Although many people still gravitate toward the Corey Dickerson acquisition as the most significant of the off season, I continue to believe Brad Miller will prove to be the most important. Not only is he expected to play a highly demanding position -- one that many believe is the most crucial among those behind the pitcher and catcher -- but he's expected to do so at an above-average level, both offensively and defensively.
Acquired in the deal that saw Nate Karns head to Seattle, Miller is at a completely different point in his career than the Rays 2015 short stop, Asdrubal Cabrera, was when he was acquired.
The Cabrera Acquisition and Rays 2015 Performance at SS
To start things off, we need to give Cabrera some credit.
The Rays signed Cabrera to a one year, $7.5 million free agent deal for him to play short in 2015, unexpectedly nabbing what was the top free agent infielder that off-season. He could have signed, presumably, with a number of other teams, but wound up helping Kevin Cash and company get through 2015 more successfully than it may otherwise have been.
In fairness to Cabrera, as we're going to be fairly hard on him in this piece, he provided the Rays with a 2.2 WAR performance which Fangraphs converts to a value of $17.7 million on the free agent market, and was rated with a WARP of 1.4. So not only did Cabrera perform well, but he proved to be a bargain overall.
However, the Rays rightfully let Cabrera walk as they couldn't afford to keep him, and he has since signed a two year, $16.5 million deal with a $2 million buyout, making it $18.5 million guaranteed.
For their money, the Mets get a 30-year-old SS that provided the Rays a 2.2 WAR rating in 2015. Meanwhile, the Rays nab Miller who will earn league minimum in 2016 and will be arbitration eligible for the first time next off season. With League Minimum being $507,500 for 2016, it represents close to $7.75 million less than what Cabrera will earn in 2016.
With this in mind, we kick off the 2016 expectations for Miller with a direct comparison between him and Cabrera, starting with the defensive stats and then diving into the offensive stats.
Oddly enough, Miller is compared most accurately to Asdrubal Cabrera from 2012 according to Baseball Prospectus, similarity rated at 94%, something this an even more fun comparison to make.
Brad Miller's stirrups make their #Rays debut. #StripesOnStripes pic.twitter.com/TzsZSTG6JD— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) February 20, 2016
Miller vs Cabrera: A stark contrast and clear defensive improvement
The stats included below were obtained from Fangraphs and include Revised Zone Rating (RZR), Double Play Runs (DPR), Range Runs (ability to get to balls in vicinity), Error Runs (ErrR), Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and UZR/150 (the UZR defensively over 150 games), and all are as derived by Baseball Info Solutions (BIS).
For those who are unfamiliar with RZR, a 0.818 rating puts Miller's 2015 in the "average" to slightly below average range, while Cabrera was directly in the "poor" range.
The DPR (double play runs) indicates that Miller was slightly above average while Cabrera was well below-average on that front. Miller exceeded Cabrera's range at the position by a country mile, and it's likely one reason for his poor performance on the error front. I'll take a position 6.8 swing in RngR for my SS every day of the week.
This, and the resulting above-average UZR, is what makes Miller an intriguing upgrade for the Rays at SS. Among SS with at least 500 innings played, Miller is 14th in MLB - right in the middle of the pack - when it comes to UZR/150. Cabrera, meanwhile, was tied for 29th place.
What makes this even more impressive, and exciting for Rays fans, is that Miller was actually much better defensively in 2014, when he played more regularly at short. That year, he maintained a 6.2 RngR and 1.4 UZR, weighed down slightly by a -3.9 ErrR but still good enough for a 2.0 UZR/150.
The stats above are also supported by the FRAA performance of each player. Cabrera fell to a career low of -8.2 FRAA whereas Miller managed a -1.9 FRAA. While the rating here indicates a slightly below average performance, it's still a 6.3 FRAA improvement over Cabrera's 2015 performance, and within range of the average marks other indicators provide.
In looking back over the details provided by Fangraphs, Cabrera did outplay Miller in one key area, which was how consistent he was in making the "likely play" (those expected to be made 60% to 90% of the time), which he did 73.1% of the time compared to Miller's 56.3% completion rate.
That, of course, is offset quite a bit by Miller's ability to complete "unlikely" plays (those expected to be made 10-40% of the time), which he did 42.9% of the time compared to Cabrera's 8.3% completion rate.
