Since the beginning of the 2019 season, which Phillies player do you think has the second-highest wRC+? Bryce Harper, obviously, has the highest (137 wRC+), but the guy in second place is a lot more surprising. It’s not J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Alec Bohm, Jean Segura, Didi Gregorius, or Andrew McCutchen.
It’s Brad Miller.
Okay, the title of the article and the picture of Brad Miller probably gave this one away, but still, it’s pretty shocking. Miller isn’t someone we typically think of as part of the offensive core. He’s making just $3.5 million this year, and he was signed to be a bench player. He didn’t get a start until the fifth game of the season, and he’s only been given half as many plate appearances as guys like Hoskins, Realmuto, Bohm, and McCutchen. And yet, when Miller is used properly, he’s one of the better offensive options that the Phillies have.
Just how good has Brad Miller been?
Over the past three seasons, Brad Miller has slashed .255/.345/.497 with a 123 wRC+ in 415 PA. (This includes his time with Cleveland, St. Louis, and Philadelphia.) A 123 wRC+ puts Miller in the top 20% of all hitters during that time span (min. 400 PA). For those unfamiliar with wRC+, it is a statistic that attempts to quantify a player’s total offensive value and compare it to league average. A 123 wRC+ means that Brad Miller has created runs for his team at a rate 23% better than a league-average player, and 5-6% better than Rhys Hoskins (118 wRC+) and J.T. Realmuto (117 wRC+). That’s really good.
The underlying numbers show that Miller’s success is deserved, too – he hasn’t just gotten lucky on balls in play. His BABIP from 2019-2021 is .310, and for a player like Miller, who hits the ball hard and runs well, that number is perfectly sustainable. His Statcast numbers are also promising. His xWOBA has been steadily above-average for each of the past three seasons (.339, .377, .330).
A few caveats
Now it’s time for me to backpedal a tiny bit. I’m not actually arguing that Miller is the second-best offensive player on the Phillies. His wRC+ does not tell the full story. For one thing, Miller has been completely neutralized by left-handed pitching over his career, so he isn’t really capable of being a full-time starter. As such, he’s only had 415 plate appearances over the past three seasons, which isn’t even equivalent to one full season as an everyday player. That means that his 123 wRC+ comes over a relatively small sample size compared to guys like Hoskins (1060 PA since 2019) and Realmuto (918 PA since 2019). From 2013-2018, Miller recorded 2505 PA (a much more reliable sample size), and he was merely an average hitter (100 wRC+).
There’s also the fact that Miller’s numbers from just the 2021 season don’t stand out nearly as much as his combined numbers from 2019-2021. His 119 wRC+ in 2021 is good for just fourth place on the team (min. 50 PA), behind Harper (169 wRC+), Realmuto (143 wRC+), and Nick Maton (122 wRC+). Rhys Hoskins (117 wRC+) and Jean Segura (116 wRC+) are only a couple of points behind Miller. Andrew McCutchen has been heating up as of late, and he has a 129 wRC+ over the past four weeks, which is only one point behind Miller’s 130 wRC+ in the same time span. While there’s something to be said for Miller’s consistently strong hitting over the past three seasons, his 2021 numbers aren’t as noteworthy on their own.
Nevertheless, Miller has been a key contributor to the Phillies offense. When he’s in the lineup, he’s been just as good as anyone not named Harper or Realmuto, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. That’s a highly valuable player for a Phillies team that has struggled to score runs so far this season.
The Phillies need more Miller, but how?
If the Phillies are going to win more ball games, Joe Girardi needs to use Brad Miller as more than just a pinch-hitter. Miller has proven himself to be one of the best eight bats on this team, and the Phillies are better when he’s in the starting lineup.
For the next little while, as the Phillies deal with numerous injuries, it shouldn’t be hard for Miller to get playing time. However, going forward, things get a little more complicated.
If Joe Girardi wants to maximize run-scoring, Brad Miller should be playing more often than Alec Bohm and Didi Gregorius. To say that Bohm and Gregorius have been slumping this season is putting it gently. The truth is, they’ve been dragging the Phillies way, way down. Over the past four weeks, the Phillies eight best hitters – Harper, Realmuto, Hoskins, McCutchen, Segura, Miller, Maton, and Odubel Herrera – have combined for an .852 OPS. Bohm and Gregorius have combined for a .570 OPS.
Despite their struggles, it’s hard to imagine that either Bohm or Gregorius is going to be benched any time soon. Bohm still has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order bat, and he needs playing time to figure things out. Didi Gregorius is a major league veteran with a long track record of success and a $26 million contract. Those kinds of players usually don’t get benched in mid-May, even if they’re underperforming and the team is in a tight division race.
It’s going to be complicated to get Brad Miller regular playing time, but it also needs to happen. If he continues to hit the way he has, Miller should be starting almost every game the Phillies play against a right-handed pitcher. He’ll have to switch around between first, second, third, and left-field, but if he does so, it should be possible.