Brad Miller made his debut with the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend, going 1-for-4 with a walk and an RBI across two games against the St. Louis Cardinals. The left-handed hitting infielder was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays a couple of weeks ago to help shore up some of the offensive deficiencies that have plagued the Brewers up the middle throughout the 2018 season.
Miller has never been considered a strong defender at any position, but the Brewers didn’t pick him up because of his glove. Two seasons ago he cranked 30 home runs while manning shortstop on a regular basis for the Rays, and in 654 games and 2400+ plate appearances over parts of six seasons in the big leagues, Miller has slashed .240/.314/.410 with 73 home runs for an even 100 wRC+. A career batting line that equates to exactly league-average may not sound all that impressive, but it looks downright Ruthian when compared to the batting prowess of the other players regularly manning Milwaukee’s middle infield spots this season - second baseman Jonathan Villar (86 wRC+), utilityman Hernan Perez (78 wRC+), shortstop Orlando Arcia (28 wRC+) and utilityman Eric Sogard (18 wRC+).
Miller was actually hitting even a bit better than his career slash when he was designated for assignment by Tampa, producing a useful .256/.322/.429 slash with five home runs in 48 games (108 wRC+) before getting dealt. Digging deeper into his offensive profile, there is reason to believe that a move to Miller Park could help the southpaw swinger unlock even more offensive production moving forward.
Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field is not a park that is conducive to offense. According to Fangraphs, Tropicana’s five-year park factor ranks it as one of the 10 worst ballparks for home runs as well as overall offensive production. Tropicana dampened left-handed power production more than the average park in both 2016 and 2017, the two seasons that Miller played there regularly. Yet he was still able to produce a cumulative .742 OPS during his 310 games as a Ray.
Miller Park, on the other hand, is considered to be a band box of sorts when compared to the other stadiums around baseball. Only Colorado, Arizona, Texas, and Boston can boast higher five-year park factor totals than Milwaukee, meaning it is one of the most offense-friendly parks in the league. On a more granular level, only one park in baseball - Yankee Stadium - was more conducive to left-handed home runs from 2015-2017.
Brad Miller has the perfect offensive profile to take advantage of the friendly confines of Miller Park. He’s a left-handed hitter that has actualized plus power in the big leagues, one who regularly puts the ball in the air (43.5% fly ball rate in 2018) and who more often than not pulls the baseball (37.8% career pull rate). He’s also hit the ball progressively harder over the last several seasons. In his final year with the Mariners in 2015, his hard contact rate was 30.3%. The next year, his first in Tampa Bay, it improved to 35.1%, and then up to 38.4% in 2017. So far in 2018, he’s registered hard contact on 38.5% of the balls he’s put in play.
Interestingly enough, Miller’s profile is not all that dissimilar from third baseman Travis Shaw. Shaw lost his hold on the third base job in Boston in 2016 and was dealt to the Brewers that winter in the Tyler Thornburg deal, and he since taken his game to the next level. I predicted then that Shaw would see a boost in production by moving to Miller Park, and he’s gone from a .754 OPS in 210 games with Boston to a .850 OPS in 214 games as a Brewer.
Miller is far from a perfect player, of course, or the Brewers wouldn’t have been able to pick him up in exchange for their fourth-string first baseman. Like most left-handed hitters, he struggles against same-handed pitching and his career platoon split comes out to some 140+ point of OPS. His strikeout rate has increased each of the last three seasons and he’s posted a career-worst rates of 29.6% punchout and 15.1% swinging-strike so far this season. His current .346 BABIP would be a career-high by a long shot and is probably due for some regression, even with his outstanding hard contact rates. And even though he’s capable of playing just about everywhere on the diamond, he’s a below-average defender at all those positions.
But the Brewers don’t need Brad Miller to be a star in order for him to make a noticeable impact on the lineup. The scant offensive production that their middle infield group has provided to this point has been so miserable that if Miller can simply be the player he’s been in the past - a league-average bat who can handle right-handed pitching and doesn’t totally kill you on defense - he can be a pretty significant upgrade for this team as they chase a playoff berth this season. Now if Brad Miller can receive the Miller Park effect that other lefties like Travis Shaw and Eric Thames have gotten since joining the Brewers? Then the National League’s best team may have found the potent bat that their lineup could desperately use.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference