We Need to Talk About Andrew Miller’s Slider

Ever since becoming a member of the Cleveland Indians, reliever Andrew Miller (formerly of the New York Yankees) has become an indispensable part of their title hopes. Leading their series 3-1, a pretty significant part of their potential closeout relies on him. By the transitive property, that means it rests heavily on one pitch. You might know the one: his slider.

Miller’s slider is a work of art and a weapon of devastation. Beautiful and dangerous. It’s not a wrecking ball like an Aroldis Chapman fastball; it’s a scalpel. It’s been called unhittable, and so far, that looks about right, especially in the playoffs. So, courtesy of PitchFX and StatCast, let’s illustrate just how great the postseason’s best reliever’s best pitch is.

Let’s start by watching it below, courtesy of Nick Pollack of PitcherList.com (best pitching GIFs on the web):

That’s absurd. That poor batter never had a chance, and no one really does. You might ask, since that’s a highlight, what if that’s a special instance? It’s not. Here’s a graph of every slider Miller threw in the regular season (right):

millermap
Per PitchFX, MLB

Notice anything? That spray is nearly horizontal.

Let’s talk about some more numbers from the regular season. In terms of hits, we don’t have a lot to talk about. Miller leans on the slider, and threw it 58.6% of the time in 2016. That’s 541 pitches in total. Of those, only 4.1% turned into hits. Of those hits, almost none were solid. Someone give Lorenzo Cain a medal, because he produced not only the only batted ball off Miller’s slider with an exit velocity about 105mph, but the solitary home run.

Now let’s talk about the fun stuff: strikes. During the regular season, this pitch overwhelmingly produced strikes in multiple forms. Of those 541 sliders, 25.7% produced a whiff swing, 18.7% produced a called strike, and 15.2% were fouled off. That means that Miller’s slider produced some form of strike during the season just a hair below 60% of the time.

What about playoffs, you might ask? It’s only gotten better from there. Or worse, depending on your perspective.

Miller has thrown 74 sliders so far in the postseason, good for 61.7% of his total postseason throws. Batters have produced a depressing two hits on those pitches: a single by Dioner Navarro, and a double by Mookie Betts. And the strikes? They’ve not gone up, but they’re better strikes. Miller produces whiffs at a rate of 24.3% in the postseason, and a foul 8.1% of the time. That extra percentage of fouls from the regular season? They all got poured into called strikes. Miller’s slider has gotten the call 27.0% of the time in the playoffs, good for a total strike production rate almost exactly the same as during the season, only more of them can actually end at-bats. Obviously, you could chalk some of that up to umpires, but definitely not all of it.

Miller’s best pitch is nearly impossible to produce on as a hitter. He’s throwing it more in the postseason, and he’s throwing it better to boot. Basically? Get your runs early on, because when Miller gets to the mound, forget about getting in the batter’s box. You might as well grab a body bag.

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