The Seattle Mariners are surprisingly holding on to a .500 record through 40 games despite receiving nearly no production from everyday starting shortstop Brad Miller.
Entering play Wednesday, Miller is hitting a paltry .156/.212/.256, ranking near the bottom of the major leagues in several offensive categories. Watching Miller on a daily basis indicates that his problems go deeper than a simple hole in his swing, and he may soon require a trip to Triple-A Tacoma to solve them.
Miller was called up to Seattle last June as one of the Mariners’ most highly touted prospects and quickly lived up to the hype. In 76 games, he showed an ability to get on base, used his legs to cause damage and occasionally displayed some sneaky power.
Following a great spring, Miller deservedly won the starting shortstop job and continued playing well into the first series of the 2014 season. In Seattle’s second game of the year against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Miller slugged two home runs, the second of which was a crushed line drive.
Since then, there haven’t been too many of those types of hits for Miller, as he has gone into a tailspin. As Brian Scott of NWSportsBeat.com points out, the past couple of weeks have been particularly bad:
The stat that jumps out with Miller’s struggles at the plate is the amount of times he is striking out. Miller has struck out in 27.5 percent of his plate appearances entering Wednesday and has also swung at over 40 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, both up significantly from last season.
It’s not a secret how pitchers are approaching at-bats against Miller. As Brooks Baseball's raw number of pitches table shows, Miller is being pounded outside and has been unable to adjust in 2014.
Miller’s struggles at the plate are only part of the story. He also leads the team with six errors in just 34 games.
While Miller was far from perfect in the field last year, several of his errors have come due to mental lapses rather than a mechanical problem. On April 16 against the Texas Rangers, Miller missed a short throw to Robinson Cano at second base that would have ended the game and instead cost the Mainers a win.
He also committed an error and failed to communicate on a pop-up to allow a run to score during a doubleheader May 7 against the Oakland Athletics. Couple all of that with a pair of lapses on the bases in the past week, and something looks off with every aspect of Miller’s game.
Overall, his 2014 season has been a train wreck compared to his solid 2013 campaign.
|Brad Miller 2013 vs 2014|
|2013 (76 games)||.265||.318||.737||15.5||7|
|2014 (35 games)||.156||.212||.477||27.5||6|
Something could be wrong with Miller’s mentality or confidence. Miller told Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times that his thoughts have been cloudy at the plate:
"I would go up there with a plan and I just wouldn’t execute it. And I’d be wondering, ‘Why?’ I think it was a lot of buildup and clutter in my thinking. ... It’s not that I’m not just getting hits but I’m not putting competitive at-bats together."
Michael Grey of 710 ESPN Seattle and many others believe that’s the kind of thing that needs to be sorted out in the minor leagues.
The Mariners can’t afford to have Miller keep providing zero production at the shortstop position, and his struggles are only going to further damage his confidence. Seattle might have too many holes to seriously challenge the loaded AL West, but bringing in Cano indicates the team is planning to contend now or in the near future.
While the Mariners have been very patient in the past, now is the time to do everything to stay in the postseason race for as long as possible. Right now, that means demoting Miller.
There’s been little word on if or when Miller may be headed to Triple-A, other than manager Lloyd McClendon telling Bud Withers of The Seattle Times that Miller “needs to step it up and knows that.” The team has an off day Thursday before a weeklong road trip and should make a move before leaving Seattle.
Super utility man Willie Bloomquist is fine in a pinch, but he isn’t a starter. Fortunately, Tacoma Rainiers broadcaster Mike Curto points out the Mariners have two shortstops at the Triple-A level who are tearing up minor league pitching:
Nick Franklin had a solid debut in 2013 and has made a brief two-game stop in Seattle this year as well, but he was forced out of the lineup due to the arrival of Cano and Miller’s hot spring. Entering play Wednesday, Franklin is hitting a blistering .384/.479/.667 with seven home runs.
Adam Rubin of ESPN makes the point that one of those home runs came off of one of the top prospects in all of baseball:
Having that home run stroke is a good sign for Franklin. He doesn't look like a typical power hitter but has put up decent home run totals in the minors and hit 12 at the MLB level last year. His first two career homers came at pitcher-friendly Petco Park in San Diego.
Chris Taylor is a name to keep an eye on moving forward. After being named Seattle’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2013, Taylor has continued his success at Triple-A with a .372 average and 21 extra-base hits so far.
He talked to Curto via The Olympian about his hot streak, saying, "When I’m playing at my best, I’m hitting the ball to all fields. It all starts with being able to go the other way, and staying inside the ball. That’s the way my approach has been since college."
That’s something you like to hear from a young player. With just 35 games at the Triple-A level, Franklin should get the call over Taylor for now, but we could see him later in the summer. Bernie Pleskoff of MLBPipeline.com gives an overview of Taylor’s game, highlighting his speed and defense as strengths.
No matter the replacement, it’s time for the Mariners to make a move. Miller should still be regarded as a piece of the club’s future, but he needs some time at Triple-A to sort out the mental aspect of his game.