Breaking down Brad Miller for 2014

Title: Breaking down Brad Miller for 2014
Date: September 10, 2013
Original Source: Rotographs
Synopsis: This article looked at Brad Miller’s potential fantasy value for 2014, as he was surprisingly a hot topic in the comment section of a recent piece.

Believe it or not, when I solicited future shortstop topics last week, the name that came up the most was Brad Miller of the Seattle Mariners.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Miller just fine, and I thought his .297 wOBA ZiPS projection was low, too. It’s just…it’s Brad Miller. People got on me for analyzing ifAdeiny Hechavarria would ever steal enough to have value, but the people demand a Miller analysis?

He’s 33rd in shortstop value for the year but at age 23 he has some potential growth, and at this position the path to being fantasy relevant is a pretty smooth one. So let’s have a look.

Why were readers so surprised with Miller’s wOBA projection (which, as a reminder, was simply his ZiPS rest of season projection, since that figure is similar now to what it will look like for 2014)?

Year Level BB% K% ISO wOBA PA
11-12 A 10.5% 16.5% 0.177 0.412 532
12-13 AA 12.1% 16.2% 0.166 0.397 345
13 AAA 12.3% 14.8% 0.240 0.442 122
13 MLB 7.0% 14.7% 0.141 0.313 286
ROS/14 MLB 7.6% 19.6% 0.112 0.293

Basically, his ROS projection is telling us that his minor league track record doesn’t mean a whole lot, and he’s possibly even overperformed this year. This could make sense for someone who was old for the levels when he played there but that wasn’t the case.

Ideally, we’d have an Oliver projection to go from since the Oliver method creates Major League Equivalencies to translate minor league stats to major league projections. The only other ROS projection we have is Steamer, which also adjusts minor league stats, though the exact method for doing so is less clear.

Year Type BB% K% ISO wOBA
2014 ZiPS 7.6 19.6 0.112 0.293
2014 Steamer 7.8 16.4 0.136 0.317

Steamer’s much higher on Miller in rate terms, although the lack of walks given his minor league track record is still somewhat surprising.

What’s also interesting is that despite BABIPs no lower than .333 all through the minors, neither system suggests a BABIP above .300 for Miller. Given that he has some speed an a nice batted ball profile for reaching base (21% line drive, 46.6% ground ball), I’d tend to be a bit more optimistic. With that said, his xBABIP is just .289 right now, perhaps because he’s hit nine infield flies.

Anyway, if we trust either system, we’re looking at a batting average for Miller in the .250-.260 area, so even if you’re optimistic about his improvement you’re only bumping him up to .275, tops, being reasonable. That’ll play at shortstop, especially if Miller can contribute counting stats.

Runs and RBI are somewhat difficult to predict due to the variance inherent with them and the impact of the rest of the roster. Miller has primarily hit leadoff for the Mariners and has usually been followed by Nick Franklin and Kyle Seager. That’s a pretty nice young infield the Mariners are building around, but it’s not exactly a murderer’s row and an assurance of runs for Miller. He’s currently right around league average with a run every nine plate appearances – if that’s projected out over 600 plate appearances, he’s looking at about 65 runs.

As mentioned, RBI are a bit more fickle, but pencil him in for 60 (prorating his current rate across 600 plate appearances), and now he has .260-65-60 as his baseline before we head to the two categories people seem to care about most.

In terms of power, Miller’s flashed double-digit power at all levels and that tool has shown growth this season. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, his frame could also hold some additional bulk, perhaps leaving him with more power in the coming years. However, I think if you’re just making a 2014 projection than his current .141 isolated slugging is about as high as you can reasonably go. Let’s call that 10 home runs – less than his full-year total including the minors (17), sure, but that’s exactly what you’d expect.

As far as the running game goes, Miller’s current total of four steals has to be a bit disappointing to owners. He stole 23 bases in 2012 but has just 10 across levels this year. Miller doesn’t possess blazing speed but he has a quick stride. Unfortunately, he was also caught seven times in 2012 (a fine 76.7 percent success rate) and seven more in 2013 (just 58.8 percent).

We know that stolen base success rate doesn’t uniformly go up with experience or go down as speed abandons a player, but we do know that single-season stolen base success is not nearly a large enough sample to judge a player by. For his professional career, Miller is 34-for-48, a 71 percent success rate.

The bigger concern might be Eric Wedge. While he hasn’t “had the horses,” the Mariners are near the bottom of the league in stolen base attempts since he took over in 2011 (24th in baseball). His Cleveland Indians were also in the bottom third of the league in attempts from 2003 to 2009.

So the absolute best case scenario for Miller might be 10 steals. That would mean a line of .265-65-60-10-10. If that seems low, consider that Ben Zobrist (.277-68-64-11-10) is currently the seventh most valuable shortstop in fantasy and Mike Aviles (.267-49-40-9-8) is 21st. If those are the bars set up for Miller as a high and low for 2014, I’d suggest that’s a pretty solid fantasy impact for a second year player.

I wish I had the “guts” for the projection systems to really get inside and see how they handle minor league stats (for example, I don’t believe ZiPS includes current-year minor league stats). But for now, this category-by-category breakdown will have to do – I think, at the very least, it shows Miller to be firmly on the fantasy radar for 2014, perhaps even startable in deeper leagues.

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