The St. Louis Cardinals have announced that they have signed LHP Andrew Miller to a two year contract with a third-year vesting option. The contract is 2 years, $25 million with a $12 million option that will vest with 110 appearances over those first two seasons. There is also a $500k incentive for a yet to be reported number of appearances in each season. To make room on the 40 man roster, they designed RHP Ryan Meisinger for assignment.
Miller, 33, was once one of the most elite setup men in baseball. Last season though, he struggled to his worst one since becoming a full time reliever for the 2012 season. When all was said and done on his injury plagued 2018 campaign, he had a 4.24 ERA and 1.38 WHIP over 34 innings for the Indians. He missed 16 days with a left hamstring strain, 70 days with right knee inflammation, and then another 15 with an external left shoulder impingement.
It’s not secret the problems that the Cardinals’ bullpen had last season, especially in lefty-vs-lefty matchups. In fact the Cardinals were the worst of all 30 Major League teams in such matchups and, despite his struggles in 2018, Miller would have been a far better option than any lefty who donned a Cardinals’ uniform last year except for Tyler Webb or Ryan Sherriff. Take a look:
Ryan Sherriff: .213 wOBA, 1 XBH in 10 batters
Tyler Webb: .224 wOBA, 2 XBH in 35 batters
Andrew Miller: .258 wOBA, 1 XBH in 49 batters
Brett Cecil: .370 wOBA, 5 XBH in 66 batters
Chasen Shreve: .384 wOBA, 3 XBH in 37 batters
Tyler Lyons: .391 wOBA, 4 XBH in 49 batters
Austin Gomber: .393 wOBA, 5 XBH in 38 batters
The league average wOBA (weighted On Base Average) for left handed pitchers facing left handed batters in relief? .292.
About those two other above average options, Ryan Sherriff had Tommy John surgery last season and was released in August to make room of the 40 man roster. He has signed with the Rays while he continues to rehab.
Tyler Webb is still on the team’s 40 man roster, but nothing about his history has demonstrated that those numbers are something that’s sustainable. In 2017, Webb’s wOBA in relief against lefties was .291, just a touch above the .289 league average that year. Still meaningfully better than the rest of the options, however, so he’s on the list.
As I suggested in the analysis about Shreve’s one year deal to avoid a likely non-tender, I find it hard to believe that almost every lefty the organization threw out there was ineffective. That’s why I suggest that a lack of shifting played a big role in the team’s struggles against left handed batters. With increased shifting in 2019 under Mike Shildt, the hope is that those numbers will improve simply by playing percentages.
Back to Miller, even in a bad year he was an important contributor to the Indians bullpen. In his 34 innings, Miller posted a 0.4 WAR. The Cardinals’ bullpen as a unit in 565.2 innings, combined for a 0.5 WAR. Only John Brebbia (0.7 WAR) and Jordan Hicks (0.5 WAR) were more valuable than Miller in last year’s Cardinals’ bullpen.
Is it a big investment for a relief pitcher coming off a down year? Absolutely. But in many ways I’m more confident in this one than I was in their signing of Luke Gregerson last winter.
First, there’s an injury explanation at play. The Cardinals did their homework on Miller’s knee, checking into it deeper, maybe thanks to their recent issues with Marcell Ozuna’s shoulder. An organization that is fundamentally risk averse, took the risk.
Second, it wasn’t that long ago that he was an elite and dominant relief pitcher. From 2014 to 2017, Miller posted a 1.72 ERA over 261 innings.
Adding Miller required a move to make room on the 40 man roster, and the Cardinals took the easy route by designating Ryan Meisinger for assignment. They picked him up just ten days ago from the Orioles off of waivers. But it puts pressure on the club’s other left handed relievers.
Teams don’t usually carry more than two left handed relievers in their bullpen. Previously Brett Cecil and Chasen Shreve were penciled into those two spots. And now you have Miller looking for a spot too.
It is possible that Miller will end up playing a larger role than just a left handed middle reliever, but with Miller penciled in to get the high leverage lefty assignments, that could very well leave just one spot available for another left handed reliever.
Jon Doble has been writing about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2010. You can also find him on Twitter at @GroundRuleDoble. Thank you for reading.