Earlier last week I wrote about a few things that I thought the Giants should be doing for next year’s team. Among them were fixing the bullpen and finding free — or very cheap — talent to plug in to the team. Over the weekend the Giants made an early signing that could satisfy both of those requirements. The Giants signed 31-year-old RHP Justin Miller to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.
Miller, who broke into baseball with the Blue Jays in 2002, has been with the Marlins since 2007 as a reliever. Like most relievers, he started his professional career as a starter but made the move to the bullpen somewhere around the 2005 season. The last pitching crop of non-roster invites brought in players like Keichii Yabu, Bartolome Fortunato, and Victor Santos. Fortunato and Santos didn’t impact the major league roster but Yabu pitched better than I or anyone else probably expected.
Miller is a two-pitch pitcher when he’s working out of the bullpen. He’s your classic fastball-slider reliever. According to his FanGraphs page, he throws a fastball right around 90mph (91mph in ’07 and 89mph in ’08) and a slider at 80mph. Miller really favors his slider, throwing it 48.7% of the time in ’08. He’s been a flyball pitcher over the last two years with GB/FB rates of 0.99 and 0.72. His slider heavy workload could have had something to do with his trip to the DL with elbow inflammation in July. He was then DFA’d on August 15th.
Miller’s best season came during his first year with the Marlins in ’07. He posted a tRA* of 3.30 and in 61 IP he struck out 74 hitters. That’s good for a K% of 28.57%. The last Giants reliever to come close to a K% of 28% was Joe Nathan’s K% of 26% in ’03. In ’08 Miller saw his K% drop down to 20.90%. Over the past two years Miller has posted average walk rates — 9.2% and 9.9% in ’07 and ’08 — for a reliever in the National League. In 2008, the average reliever in the NL posted a BB% of 9.7% and a K% of 19.3%. If Miller is healthy and able to get his K% at 25% or above while maintaining an average BB% he could be a very nice pickup for the Giants.
I think one of the more appealing aspects about Miller is his control. He doesn’t have pinpoint control but in the Giants bullpen, he could look like Greg Maddux. One of the weaknesses in the Giants pen in ’08 was the base on balls. Giants relievers ranked 6th in the NL by BB% for team bullpens. The Giants have a variety of relievers with potential — Salder, Hinshaw, and Wilson — but they tend to come with control problems.
NL bullpens ranked by BB% (high to low) for ’08:
Individual Giants relievers ranked by BB% for ’08:
Sergio Romo’s control is fantastic and now that Walker is off the team, Miller could potentially be the 2nd best reliever on the team in regards to BB%. Hinshaw and Salder both have electric arms but their control could be a very real stumbling point for them in the future. Yabu, Wilson, and Taschner were just slightly worse than your league average reliever in the NL when it comes to BB%.
Overall, I like the pickup of Miller and if he could return to his ’07 numbers — presuming that he’s healthy now — he should have a good shot making the bullpen out of Spring Training. Let’s hope he’s more Yabu — with better underlying peripherals — than he is Santos or Fortunato. Miller’s upside is a repeat, or something close to, his ’07 performance but a more realistic expectation is simply a league average relief performance for the Giants in ’09. And for a bullpen that lacked any sort of consistency, league average is a step in the right direction to a better bullpen.