Andrew Miller has been a huge storyline in these MLB Playoffs. He’s been utterly dominant for the Cleveland Indians in the postseason, (with a line of 17 IP, 0.53 ERA, 4 BB, 29 K) more than justifying the somewhat steep package of prospects the Indians had to give the Yankees to obtain him this July. But that’s just an exaggerated stat line from a pitcher who has been one of baseball’s most dominant relievers the past two years.
The Cliffs Notes version of the 31-year old Miller is this:
- 1st round pick (6th overall) by the Detroit Tigers in 2006, out of the University of North Carolina, with immense promise as a starter
- Rushed to the Majors by the Tigers, including 10 innings in his draft year of 2006
- Struggled greatly in 2007 in Majors with Tigers
- Traded to Marlins in 2007 offseason as part of package to obtain Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis
- Continued to struggle badly as a starter with the Marlins from 2008 to 2010
- Traded to Red Sox in 2010 offseason in a low-level trade
- Struggled as a starter with Red Sox in 2011
- Switched to a reliever with Red Sox in 2012 — stuff plays up, results start to happen for Miller finally
- Becomes a dominant reliever with Red Sox in 2013 and 2014
- Traded to Orioles in 2014 at trade deadline for a high-end prospect, Eduardo Rodriguez
- Signs as a free agent with Yankees in 2014 offseason for a then-seemingly high 4 year/$36M deal
- Blasts into stratosphere in 2015 and 2016 with Yankees as a multi-inning fireman
- Traded to Indians this 2016 deadline for a huge package of prospects, including Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield
Now every team is on the prowl looking for the Next Andrew Miller that can be their multi-inning bridge to their closer. Or using their closer for more than 1 inning — I know, right? Naturally, the first and best place to find this type of pitcher is in the failed starter bin. Miller has found success by streamlining his arsenal down to two pitches (two-seam fastball and slider), which in turn have amplified their effectiveness. Not every failed starter can be re-purposed into Andrew Miller 2.0; most of them just fail. However, here are three candidates that I’ve identified as potential test cases.
Turner is cut from the same basic cloth as Andrew Miller. Both were drafted by the Tigers (Turner was drafted 9th overall in 2009 out of high school) and were both rushed to the Majors at the expense of their development, a hallmark of the Tigers in this timeframe. He also followed Miller to the Marlins in a trade, this time for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, but the comparisons go beyond that. Turner has bounced to both Chicago clubs in recent years and his results have continued to worsen.
This year with the White Sox, Turner put up a 6.57 ERA/6.51 FIP, with a comically low 54.6% strand rate (average is around 72%) and a .346 BABIP. However, for the first time in his career, Turner was eventually shifted to the bullpen. In his short sample of 17.2 innings, his ERA dropped to 3.12 with his fastball rising from 92.5 mph to 94.8 mph.
Earlier this month, the White Sox outrighted Jacob Turner off the 40-man roster and he is now a free agent. As a former 1st round draft pick that has washed out with four organizations, including the last two having highly respected pitching coaches at the Major League level, Turner is at the nadir of his career. He would require no more than a minor league contract at this point. There would be absolutely no downside to the Pirates signing him and attempting to build off of his two-seam fastball. Turner will only be age-26 in the 2017 season.
Cosart is a slightly different flavor of tea than Jacob Turner, as he has had moderate success as a starter as recently as 2014. But his numbers, like a pedestrian career K rate of 5.71 per 9, have never matched the promise of his raw stuff. The past two seasons for the well-traveled Cosart, included in deals as the alluring upside prospect/player, have not been kind, culminating with this season’s 6.00 ERA/4.88 FIP effort.
Cosart battled injuries this year and recently had some cleanup work done on his elbow to remove ‘loose bodies’. Yeesh. But as a starter throwing 94 with a cut fastball, imagine what that would play up as in a relief role. If he could pair that with a workable changeup or his decent-ish curve, now you’re on to something resembling an amped-up Mark Melancon.
Jarred Cosart will be age-27 in 2017 and may be tougher to extract. Not only does Cosart still have three years of control left, at presumably inexpensive arbitration rates based on his mediocre performance to-date, but he was just traded this past July to the Padres from the Marlins (another nexus point in this article involving them, is it the last? Foreshadowing!) as part of the Andrew Cashner deal. The Padres are an absolute trainwreck right now. That would be like a whole other 1200 words, but trust me, they’re going to be awful in 2017. Would they want to part with a cheap controllable player they just got, especially when the Pirates are trying to get Cosart cheap? There’s no way they would take Jeff Locke in a yard sale type of transaction…maybe a Steven Brault type of pitcher?
Perhaps I’m saving the most unattainable of the three for last, but I’m quite intrigued by Jose Urena. The 25-year old from the Marlins (boom, nailed it!) has five years of team control left, so the Pirates would actually have to give up some assets here, presumably. Urena as a starter has not developed yet, with a 6.13 ERA/4.72 FIP to show for his 2016 season. But when you throw a 95 mph fastball, coupled with an 85 mph slider and 89 mph changeup, you’re going to get some more chances as a starter.
Complicating matters is that the Marlins aren’t really in a position to be giving up starting pitchers, in the wake of the death of Jose Fernandez and their need even prior to that for more starters in the rotation. It would seem very counter-intuitive on the surface to give up some prospects or assets for Urena, only to convert him into a reliever, but if that’s where his value lies, so be it. Imagine what his fastball could jump to as a reliever — 97? 98?
The game is shifting to one where bullpens are becoming key components of roster construction. Not only can hitter tendencies be exploited more often, but relievers are typically much cheaper than starters, so it’s a way for ‘economically-minded’ teams like the Pirates to maximize their resources. There’s no guarantee that any of these three would become the next Andrew Miller, but none of them are currently blowing the doors off as starters, so why not give it a shot?