at the position this year.
Of course, everyone here knows that errors and fielding percentage do not tell the whole story.
Advanced defensive statistics come with the caveat of not being perfect, for sure, but in comparing Miller to the rest of those 40 shortstops and where they rank, I think that it is possible to feel more comfortable with the prospect of The Funky High-Socked One manning the position for the Mariners going forward.
Looking at the defensive leaderboards at FanGraphs, Miller -- who politely enough played second base yesterday (see above again, because...yeah) -- was 26th on that list of 40 shortstops in UZR with a -1.6 number, one of 18 that qualified with a negative number. Tied with him at that mark was Jimmy Rollins, who is admittedly getting up in age, but who has been among the best rated in advanced statistics at his position for most of his career, including last year. Miller is tied for 22nd in the big leagues in range runs with a positive mark at 0.2. The guy he is tied with there is Jose Iglesias, who has a reputation as a glove-first guy, ranking ahead of the likes of Brandon Crawford, Adeiny Hechevarria and Jose Reyes, among others.
Miller didn't stand up so well in Revised Zone Rating, the percentage of balls hit in his zone converted to outs, coming in 2nd to last in the group at just .700. But looking a little bit deeper -- and remembering the caveat that defensive statistics carry -- it's interesting to note that Miller also checked in with 20 Out of Zone plays. That total ranks down the list, too, but in remembering the smaller sample size that Miller is dealing with here, we see that his ratio of OOZ plays made to BIZ plays charged, Miller actually ranks 2nd best among the entire group, just a fraction of a percentage point behind reputed defender Alicedes Escobar.
The other caveats that we can throw at this data is that Miller is just a rookie and he is just 23. It certainly stands to reason that he's going to get better defensively. I spoke with Chris Gwynn during the 2012 season about Miller's error totals -- the only real stats we have to concretely go off of with minor league data -- that season and he told me, "I don't know a lot of big league shortstops that didn't make a lot of errors in the minors. It's part of the learning process." That holds true if you look through the history of the game at the best fielders though the minors and at their early big league totals: Ozzie Smith made 20 or more errors four times in his first six seasons and only once in the 13 seasons after. Omar Vizquel made one-third of his career errors during his first five big league seasons, covering barely more than one-fifth of his career games played. Derek Jeter has won all five of his Gold Gloves since turning 30. Sorry, had to do it. The point is that Miller should continue to get better defensively as he, "builds his mental and physical baseball library," to borrow a term that is used often by a former Seattle farm director. That goes along with what Ryan Divish covered here and what MLB.com got from Robby Thompson here.
Miller is going to make mistakes. He in fact just made a pretty senseless one over the weekend that allowed a runner to take an extra base, leading to a run. But he's also made plays like this. And this. And this.
I, of course, have already talked about Miller's defense myself a bit here during the very early infancy of his big league career, showing a couple of handy dandy GIFs of him making "just enough" type of plays against not slow runners. We we're all still head over heels for Miller at that point, and the feeling-out period was moving along unobstructed, allowing everyone to see Miller for what he was at that moment, unbiased without any past to reference. Now that there is a touch of history, the doubts are creeping in for some. That's understandable. And as those clips showed and as we've all seen throughout his time with the Mariners, it's never going to be pretty like with Ryan or Vizquel. But as I hope I've shown with a deeper look, Miller is still holding his own.
There is no debating the upgrade that has been noticed at the position with Brad's bat. For one example, he has more extra base hits (13) in his 136 plate appearances at shortstop than the rest of the players the Mariners have put there in 315 plate appearances. But while the defense remains a work in progress, no one needs to worry about where he figures to slot in defensively going forward. Brad Miller is still showing enough -- in terms of both the scouting eye and the advanced defensive statistics -- to warrant being given a fair shake to continue to develop and stick as the long-term solution as the Seattle Mariners shortstop of the future.
Rick Randall contributes a bi-weekly column on the top prospect happenings in the Mariners system for Lookout Landing. Rick's in-depth daily detailed work on the ups and downs in the Mariners' minor leagues can be found at SeattleClubhouse.com.
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