Too big of a reach on the title?
As I tend to do on Sundays when considering a topic for my Monday post on shortstops, I was perusing the leaderboards and settled on Brad Miller as today’s topic. What caught my eye with Miller was that he has the lowest BABIP of any healthy shortstop with a wRC+ north of 100.
At .276 his BABIP isn’t outside of the “normal” .270-.310 range, and his career BABIP is .280, which he has amassed over almost 1,000 career plate appearances. But you could still hold out a little hope for a better BABIP based on his high BABIPs in the minors and on Alex Chamberlain’s xBABIP formula. Steamer and ZiPS have Miller posting a BABIP that is 10 to 20 points higher from here on out, and both have his batting average right around .245 for the rest of the season.
Of course, batting average isn’t the reason you might want to own Miller. I simply discussed it to start because it’s what turned me on to Miller in the first place and to point out that he might be a little less of a batting average suck than his current average (.228) might indicate. But the real reason you want to own Miller is his power/speed combo.
Miller has showed a bit of pop the last two seasons with 18 home runs in 746 PA. But this year he’s on pace to hit 13-14 home runs in part because he’s on pace for a few more PA than he has had in the past and in part due to a little more raw power. Eno discussed Miller’s weight gain and the slight bump it gave to his expected HR/FB this preseason. So far the effects have been even bigger than the xHR/FB predicted as Miller’s average home run and fly ball distance is up 21 feet from where it was last year and ranks 26th in the league at just over 300 feet.
The reason such a big jump in raw distance only has Miller on pace for a ‘few’ extra home runs as opposed to ‘quite a few’ extra home runs is that Miller’s fly ball rate is about 10 percent lower than it was last year and six percent lower than his career average. The good news is that the main culprit was a 13.7 percent fly ball rate in April. He has been back around his career average fly ball rate of 34 percent in the last two months. If he maintains that fly ball rate and his 14 percent HR/FB rate that has come with the added distance, he would would hit between nine and 10 home runs in the 325 PA our depth chart projections have him getting from here on out.
As for his speed, Miller has been much more efficient when attempting to steal this year. After going 9-for-14 in steal attempts in his first two season (64.3 percent), Miller is 6-for-7 this year. If he continues stealing bags at his current pace, he should steal between eight and nine bags from here on out. Given that he should reach base a bit more if his batting average ticks up, I’ll round up and peg him at nine steals the rest of the way.
If you go with my optimistic homer/steals projections of 10 and 9 and add them to the 78 R+RBI and .245 average that ZiPS has him projected for, Miller ranks as the 10th best projected shortstop if you run the ZiPS projections through the z-score method. If you stick with the seven home runs and five steals ZiPS projects, Miller would only rank 18th among shortstops.
If you’re not buying the upside I’m suggesting, Miller may not quite be ownable in a 10 or 12-team mixed league. But if you do buy the upside, or even if you just want to take a shot on someone, Miller is likely available if you’re playing in a league of that size. With an ownership percentage of just 3.7 percent in ESPN.com leagues, the odds are good that you can have Miller if you want him. I obviously suggest you take a shot on the upside.