With the 2022 regular season over, it is that time for us to go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this season.
Today, we look at utility man Brad Miller.
The Rangers signed Brad Miller to a two year, $10 million deal in March, 2022, not long after the lockout ended. It was not a move that was met with cheers and celebration at the time. It was more like...huh, Brad Miller? Really? For $10 million over two years?
I mean, there was a certain amount of fun to potentially be had over getting to make callbacks to this rather overexcited Lookout Landing (post-Jeff Sullivan) tweet from 2014:
Mariners. Stop the charade. Brad Miller isn't just the starting shortstop, he could be a future superstar. Not star. Super. Star.— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) March 19, 2014
Dave Cameron, who I have long made sport of, offered up some Miller hot takes back in the day, as well, such as this from October, 2014:
Comment From Eric
Between Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, which would you keep if you had to trade one? Who looks better long term?
Dave Cameron: I like Miller more, but it’s pretty well established that I like Brad Miller more than just about everyone else.
Cameron also tweeted this in early 2014, which I can’t read, because Cameron blocked me a long time ago,* but I’m pretty sure is him suggesting Brad Miller was the best shortstop in the American League prior to the 2014 season.
With Jose Reyes on the DL, Brad Miller might very well be the best SS in the AL right now.— David Cameron (@OneDaveCameron) April 2, 2014
* I will note that he didn’t follow me, I didn’t follow him, and I didn’t tag him when I would make amusingly snarky comments about him on Twitter, and generally didn’t have a problem with people snitch-tagging him, so I have to assume he was searching his name and blocking people making fun of him, which makes it all the funnier.
To be fair, Miller had a very good half-season for the M’s in 2013, putting up a 2.1 bWAR and 2.2 fWAR in 335 plate appearances. He was a 2011 second round pick by Seattle out of Clemson, and had been the Rangers’ 39th round pick in 2008 as a high schooler out of Orlando, Florida, so he also could be referenced by Rangers fans as someone the front office stupidly let get away, or someone the Rangers were smart enough to have seen something in way back in the day, depending on where you fell on the Hater/Homer spectrum.
Miller has not had a 1.5+ WAR of either flavor since then, of course, and so his floundering after being trumpted as the latest Next Great Thing by the overly excitable Mariners folks on the internet — particularly the Fangraphs crew, since this was when DC was in charge over there — allowed for much hoo-hawing from those of us who are inclined to hoo-haw about such things. This, despite his being a regular, or at least a semi-regular, for a number of seasons, particularly early on in his career.
Miller’s early poor WAR scores were largely defense-driven. He put up a 0.1 bWAR in 2015, despite having a 105 OPS+ as (primarily) a shortstop, and a 0.9 bWAR in 2016 with a 113 OPS+. This is because he played shortstop like he was wearing oven mitts while on roller skates. Miller’s oWAR those two years was a combined 5.9, but being worth -49 runs defensively those two years cratered his overall bWAR.
By the end of the 2016 season, teams quite asking Miller to play shortstop except in the most exceptional circumstances, though he still graded out poorly at pretty much whatever position he was asked to play. If you go to Fangraphs, you will see that he has a negative career DRS, UZR and RAA at pretty much every one of the four infield positions and three outfield positions. The two exceptions are his DRS at second base, which is 0 in 1290.1 career innings, and his RAA at center field, which is a N/A because he hasn’t played center field since Statcast started doing RAA.
Still, as a lefty bat who could hit acceptably and could play a number of positions, even if not particularly well, Miller has had some utility as a bench/platoon guy, and has filled that role for the past several years. The Rangers signed him to in March with an eye towards him filling that role for the Rangers in 2022 and 2023.
It wasn’t unreasonable to think that Miller could fill that role acceptably in 2022 for Texas. He had hit righthanders quite well the previous few seasons, putting up an overal .236/.332/.480 slash line. ZiPS projected a 770 OPS for Miller in 2022. As a guy who could be a platoon option at a few positions and provide bench depth, that’s acceptable.
For 2022, Miller started out hot, with two homers in his first three games, got mired in a slump, and then rebounded. By mid-June he had a .234/.289/.411 slash line, which, you know. Wasn’t great, but wasn’t really terrible.
Then things went to hell in a container ship. From June 14 through the All Star Break Miller was 9 for 60 with 21 Ks, three walks and one XBH — a .150/.191/.167 slash line. Right after the Break Miller was placed on the injured list with a neck strain. Upon his return in early August, Miller slashed .237/.326/.263 in 43 plate appearances before being put on the injured list again in early September with a hip injury that ended his season.
Miller’s end line for the year was .212/.270/.320, with 18 walks against 70 Ks in 241 plate appearances. That is really bad — and wasn’t a matter of bad luck, as he had a .269 xwOBA to go with his .263 wOBA. Understandably, given that sort of performance, there were calls in the second half of the season for the Rangers to simply release Miller, with folks saying that he wasn’t worth a 40 man roster spot, there was no reason for him to be playing, just get rid of him, we never want to see him again.
And it may be that Miller ends up getting released, or gets sent off to some other team this winter with the Rangers paying most of the $4 million he is owed. It may be that Miller is simply done. He turned 33 yesterday, and he wouldn’t be the first guy to fall off a cliff in his early 30s.
But I also wonder if the “shoot him into the sun” sentiments would be as strong if he had been with Texas prior to the 2022 season. After all, Miller had a 774 OPS, good for a 107 OPS+, in 377 plate appearances in 2021. He had an 807 OPS in 171 plate appearances in 2020, and an 894 OPS in in 2019 in 170 plate appearances.
Miller has a recent track record of success, of being a useful player. And I tend to think that, if he had had a year or two of that track record in Texas, rather than doing it elsewhere where we weren’t watching him every day and didn’t have it really register with us, there’s be a little more willingness to give him a little more rope.
When the projections for 2023 come out, I expect to see Miller projected to have an OPS somewhere in the low-700s. I have no idea how realistic or accurate that will end up being. If that is in line with what the Rangers project from him in 2023, then I imagine they’ll opt to feel he’s worth a 40 man roster spot for the time being, rather than just eating the $4 million and letting him go elsewhere.
Miller’s two second half injured list stints, which saw him finish the year on the 60 day injured list, are worth taking into account in this evaluation, as well. If Miller was dealing with injuries or physical issues that slowed him as the season went on, that would make his offensive nosedive make more sense. One could argue that a healthy Miller will be better in 2023, but then, that assumes that the physical issues and/or injuries aren’t of the sort that will continue to be a problem for him going forward.
Of course, there are those who have suggested that Miller just suffered from suckitis, and that’s why he landed on the injured list, rather than because of a “real” injury.
One of the Rangers’ priorities this offseason is expected to be a COF/DH who can potentially be an impact bat in the middle of the order. I’ve broached Michael Brantley and Joey Gallo as the two guys who would be near the top of my list, working on the assumption that 1) you are looking for someone on a short term deal for one-two years, and 2) you want to earmark most of the dollars you are going to spend this offseason to pitching. If that occurs, I wouldn’t expect Miller to be the big side of a regular platoon like he was to start 2022, assuming the Rangers even keep him around. That said, he could still have some value and stick around as a bench guy.