Nationals Baseball: Justin Miller - the reliever the Nats have been waiting for?

Friday, June 08, 2018

Justin Miller - the reliever the Nats have been waiting for?

Every team that rolls deep into the playoffs seem to have that guy. The guy in the pen who can just come in and smoke through 3 guys when called upon. The young gun throwing 100MPH fastballs by guys be it to shut down the opponent before the regular back end comes in or to win an epic battle against the other team's star*.  This guy can be wild but the guy is unhittable if he's on.

The Nats have never really had that. Enny Romero could dial it up but was way too hittable. Shawn Kelley was almost that but didn't quite have the fastball and at the most crucial moment his arm died and it's never come back. Christian Garcia had that potential but rather than ride his arm until it broke the Nats decided to try to make him into a starter... and his arm broke anyway. Storen could have been that but was nearly immediately promoted to closer and then a million other things happened. Barrett? Too hittable. Clippard? Not dominating in that power way. But with Justin Miller the Nats might have found their man.

Now the funny thing is, Justin isn't quite this guy if you look at what he's done. He's not fast enough to throw a bunch of 100MPH fastballs by guy. He sits regularly in the mid 90s and there's just the expectation that he will be able to up that a few MPH based on his history. Guys aren't swinging through strikes but rather he's fooling guys to swing at more balls and those are the pitches they are missing. He's not a young buck throwing his arm out but a 31 year old reclamation project.

But what we are talking about here are feelings, and Justin feels like that type of pitcher. He does rely VERY heavily on the fastball - throwing it 2/3rds to 3/4 of the time. He is a big time strike out pitcher with control issues both in his past and possibly now. His minor league career shows flashes of being unhittable. 

Relievers are fungible. We say that a lot but we often don't dig into what it means. It's a statement about the replace-ability of relievers but based in the variability of them. They pitch such a relatively few innings that you should be able to find ones that work out for 40-50 innings in a year. Guys who might be 4.00 pitchers who throw 3.30 up for that time frame. The Nats have. As much as you may hate their scrimping and saving when it comes to relief the Nats have often had good to very good pens since 2012. But while the Nats have figured that right they've never really gotten the benefit of that variability while suffering the downsides. They've had it all kind of fall apart, but they haven't really seen it all come together.  2012 was close as the pen didn't have a bad arm, but it wasn't dominating. 2014 was close with peak Clippard and Storen, but a dead offense at the end meant what was actually a maybe great pen performance in the NLDS is remembered as a complete failure. 2016 was close, but it took the trade for Melancon to make it that way and the pen would do themselves in unable to hold games 3 and 5 in the NLDS.

Ultimately the playoffs, if they get there, is what will define the pen. But right now they are closing in on having a complete pen with a dominant closer, a strong set-up and maybe that middle reliever you believe can walk on water when necessary with the bulk of the season to go. That's something they haven't had. Maybe having it so early, getting it defined so early, will make it stick come October. That's the hope anyway.


*Or lose it - see Strickland, Hunter.

18 comments:

Kurt Stahl said...

Thanks to this I learned a new word: fungible. I come here looking for your non-ultracrepidarian thoughts on the Nats, but I got a bonus today.

Gabe Roark said...

Due to the emergence of Miller, how do you think this changes our approach at the deadline harper? It looks like we have one big prospect card to play with Kieboom. How do we approach the deadline if the bullpen is actually good. Catcher? Second basemen if murphy isnt okay?

JE34 said...

Murphy had his microfracture surgery in October. It is 9 months later and he looks largely unable to field his position (in recent video clips from his rehab work in the minors). Given that he's an unrestricted free agent at season's end, it seems to me that the likelihood that we see him on the field again in a Nats uniform is dropping steadily.

So yeah - a deadline deal for a 2B would be nice, if the Nats have prospects they'd part with. Which is a significant *if*. What's the rental market like for second basemen?

Realmuto would be awesome but his price will be very high.

Gabe Roark said...

I think Cervelli is an interesting option if pirates continue to sink. He is owed 3.5 mil and is a solid defense and offensive option

Anonymous said...

Re bullpen, I think Joe Ross and his new UCL might be an intriguing option for the stretch run. Obviously the Nats shouldn't plan on this happening, but Ross and his slider are death to rightys and maybe his stuff will play up out of the bullpen. If all goes according to plan with his rehab, they should give him a shot to make the playoff bullpen.

BxJaycobb said...

