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Is Andrew Miller (Finally) MLB Ready?

The Red Sox traded Dustin Richardson this past winter for Andrew Miller, then released him in order to negotiate a brand new contract with multiple stipulations in it. For one, the Red Sox gave him a 2012 club option that serves two purposes. First, it allows them to keep Miller at $3 million (in addition to performance bonuses) for the 2012 season if he is pitching well and they want him around--that's a bargain for the Sox. Second, it makes it so that if Boston designates Miller for assignment and another team claims him, they are automatically forced to pick up his 2012 option and will owe him the $3M. This makes Miller more than an inexpensive reclamation project to any other team willing to invest the time and roster spot on fixing him, and gives Boston a better chance of passing him through waivers should his first attempt at coming back to the majors fail.

The other wrinkle in the new deal was for Miller's sake, as they instituted an opt-out clause for June 15 if he wasn't on the MLB roster. It's not a given that Miller would take the opt-out, though, as he not only has the $3M for 2012 on the line, but also $1.3M coming to him were he to end up in the majors. If he is struggling enough at Triple-A that the Red Sox won't promote him, then there is a significant chance no one else will match what he currently has a chance of making on the open market.

With June 15 fast approaching, though, it's time to check in on Miller and see if he has made enough progress to deserve a promotion in the near future.

A quick glance at his numbers says that no, he isn't ready for the majors yet, as despite a 3.13 Run Average, he is walking 5.1 batters per nine innings pitched, and is getting by relatively unscathed thanks to an unsustainable low hit rate (5.5 hits allowed per nine), but there is more to it than that when it comes to Miller.

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, and say that he has figured out how to pitch well enough to dominate Triple-A hitters. He won't allow 5.5 hits per nine in the majors, and wouldn't at Triple-A were he to stay there, but let's say that this dominance in that regard has proven that Miller has learned everything he has to learn about getting minor league hitters out. The issue with Miller was and is that he doesn't know where the ball is going when it leaves his hand--or, rather, he does know where it's going, it just isn't an intentional destination, because most of the time, it ends up out of the strike zone. 

There is a chance--however small it may be at this juncture--that Miller has finally figured out where the ball is going. And that the destination is the strike zone, or at least somewhere in the vicinity of it. In his last 20 innings and three starts, Miller has struck out 16 batters, and walked just two. It's just 20 innings, of course, and therefore it is far from decisive evidence, but it's a start.

Miller has also seen his groundball ratio improve as of late, giving him another tool to get hitters out. The 6-foot-7 Miller should have always been able to induce grounders because of a natural downward plane on his pitches, but in practice, that theory didn't always work. In six of his last eight starts, though, Miller has put up G/F ratios that are somewhere between above and miles above the league average G/F rates. 

The last 20 innings have been a bright spot in an otherwise dark season for Miller. They could be the start of just what the Red Sox were hoping for when they acquired and subsequently re-signed him, though, and with Daisuke Matsuzaka out for the year and the Tim Wakefield/Alfredo Aceves duo combining into a fifth starter, knowing he is around and capable would go a long ways towards improving the organization's depth at the upper levels of the minors. Hopefully, Miller stays on board long enough to get a shot, and doesn't jump ship--he used to be highly regarded, and may have, finally, after six years in the minors and nearly as many failed major league seasons, be on the right track.