Power Surge: Brad Miller is Now a Power Hitter

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Rays shortstop Brad Miller experienced a career renaissance during the 2016 season. Entering this season with just 1111 major-league at-bats, he easily topped his career best 11 home runs from last season by blasting 30 in 548 at-bats this year while only hitting five points below his career batting average. Those 30 round-trippers also eclipsed the total of 29 he had in his three-year career through this season, an impressive feat. With an uptick in production that steep, a deeper dive into just how Miller transformed his game is a worthwhile exercise.

A look at a player's batted-ball profile is a good place to start, and in Miller's case it provides a good picture of how his approach at the plate has changed. Miller increased his fly ball rate more than 5% over last season while dropping his ground ball rate significantly and even his line drive rate a bit. As a result, his ground ball to fly ball ratio is down to 1.22 from 1.54 a year earlier. On top of that, his percentage of balls pulled is up almost 10% with most of that difference coming off of his percentage of balls hit the other way. Trying to pull the ball more and hitting more fly balls are both indicative of a player who is trying to get more pop out of his swing. While his profile last year included him hitting over 30% of balls to each field, similar to Daniel Murphy's career numbers, his profile this year is much more similar to perennial power threats like David Ortiz or Mark Trumbo.

As well as trying to pull the ball more and hit fly balls, Miller appears to be swinging harder in the hopes that when he does make contact, the ball will leave the yard. According to Statcast, the technology in each MLB park that tracks the movement of the ball and each player, Miller's average exit velocity on balls in play this season 92.98 MPH, over 3 MPH higher than the league average. That number is also up significantly from the 88.67 MPH he posted during the 2015 season. Because of that, his hard hit percentage, according to FanGraphs, was a career-high 35.1%, nearly 5% better than 2015's 30.3%. Oddly enough, though, his medium hit percentage is down almost 10% from last year, leaving the final percentage points to be tacked on to his soft hit percentage. That points to Miller swinging harder but less under control, leaving his misses to be weaker but those that he does hit solidly to fly further than they did before.

Despite Miller's line drive and ground ball percentages being down, Statcast says that the average launch angle of the ball when he makes contact is actually down a bit from last year, though still higher than league average. This could potentially mean that though Miller is hitting more fly balls, his swing is on a better plane so that when he does get the ball in the air, it is at a more ideal angle to clear the fence rather than falling short for a routine fly out or pop fly. That would certainly support the fact that his exit velocity is up despite hitting less line drives. He has nearly doubled his home run to fly ball ratio (20.4% this year compared to 10.3% last year), so to go with hitting more fly balls, many more of his fly balls than ever are going for homers. All of that indicates that while Miller does seem to be swinging harder and more out of control than ever, his swing is also much better than before for getting the ball out of the park when he does make contact.

Overall, Brad Miller seems to have made a transformation in his swing and overhauled the way he approached at-bats during the last offseason and it paid major dividends on the field. His isolated power jumped 95 points over 2015 with a minimal 15-point dip in batting average that can be largely explained by a 30-point drop in batting average on balls in play. While his new approach at the plate may hurt him in some areas such as hitting the ball weakly more of the time leading to that drop in BABIP, it definitely proved to be a net positive. Entering his age-27 season and being arbitration-eligible this winter, Miller's huge 2016 is sure to pay off on his bottom line. If he can continue to build on what he did well this season, he could continue to grow and become one of the best power-hitting infielders in the league.

This post was written by a member of the DRaysBay community and does not necessarily express the views or opinions of DRaysBay staff.