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Brad Miller would be an above average first baseman or left fielder

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2015 off-season the Rays kicked off the trade season in a deal that sent RHP Nate Karns to Seattle for SS Brad Miller, among other pieces. Miller was coming off a .258/.329/.402 and 105 wRC+ season where he lost the shortstop job to Ketel Marte.

Given his old job back by the Rays, he had problems at SS that aren’t in line with what he had done in his career, so with the acquisition of Matt Duffy, it would be reasonable for the Rays to move him back into the utility role the Mariners attempted last year.

The good news is that he is athletic enough to move down the defensive spectrum with ease, and his bat will play no matter where he goes.

What does Miller’s bat bring to the table?

Brad Miller is still relatively young at 26 and could still be improving at the plate. This year he has batted .249/.296/.476 with a 107 wRC+ in a mostly platoon role as he has faced roughly 85% right handed pitchers, shielded from about half the left handed pitchers the Rays have faced.

Brad Miller had a tough transition as he struggled at the plate over the first three weeks where he put up a .115/.179/.231 with a 9 wRC+ line over 56 plate appearances. He struck out 32.1% of the time and wasn’t looking comfortable at the plate.

After those initial three weeks of the season Miller has been killing the ball as he’s put up a .273/.317/.519 with a 124 wRC+ line over 319 plate appearances. He’s lowered his strikeout rate to 20.7% while hitting for average and power. Better yet, his line isn’t over inflated either, as he’s put up a .300 BABIP over that period.

In is a massive power gain, Miller has hit for a .246 ISO (after putting up ISO of .154, .144, and .144 with Seattle). His HR/FB rate has spiked from 10.3% last season to 18.1% this year. There would be some concern for such a large difference, but his average exit velocity on fly balls has increased from 91.0 MPH to 94.0 MPH and the average distance of his fly balls has increased from 311 feet to 330 feet.

In other words, Brad Miller has the same average exit velocity and 1 foot farther in average distance than Manny Machado has posted this year.

In fact, since May 1st, Brad Miller has as many homeruns (15) and a higher ISO (.239 vs .211) than his AL East counterpart. With 17 homeruns on the season, Brad Miller is now the Rays franchise leader for dingers while playing shortstop, and has the second highest total on the team.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles - Game Two Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

What are the expectations of a bat when in 1B and LF?

The open competitions on the Rays roster are first base and left field, both places Miller is likely to see time for the rest of the season.

The average first basemen has hit for .254/.332/.446 and 107 wRC+ this season, making Miller’s season totals league average for a first baseman.

If he’s closer to what he’s shown for the last 319 plate appearances, Miller would be worth 13.5 runs above an average first baseman, and would make him roughly a 3.5 fWAR per 600 plate appearances if he was league average on defense.

The league average bat in left field is much lower, as they have put up a .252/.320/.417 and 97 wRC+. Miller’s 107 wRC+ line would put him as 4.1 runs above that average which would be good for 6.5 runs per 600 plate appearances (0.7 fWAR), so if he was an average defender his bat would make him roughly a 2.7 fWAR/600 player.

If Miller performed to the 124 wRC+ rate he has recently that would be 17.8 runs above average for the position per 600 plate appearances. That would make Miller a 4.0 fWAR/600 player if he was able to put up league average defense in left field.

The last two months will determine where his bat will play.

Miller has the athletic ability to move down the defensive spectrum, but doing it on the fly is difficult even for professionals. I would expect Miller would be a better first baseman than left fielder today as he has more experience handling infield defensive duties than what an outfielder deals with.

Long term, Miller can probably handle left field if given the off season to work on it.

Miller’s bat definitely fits better as it’s above average to plus in left field versus average to above average at first base, but he may also have the flexibility to cover whatever position is the team’s biggest weakness, pending off-season acquisitions.

My initial reaction to moving Miller off shortstop to accommodate Matt Duffy was it would be a waste of Miller’s defensive talents at first base.

Upon further inspection it would appear that he could be the best offensive first baseman we’ve had since Casey Kotchman’s 2011 season, or the best left fielder since Desmond Jennings’ 2011.

Brad Miller will remain in the Rays starting line up, the only questions is where. There isn't a ton of history of what you should expect from a shortstop going to first base, so that may take some time, but once he has a new position, the team will be better for it in 2017 either way.