Be warned that if you look only at the season's totals in terms of defensive ratings, you may be misguided as Miller played several positions, and some better than others. Thankfully for the Rays, his best defensive play was maintained at SS, so that's where we'll make the comparisons.
In short, expect a much better defensive performance at SS this season for the Rays, somewhere around league average which is - surprisingly - an upgrade. If Miller can improve his consistency, he could become a game-changer for this team. If not, he still represents a significant upgrade over what Cabrera provided the team with in 2015.
Miller vs Cabrera: Potential for offensive improvement
Cabrera and Miller do not have the same approach at the plate. While Brooks Baseball praises Miller's approach in hitting Breaking Pitches and even more for his ability to hit offspeed pitches, he had a "steady approach" against fastballs. Cabrera, meanwhile, is noted as being "aggressive" in all situations, including when facing fastballs.
|Brad Miller 2015 Batting Data (courtesy Brooks Baseball)|
|Pitch Type||Seen||Approach||Connected||AVG Exit Velocity||Location|
|Fastballs||1120||Steady||116||91.9 MPH||All Fields|
|Breaking||391||Aggressive||54||92.1 MPH||All Fields|
|Offspeed||244||Steady||49||90.1 MPH||Slight Pull|
|Asdrubal Cabrera 2015 Batting Data (courtesy Brooks Baseball)|
|Pitch Type||Seen||Approach||Connected||AVG Exit Velocity||Location|
|Fastballs||1254||Exceptionally Aggressive||153||88.9 MPH||Pull|
|Breaking||511||Very Aggressive||69||84 MPH||All Fields|
|Offspeed||266||Aggressive||44||90.8 MPH||Other Way|
Looking at the breakdown in approaches at the plate, you can see just how different the two hitters are, but there are two things in particular that make Miller more intriguing than Cabrera going forward (aside from age), he uses the entire fields and he creates more power when connecting.
In contrast to Miller, Cabrera's spray chart indicates a lot more power going to RF, making him more easy to gauge defensively in the outfield than when Miller is at the plate. Conversely, in the infield, the opposite seems to be true as Miller drove ground balls to the right side of the infield a whole lot more than to the left side and Cabrera hit all over the infield.
Whether he's hitting fastballs, breaking pitches, or offspeed pitches, Miller uses the entire field, and it's something that keeps opponents from anticipating where a ball could be hit. The other area that's notable is the power that Miller creates, which I'll get to next.
Despite this, it's intriguing just how similar these two players were in 2015 (stats courtesy Fangraphs):
The similarities are uncanny overall, and it seems that along with a possibly significant increase in defensive capabilities from Miller, the Rays should expect very similar outcomes - or better - offensively from him in 2016. With Miller being 26-years-old, he's just hitting his prime hitting years. Cabrera, meanwhile, just turned 30 and may have already peaked.
But do the projections match the tale that 2015 and age tell us?
Miller vs Cabrera: 2016 Projections
It's pretty clear that projections for 2016 like Miller much more than Cabrera. What's most impressive is how much credit the projections give Miller defensively as most expect him to man SS full time, something that should help elevate his totals.
The projection of a 2 to 2.3 WAR/zWAR sure is enticing, and hopefully it comes to fruition as the Rays look for Miller to be this year's Logan Forsythe, a player that breaks through once given the chance to play one position every day.
In listening to people speak of Miller as a placeholder for the likes of Daniel Robertson and Willy Adames, I'm really taken aback and it's why I felt this article was important to put out there. Miller deserves much more attention than he's currently getting as an upgrade at SS for the Rays in 2016.
Not only is he going to help the Rays offensively and defensively, but he's going to do so at a fraction of the cost! Fans should be excited that Miller was acquired, pitchers definitely look forward to better defensive play behind them - particularly the improved range, and the benefits should be evident by the end of the year.
The part that is most intriguing about Miller at this point is whether or not his bat will improve now that he is reaching his prime and can finally concentrate on playing one position, possibly hitting at the top of the lineup.
If all of his tools fall into place and he makes the best of his situation, he could feasibly reach the 15-20 HR and 15-25 SB levels, something that would truly help elevate the Rays lineup to new heights.
Welcome to Tampa Bay, Brad Miller, and good luck in 2016.