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40 in 40: Bryce Miller, the fastball pitcher to end all fastball pitchers

How can you make a fastball better? Add another fastball

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Miller entered the 2023 season after the Mariners lost Robbie Ray for the season. Miller came in as one of the top prospects in the Mariners organization, rated at #3 by Baseball America. The Texas A&M product impressed right away, completely dominating the A’s in his debut, setting the Mariners rookie single-game strikeout record at 10, including 5 in a row to start the game, and retiring the first 16 batters in a row to bring a perfect game into the 6th inning.

Miller showed that he would be a force to be reckoned with. More significantly, he showed he wouldn’t be intimidated by MLB hitting and set on attacking hitters in the zone, primarily with his fastball.

Anyone who has watched Miler at all would notice pretty much right away that this guy likes to throw his fastball a lot. Like, A LOT, nearly 4x as often as any other pitch in his arsenal, which is saying something for someone who already throws five pitches. Still, despite the frequency, Millers’s fastball is highly effective, considering how often he throws it. Throwing his fastball 58% of the time in 2023, the pitch only had an opposing batting average of .250 (Although it did have an opposing slugging of .450. More on that later.) On top of that, despite the fastball being far and away his most frequently used pitch, it remained his most reliable whiff and put-away pitch. The fastball generated a whiff % of 27.1% to go along with a put-away percentage of 21.6%, which is second only to his curveball at 25%. I’ve heard of guys being fastball pitchers before, but usually, that means they throw a lot of different variations of the fastball. Conversely, Miller is gonna throw straight heat, and he’s going to attack you with it relentlessly.

This is every fastball Miller threw this year.

Baseball Savant

This is when he’s ahead in the count.

Baseball Savant

Behind

Baseball Savant

Even

Baseball Savant

Two strikes

Baseball Savant

All this is to say ahead in the count, behind in the count, or even in the count don’t matter; fastballs coming.

This strategy has also been effective for Miller so far. While his debut season wasn’t some spectacular Rookie of the Year, future Cy Young award winner sensation like George Kirby before him, he certainly has come up and been far more prepared than many likely expected him to be. Most importantly, Miller has demonstrated an insane amount of control for a pitcher as young as he is. Typically, rookie pitchers struggle with control and fooling opposing batters with off-speed pitches. Their stuff just isn’t polished enough to pull the wool over a top-end hitter’s eyes. But Miller posted a walk percentage of 4.8% in 2023, good enough to place him in the top 5% of the league. The strategy of mercilessly and relentlessly attacking the zone combined with elite control could pay enormous dividends for Miller in 2024.

Still, even with all these strengths, some glaring weaknesses in his game will need to be addressed. Obviously, because Miller throws a lot of fastballs and throws them in the zone, they can get hit pretty hard. As a result, Miller also posted some of the worst opposing exit velos and XWOBACON in the league, bottom 2% and bottom 9%, respectively. This means that though he is relentlessly challenging people, and it has worked to a degree, when they do hit Miller, they hit it hard and for a lot of damage. However, Miller may already be working on a solution to these issues.

Miiller has become well known within the Mariners front office for the tinkering he has done throughout the season, some to success and some with less success. Over the course of 2023 alone, Miller has added both a sweeper and a change-up to address the struggles he has faced with lefties, to whom he allowed a .387 wOBA last season. While the sweeper has seen some success, generating a solid 17% whiff %, it has also been hit very hard, posting a .348 wOBA to go along with an ugly .475 slugging against. But with nearly 47 inches of drop, good for close to 7 inches above average, it's clear that the value and skill with the pitch are there; the location just needs to be more consistent, steering clear of the middle of the plate and instead working the edges, like he did in this outing against the Twins:

The same could be said for the change-up Miller has begun to toy with. Despite only being thrown 117 times over the course of last season, the pitch was often smashed by opposing hitters, who posted a .433 slugging against the pitch. Despite that, though, the change-up has been very effective for Miller in inducing weak contact and in combating his issues with matchups against lefties. Miller's change-up has produced a 36% hard-hit percentage and a .448 slugging for lefties against the pitch. While still not great, it still makes the change-up Millers' most effective tool against British-style hitters (get it? the wrong side of the road?). Miller's dedication to the pitching craft is clear, and it's likely he will take some steps forward this offseason in developing both the change-up and the sweeper, with a new pitch gaining attention heading into pitchers and catchers reporting.

Daniel Kramer reported in his newsletter that Miller has been working on developing a splitter for this upcoming season. Miller has been teasing the splitter on Xitter throughout the offseason.

Mariners General Manager Justin Hollander is quoted in the article lauding Miller for the development of his splitter, stating that the team is “...excited to see what it looks like in the spring” and that “If he can get the feel for the split over time, it sets up to work nicely together, working vertically up and down in the strike zone.” As Hollander said, adding a splitter could be a big move for Miller and could do well to supplement his fastball. Most importantly, it would give him another effective weapon to use against lefties, and keep Miller Time being a Good Time for all Mariners fans.