An option nobody will like (and a way to try to salvage a postseason run even if Murphy isn’t ok): Robles for Cervelli plus Josh Harrison. That’s a deal the Pirates would make. (I don’t think I would make it if I’m the Nats, but it’s not crazy, especially if you feel better rather than worse about Nats chances of signing Bryce).

BxJaycobb said...

One thing to keep track of: the Nats really don’t have a matchup lefty in the pen that’s any good. I know the Nats are convinced Solis is that, but how many (more) playoff games are we going to lose when under that impression? So i think that a dominant lefty (hello Brad Hand!) should be added to decent catcher (hello Wilson Ramos rental).

BxJaycobb said...

Am I the only one that thinks that the Nats are utterly destined to trade for a Wilson Ramos rental (would not be expensive and would give us a catcher who can hit .260 with power....what a thought!)

BxJaycobb said...

Oh. Now Stras might be done for the year. Suddenly this all feels moot.

Huzzah! said...

Eaton starting in right today. Bryce in center. Lets see how this shakes out!

mike k said...

MRI showed no structural damage in Strasburg.

Eaton didn't look 100%, but he still played great. 80% Eaton is better than 100% MAT

Murphy, apparently, is looking better.

Losing Kintzler sucks but it's not a major blow and can be absorbed.

The pen is taxed but Scherzer tomorrow and then an off day.

It sucks the Nats are likely to pitch Roark and a #6 against the Yanks, but whatever.

Anyone know how long Hellickson is out for? Who pitches 4 and 5 when the Nats don't have off days?

BxJaycobb said...

1. No structural damage is better than structural damage. I still think it’s possible stras is out until AS break.
2. Eaton looked good to me. I actually think this is the correct OF alignment. Frankly Harper (to me) ever since he ran into the wall in LA has looked more comfortable and aggressive in CF than in corners because he can just be athletic and not worry as much about walls.
3. I expect Murphy will improve gradually.
4. Losing Kintzler is not good. But Justin Miller being the most dominant reliever I’ve seen on the Nats besides Doolittle helps. Just hope Davey doesn’t over-use him. A guy like that must not be used to pitching so often.
5. My sense with Hellickson is it wasn’t a terrible hamstring strain, just a mild one. He himself said that he’s had bad hamstring strains and this wasn’t as bad as those. And Davey called it “mild.” Those usually take like what a month? Again, I expect it’s safe to say AS break at latest, hopefully earlier.

BxJaycobb said...

I have always thought Harper plays center field better than the corners. Maybe because of walls. Maybe because the reads are easier. I don’t know. But I support this alignment.

BxJaycobb said...

Whoever it was (Anonymous?) who said Bryce plays better in CF..... well, apparently Bryce and Davey think so too.

https://www.mlb.com/video/c-2136643583

BxJaycobb said...

Sorry to add a billion comments. It’s interesting what has happened to the division in last few weeks. It’s gone from there being the POTENTIAL for a 4 team race to the Mets and Phillies absolutely death spiraling. Real shame that Stras, Kintzler, and Hellickson have all gone down. You get the sense the Nats might’ve had a chance get some real permanent separation from basically everybody except maybe the Braves. Now I think that will be tough given the SP situation.

Sammy Kent said...

If Daniel Murphy can't play defense effectively, then bring him up as a pinch hitter and DH when we go to AL parks. As we saw again yesterday, even Max Scherzer can't win a game without some runs being scored. With the pitching injuries and ineffectiveness of virtually everyone else in the pen except Miller and Doo we need more than ever to have HITS and RUNS.

And Kevin Long needs to dial back his obsession with launch angles and hitting everything in the air. Not everyone is a Daniel Murphy.....wait...let me word that differently. NO ONE else is Daniel Murphy. Right now what we have is a bunch of fly ball outs and weak grounders. Hey guys, it's OK to hit HARD grounders through the infield and pull screamers down the foul lines. It's ESPECIALLY OK to bunt against the shift. That's one thing I still don't get. Bryce Harper can get his average over .300 and end the stupid shift in three games by simply bunting to third. Park the friggin' egos, fellas. Small ball still scores runs, even in 2018.

Kubla said...

@Sammy Kent

The hesitation to bunt against the shift isn't an ego thing, it's one of those dumb unwritten baseball rules. Bryce follows those because pitchers throw at him too much already, and he doesn't want to further antagonize people who are inexplicably offended by his mere existence.

Anonymous said...

I thought bunting against the shift is only an unwritten rule violation if your team has a commanding lead or if the pitcher has a no hitter going...