Has Erik Miller already become the key lefty in the Giants bullpen?

Erik Miller has only thrown 264 pitches in his major league career, but that’s a good enough sample to pass the eye test. The San Francisco Giants might have a guy. A 6-5 southpaw with just 159.1 pro innings entering his age-26 season averaging 96 mph with a four-seamer and a mind-blowing 2,694 rpm slider? It is value.

He also has a changeup that he has only thrown 94 times, but has already appeared at the top of the MLB Statcast rankings for efficiency, ranking 14th in MLB among starters and relievers, with +3 Run Value (learn more on Run Value here). His four-seamer has less run value, as does his slider, but consider this: He uses that power pitch to set up the other two and throws the slider more than the changeup, and in a small sample, he has a better chance to be less effective. . A slider at over 2,600 rpm though will be effective in the long term.

And about that four-seam stitching…

The four-seamer has become a less popular pitch in the Statcast era, primarily because hitters have traditionally done the most damage against this pitch, even as the four-seamer’s average velocity has increased. This makes sense because it is probably the straightest throw and the one thrown most often. The Giants have moved to the more surefire sinker-slider combo where speed + movement makes just about any pitcher extremely effective.

But when you can hit 100 mph, do you really need that a lot of movement? Right now, Miller’s four-seamer has about as much spin (2,247 rpm) as Kyle Harrison’s (2,231), but he throws his, on average, 3 mph faster.

That’s when deception and location come in. Miller’s minor league BB/9 of 5.8 shows he has a way to go in that regard. He’s walked 8 of 57 batters faced so far (14%), which is like DEFCON 2 in terms of current utility – unsustainable if he’s going to be a key arm in the bullpen, but not yet warranting a demotion – and with Taylor Rogers still sorting out how to right the ship (6.33 FIP before that important 4-game series against the Phillies), he is a very solid second option and depending on the day and matchups, the best option against left-handed hitters late in the game.

On the other hand, the split within this streak is really something and illustrates why it just doesn’t make sense to draw conclusions after a month of matches – especially when we talk about the bullpen. Miller walked 5 in his first 5 major league appearances, which led to 6 earned runs in 5 innings (10.80 ERA/6.74 FIP). Since then, he has pitched exactly 10 innings and walked only 3 while striking out 14 (1.80 ERA/1.24 FIP).

The big question for every professional player and rookie is durability. Can he set it up and can he maintain it? Working against him: the best hitters on the planet. If he only had to face the Giants’ lineup, he might be the next Billy Wagner. This weekend, at least, he will face the Philadelphia Phillies, who have a collective 115 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers through about 30 games during the 2024 season.

It’s still early, of course, but Erik Miller is impressive. It’s very easy to imagine him joining the lineage of Camilo Doval and Ryan Walker as hard-throwing relievers developed by the Giants.

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