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Brad Miller's quiet resurgence

Brad Miller has been very good for almost a month now. He might not be a superstar, but it's time to stop blaming him for the Mariners' position player problems.

even when he hits home runs people punch him in the face
even when he hits home runs people punch him in the face
Otto Greule Jr

Poor Brad Miller.

The Mariners' young shortstop, former beloved of scouts and statisticians alike, fell from grace early this season due to some of the worst timing I've ever seen. First he was BRAD MILLER, destroyer of worlds and proud owner of the single best Spring Training OPS in the major leagues. Dave Cameron tweeted that he might be the best shortstop in the AL; our fearless leader Scott suggested that he could be a 5-WAR player. A Lookout Landing reader poll indicated that fans thought Miller would be good-to-great in 2014. Then April happened, and suddenly he was fuckin' brad miller, punching bag of every pitcher in the AL and ignominious owner of a 46 wRC+. May was even worse.

Suddenly, Brad was a laughingstock. "Best shortstop in the AL" jokes started replacing #6org jokes on other AL West blogs. Along with Abe Almonte, Brad was blamed for the Mariners' early offensive struggles, and fans started to clamor for his demotion. Several times over the last two weeks I've seen commenters list him alongside Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero as "what's wrong with the Mariners". All of those preseason expectations came back to bite him in the ass: because the downswing of his adjustment phase came at exactly the wrong time, the enormous gap between preseason projection and SSS performance made Miller appear a catastrophic failure.

The thing is, he's not. In fact, he's been excellent for almost a month now.

2013 335 .265 .318 .418 103 1.7
Apr-May 2014 169 .157 .232 .250 35 -0.1
June 2014 62 .278 .344 .444 116 0.5

Remember when Scott said that Miller's upside was 5 WAR? Well, prorating Miller's last three weeks (0.5 WAR in 62 PA) out to a full season (~600 PA) yields 4.8 WAR. That's all-star-level performance. For almost a month now, we've been watching the Brad Miller we were hoping for in the spring. June!Brad's been a good defensive shortstop with average plate patience, average contact skills, surprising gap power and plus baserunning.

Yes, he's run an inflated .342 BABIP. No, it doesn't matter. Expanding the sample back to the last 30 days and including Miller's awful late May knocks the BABIP down to .313, the wRC+ down to 98, and the prorated WAR down to 3.8. Which is still awesome. Besides, it's not like there's no obvious difference in his quality of contact. Check out the spray charts, courtesy of Baseball Savant:


The left side is April and May; the right is June. Notice the difference? Miller spent the first two months of the season bouncing half of his balls in play to the opposing team's second baseman. In June, he's been much less pulled-GB-happy, and it's resulted in a better batting average on balls in play.

Look, I'm not saying that Brad Miller is fixed forever and will not struggle again. Major League Baseball is a game of constant adjustments, even for the very best hitters, and Miller still has his weaknesses. But after this June, I can't think of any reason to believe that he's a below average player. Despite his awful start to the year, ZiPS and Steamer still think he's a 2+ WAR/600 PA guy. Over his entire career to date, he's been a 2.2 WAR/600 PA guy. For the last month, he's been a 3.8 WAR/600 PA guy.

In order to believe that Brad Miller sucks, you have to cherry pick a two-month split that's neither the largest available sample nor the most recent available sample. That's what's called "bad analysis". Let's not practice bad analysis. Instead, let's consider the shocking possibility that - when it comes to Brad Miller - we were right all along.