The IBI Preview Capsules are back for 2017 as Jake Dungan takes an in-depth look at all the players who could impact the Tribe in the upcoming season from the established stars to the prospects on the verge of being called up to the majors to the non-roster invites to spring training.
Andrew Miller, LHP
Throws: Left -- Bats: Left -- Entering his age-32 season -- Contract: In third year of a 4-year, $36 million deal ($9 million in 2017)
2016 In Review: You could say that Andrew Miller and the Indians singlehandedly changed how teams value relief pitching in one season with how Terry Francona utilized the left-hander in the playoffs. Overall in 2016, Miller was quite simply the best relief pitcher in all of baseball posting a dominant 1.45 ERA (and 1.68 FIP) as he carved through lineups with machine-like precision striking out an otherworldly 123 batters in just 74.1 innings between Cleveland and New York. In the postseason, Miller gave up just 3 runs on 12 hits in 19.1 innings while striking out 30 as he earned MVP honors in the ALCS helping the Tribe clinch their first pennant in two decades. Cleveland paid a hefty price to land the Yankee bullpen ace at the deadline last year giving up top prospects Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield and others, but he has been worth it up to this point.
Versus Right-handers: Miller didn't really come into his own until he moved into the bullpen full time, which didn't happen until 2012 with the Red Sox, and his true dominance didn't take hold until the 2014 season when his games and innings pitched went up as his numbers improved. In that three-year window since 2014, the left-hander has been lights out against both left and right-handed hitting, but, surprisingly, has pitched better against righties (.143 opp. BA) than lefties (.184 opp. BA) in that span. Both are great marks, obviously, and it adds another element to his game as these splits pretty much eliminate the strategy of trying to play matchup with pinch hitters.
Versus Left-handers: Right now, basically, Andrew Miller is in his prime and anyone who steps up to the plate regardless of which batter's box they stand in is not going to have a very good chance of squaring up any of his pitches. In his career, Miller has fared better against left-handers (.246 opp. BA vs. RHH and .234 opp. BA vs. LHH), as can be expected from a southpaw hurler, but as mentioned before, those splits have reversed somewhat in recent years. The difference in those splits isn't drastic, but it's still a little odd to see lefties fare better against Miller being a southpaw with deceptive mechanics.
Pitch Mix: Like many dominant late-inning relievers, Miller's repertoire is fairly simple: fastball and slider. However, those two pitches are among the best of their kind in the game today with his heater registering at 6.4 runs above average on the PITCHf/x scale and his slider clocking in at 12.2 runs above average. Miler's slider is obviously his bread and butter, but paired with a fastball that averaged over 95 mph last season, his superb numbers across the board are not a big surprise and should keep him on top for the next year or two.
Fantasy Impact: Miller is still firmly within the prime of his career entering 2017 and should remain one of the top relievers, if not the best in all of baseball. Steamer projects a 2.16 ERA and 2.02 FIP with 98 strikeouts in 65 innings. So aside from a minor spike in ERA, the numbers are expected to be similar in the upcoming season. However, his workload is projected to decrease by nearly 10 innings, which is interesting considering his all the innings he logged in October and the fact he is committed to pitching in the World Baseball Classic before the season. All that extra work could be something to be wary of once the season rolls around.
Summary: The addition of Andrew Miller took the Indians' bullpen from above average to an unstoppable force, as evidenced by their postseason run. Teamed up with closer Cody Allen, setup man Bryan Shaw and veteran Dan Otero, Miller helped shorten games to the point where starters had to log only four to five innings in the playoffs before the bullpen could come in and lock it down. The southpaw's presence has also encouraged more creativity from Terry Francona in his bullpen management as he is now willing to abandon traditional bullpen roles and utilize his best pitchers whenever the game is on the line. All of these elements should be in place again for 2017 with Miller leading the charge of one of the best bullpens in baseball.
Check out our other 2017 Preview Capsules here: