Andrew Miller, MVP of the American League Championship Series, has had quite a postseason:
- ALDS, Game 1: Replaced Trevor Bauer with two out and none on in the fifth. Pitched two innings, allowing a double, a walk, and no runs. Struck out four. Credited with a win.
- ALDS, Game 3: Replaced Josh Tomlin with no outs and a runner on first in the sixth. Pitched two innings, allowing a double, a walk, and no runs (inherited runner scored). Struck out three. Credited with a hold.
- ALCS, Game 1: Replaced Corey Kluber with one out and none on in the seventh. Pitched one-and-two-thirds innings, allowing a single, no walks, and no runs. Struck out five. Credited with a hold.
- ALCS, Game 2: Replaced Bryan Shaw in the top of the seventh. Pitched two innings, allowing no hits, no walks, and no runs. Struck out five. Credited with a hold.
- ALCS, Game 3: Replaced Cody Allen with two out and none on in the eighth. Pitched one-and-a-third innings, allowing a single, no walks, and no runs. Struck out three. Credited with a save.
- ALCS, Game 5: Replaced Bryan Shaw with one out and one on in the sixth. Pitched two-and-two-thirds innings, allowing a single, no walks, and no runs. Struck out one. Credited with a hold.
His performance has been likened to multi-inning relievers who came in before the ninth inning in days past.
“Manager Terry Francona has brought Miller into a game in the middle innings and also to get a six-out hold. It is reminiscent of bygone days when Hall of Fame closers Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter might pitch three innings in a game.”
Commenter DBA455, responding to "Andrew Miller Is the Perfect Relief Pitcher" by Dave Cameron on FanGraphs, October 17:
“The irony here is that the 'new trend' advocated by contemporary SABR types is really just a return to the 'old trend' of (notable anti-stat loudmouth) Goose Gossage and others of the early 80s and prior.”
Matt Meyers on MLB.com's Statcast Podcast, October 19:
“Andrew Miller … has been maybe the breakout star of the postseason, being used in this 1970s Goose Gossage kind of role where he’s coming in in the fifth, sixth seventh inning and facing seven or eight batters.”
The problem here is that while Miller’s usage has certainly been unusual, it hasn’t been Gossage-like. Grant Brisbee of SB Nation pointed out that Goose Gossage appeared before the sixth inning only five times in his peak years between 1977 and 1985. He recorded only 30 holds, mostly toward the end of his career: Seven in 1991 (his age-39 season), five in 1992, eight in 1993, and three in 1994.
He faced more than six batters in only four holds. He entered games in which he got holds in the ninth inning twice, the eighth inning nine times, the seventh inning 16 times, and the sixth inning three times. That’s it. Never in the fifth. (He did enter games with a save situation and pitch two or more innings 172 times, so there’s that.)
This isn’t to take anything away from Gossage. He was a great pitcher. He just wasn’t in the model of Andrew Miller in these playoffs. Gossage pitched 965 games in relief, and finished 681 of them, or 71 percent. So far this postseason, Miller has finished 17 percent of his games. It’s not really the same.
So the 2016 postseason Miller analog is a reliever who doesn’t finish games, who pitches more than an inning at a time, and who is dominant. Here are the best matches I could find, setting minimum criteria of 50 games relieved, no more than 25 games finished, and an average of 1.5 innings per appearance. An asterisk indicates that the pitcher also started a few games, so FIP, DRA, and WARP reflect his overall pitching statistics, not just as a reliever.
- Mariano Rivera, 1996 Yankees: 61 games, 14 finished, 26 holds, 107 2/3 IP. 2.09 ERA, 1.96 FIP, 2.83 DRA, 3.1 PWARP, 31 OPS+ allowed. Entered before the eighth inning 35 times, 42 multiple-inning appearances.
- Arthur Rhodes, 1997 Orioles: 53 games, 6 finished, 9 holds, 95 1/3 IP. 3.02 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 2.90 DRA, 2.5 PWARP, 67 OPS+ allowed. Entered before the eighth inning 42 times, 40 multiple-inning appearances.
- Jay Howell*, 1984 Yankees: 60 games, 23 finished, 13 holds, 98 2/3 IP. 2.74 ERA, 2.26 FIP, 2.68 DRA, 2.7 PWARP, 66 OPS+ allowed. Entered before the eighth inning 33 times, 38 multiple-inning appearances.
- Brian Fisher, 1985 Yankees: 55 games, 23 finished, 6 holds, 98 1/3 IP. 2.38 ERA, 2.43 FIP, 2.36 DRA, 2.9 PWARP, 57 OPS+ allowed. Entered before the eighth inning 31 times, 35 multiple-inning appearances.
- Todd Frohwirth, 1991 Orioles: 51 games, 10 finished, 9 holds, 96 1/3 IP. 1.87 ERA, 2.52 FIP, 2.73 DRA, 2.4 PWARP, 50 OPS+ allowed. Entered before the eighth inning 33 times, 33 multiple-inning appearances.
- Pedro Martinez*, 1993 Dodgers: 63 games, 20 finished, 14 holds, 99 2/3 IP. 2.26 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 3.84 DRA, 1.7 PWARP, 55 OPS+ allowed. Entered before the eighth inning 35 times, 43 multiple-inning appearances.
- Ramiro Mendoza*, 2001 Yankees: 54 games, 11 finished, 13 holds, 91 IP. 3.26 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 3.59 DRA, 2.0 PWARP, 65 OPS+ allowed. Entered before the eighth inning 36 times, 34 multiple-inning appearances.
- Al Holland*, 1982 Giants: 51 games, 10 finished, 8 holds, 91 1/3 IP. 3.15 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 3.60 DRA, 1.8 PWARP, 66 OPS+ allowed. Entered before the eighth inning 42 times, 39 multiple-inning appearances.
Note that the play-by-play data needed for a number of these figures aren’t available for pitchers in the fairly distant past, i.e. over 50 years ago. There aren’t many of them, given the propensity of starters to go deep into games back then anyway.
What can we learn from that eight-pitcher list? Probably, to be honest, nothing. Miller’s career arc is already well-established: Failed starter (5.70 ERA in 66 starts) to shutdown reliever. Rivera went the same route, though he had only 10 starts before becoming arguably the best relief pitcher ever. Pedro Martinez, of course, went the other way: Began as a reliever—he was ninth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1993, behind Mike Piazza and seven guys who won’t join him and Piazza in Cooperstown—and became one of the most dominant starters in baseball history. Howell and Rhodes had long careers; nobody else on the list lasted a decade as even a semi-regular.
Given that Miller’s already been in the majors for 11 years, his spot on the Howell (15 years)/Rhodes (20 years) side of the spectrum seems secure.
Just don’t compare him to Gossage.
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