Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Andrew Miller (30) delivers a pitch during the fifth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
The Andrew Miller Experiment has been ongoing, and the Red Sox aren't the first team to play around with it. This isn't even their first attempt, either, as Miller was a starter -- and not a good one -- for Boston during the 2011 season. A lot has changed with him, though, and it's likely that 2012 represents the last chance he will get with this team. Failure to realize some of his potential, or harness his inarguable impressive stuff, likely means that he'll be designated or dealt to the next team that thinks they can fix him.
Last year, the plan centering around Miller seemed to focus more on getting him to realize it was okay to throw strikes. He has a reputation of avoiding the strike zone intentionally -- likely a byproduct of missing out on a normal development curve, thanks to being thrown in the majors and high minors immediately. Some of that is true, as he does nibble and avoid leveraging his considerable stuff to his advantage, but there's also a significant chunk of his pitches that are balls because he just doesn't know where they're going when they leave his hand.
In the spring, The Bobs McClure and Valentine both took issue with Miller's mechanics, citing things they believed needed to change were he to finally be a productive member of a major-league team. McClure wanted Miller to stop throwing across his body, as it hindered his consistency and his command. After seeing a little of Miller, Valentine was already tired of his Jekyll and Hyde act:
"Andrew Miller seemed like there were two different guys out there," Valentine said. "One, I didn't want to look at out of the windup. The other, I'd look at all night long out of the stretch. He was terrific out of the stretch. Every pitch was quality, crisp, to the target and damn near unhittable."
McClure and Miller worked on improving the lefty's footwork, so that he wouldn't throw across his body as much. As for the windup, it was scrapped entirely: Miller has thrown from the stretch, even with the bases empty, and while his numbers aren't perfect across three levels, he does own a K/BB of 2.2 thanks to 31 strikeouts and 14 walks in 16-1/3 innings.
The walks aren't as much of an issue if he can spread them out more than in the past, and since he's no longer pitching from the windup, where his motion was erratic and lacked fluidity, that kind of consistency and ability to pitch fewer innings with men on base is a distinct possibility. We know with Miller that nothing is a guarantee, but all the Red Sox can do is set him up in a situation where he has the best chance to succeed. Removing the windup and improving his footwork does that.
It didn't stop there, though, as Miller also has shortened his throwing motion. It's subtle, but it's there. On the left, you see Miller against the Rangers in 2011, and on the right, Miller against the Royals this past week:
His arm is raised higher this year, and his step looks a bit shorter. His arm won't come across his body as much with this setup, as he's bringing his arm around more than he is up and around, as he had in the past. It results in a more fluid release, as well as, potentially, more consistency in his release point. You can see how much tighter his arm is below; left is 2011, right 2012:
These were caught at slightly-different moments in his motion, but you can see the difference in where his elbow is angled very well. The motion on the left is a little more whip-like, not exactly the best thing for a pitcher who has trouble hitting his spots.
In addition to tightening up his mechanics to make them smoother and more-easily repeated, Miller has also tweaked his repertoire. In the past, he threw a four-seamer, two-seamer, curve, and change-up. The curve was a great offering when he could locate it, with plenty of movement. But now it seems as if Miller has switched to a slurvier pitch, one that PITCHf/x recognizes as a slider. He's thrown it more than any of his other pitches this year, and he's used that sinking two-seamer more often than in the past, to the same degree as he uses his four-seam. It has more velocity than the old breaking ball, sitting in the low 80s as opposed to the high 70s, and completely different movement to it, especially horizontally.
The result? A lefty with a fastball that can hit the high 90s and induce grounders, and a secondary fastball a few ticks slower than that with different movement, who can also get you out with a slider that goes from inside on a lefty all the way to the outside part of the plate. He's buried it inside and low against right-handers a few times, too -- it's possibly harder to track for righties than his loopy curve was, especially since it starts so far outside for them.
If he can continue to locate his pitches -- and that if is as large as the 6-foot-7 Miller -- then he's a dangerous weapon in the Red Sox bullpen, with the arsenal to get both lefties and righties out. It's not a guarantee it will work, but the Red Sox have done what they can to set Miller up to succeed, for likely the last time.