Some of us cool kids saw this coming. We were listening to Andrew Miller, like, years ago. Saw him at a local club, The 2014 ALCS. He was mesmerizing. It was inevitable that he’d get noticed and become a big star. He mowed the Tigers down that postseason, and then he completely flummoxed the Royals. Didn’t win that series, mind you, but he was the closest thing to a modern-day fireman, a real Spirit of ‘76 kind of pitcher. He was the embodiment of what a reliever was supposed to be.
The combination of slider, command, and control is pure Randy Johnson. There’s no other way to describe it. If Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, Miller clearly has the best pitch. Miller uses the slider to steal strikes, and he uses it to put hitters away. If he threw nothing but sliders for an entire season, regardless of situation or count, he would still have an ERA under 2.00.
There’s no sense comparing the apples of Kershaw to the oranges of Miller, but it’s worth pointing out that after his brilliant Game 2 outing in the NLCS, Kershaw isn’t going to pitch in Game 3 of the NLCS. Or Game 4. He’ll come back for Game 5, and that might be the last time we see him all series, if not all year.
Miller will be available for whatever situation Terry Francona feels is most important in Game 3, Game 4, and probably Game 5.
What Miller is, then, is a lever in the back of the dugout, with a sign that reads "TURN CURRENT PITCHER INTO PEAK RANDY JOHNSON FOR TWO INNINGS." You look around, skeptical, wondering what the catch is. Then you pull the lever, and, whoa, it’s peak Randy Johnson for two innings, wherever and whenever you want, in every possible game.
Think of the most painful postseason loss your team has ever endured. Now add two innings of Randy Johnson at his best. That’s Miller, give or take, and he would have saved you the pain. He’s available at any time during every game, waiting for just the stickiest of situations.
Is it better to have the real thing, a fully functioning Randy Johnson? Sure, probably. And it’s worth remembering that in 2001, Johnson was both Kershaw and Miller, and he won a World Series by both starting and relieving, so let’s not give away his championship belt just yet.
But this idea of Miller as an unstoppable Magic: The Gathering card that Francona can play whenever the heck he feels like is so very compelling. Consider Game 2 of the NLCS, in which Kershaw outdueled the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks, who paid for a single pitch (in what sure looked like a perfectly harmless spot). Kershaw slowly ground the Cubs into a fine ursine powder. Both pitchers were excellent, but just one of them was excellent in a Hall of Fame kind of way. Because, well, one of the pitchers is going to the Hall of Fame, and the other one isn’t.
If you’re looking for a lesson from Game 2 of the NLCS, it goes something like this:
Get yourself a Clayton Kershaw.
The strategy checks out. Line up outside the store at 2 a.m. on Black Friday, and start throwing punches if you don’t get your Kershaw. Because once you get one of those guys, you can do anything. Start him in the first and fourth game of a Division Series, use him as a closer in Game 5, and then start him in Game 2 of the NLCS. The next time he comes up as a free agent (which is never), your team should make a strong play for him (they can’t), unless you go with someone just as good (who doesn’t exist). Simple.
Except it won’t work. Your team couldn’t get Kershaw back then, and they certainly couldn’t get him right now.
Look at the silly rumors from the offseason that Miller was a free agent:
#Dodgers were not on Andrew Miller - didn’t want to go four years on a reliever. Also had interest in Zach Duke, but balked at three years.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 5, 2014
Wait, why wouldn’t you go four years on Miller? Why wouldn’t you go fourteen?
Duquette said 23 clubs wanted Miller. Not sure reliever has that kind of economic value to club in this market— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) December 5, 2014
what is wrong with you weirdos
Miller got about half what Ian Kennedy got. He got nearly a third of what Jeff Samardzija would eventually get. It made sense at the time, but only one of those pitchers is carving up the postseason and wearing its skin as a wetsuit. Four years, $36 million, give me a break. That’s how much the Blue Jays would pay to not hear his name again.
This is the last possible time we get to say this about a baseball player, then. This is the last time we get to remember a player on the open market and wonder what everyone was thinking. Everyone knows to get themselves a Kershaw if the opportunity arises, but the super-reliever dominating the postseason is a newer one. The Indians were somehow lucky that the Orioles weren’t forced to use Miller as a closer, that the Yankees didn’t settle him into a boring ol’ closer’s gig. Any of those scenarios might have eliminated the temptation of Miller as a secret weapon. As is, the Indians have a pitcher who can enter the game at any point — maybe the best reliever in baseball — and he makes all kinds of sense.
There won’t be another revelation like Miller coming soon at any position. It’s hard to picture ourselves back here in three years, writing the same things about a utility player with speed, or something, sure that we’ve found the kind of player who will sneak up on the postseason.
We knew that teams should go bananas for the best hitters. We knew they should do the same for starting pitchers like Kershaw. After watching Andrew Miller take over the postseason in the AL, though, it makes us realize just how exhausted the rest of baseball will become, looking for the next Andrew Miller. To the point where it’s out of the question to imagine an offseason where Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman might get nine figures to not close.
Two years ago, a setup man got a four-year deal for $36 million. It seemed like an awful lot of money at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, though, what a steal. What an absolute steal. We’ll never see a bargain like that again, mostly because we’ll never see a player sneak up on the postseason and pants it quite like this again. The idea of a malleable super-reliever is now a codified part of the accepted postseason strategy, and teams will pay accordingly. Andrew Miller saw to that, and he changed the offseason forever.
We were so innocent back in Dec. 2014. We were so dumb and innocent. It’s probably not going to happen like that ever again.