Patience or Panic: Bobby Miller, Bryce Miller, Taj Bradley

What should we do with these struggling players?

The rookies giveth. And the rookies taketh away.

A trio of first-year hurlers are under the microscope this week as the once-promising starts to their major league careers have hit a few snags. While each of the three boasts tantalizing talent, it can be difficult to keep the faith when things start to go wrong. More rookies struggle in their first year than turn into bonafide aces.

And with so little track record to investigate, it can be difficult to judge what should be the correct decision.

Should we have patience? Or is it time to move on?


Bobby Miller, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers


The wheels have come off the Bobby Miller hype train. After giving up just two total runs through his first four starts this season, Miller sported a sparkling 0.78 ERA and 0.83 WHIP.

How quickly things can change.

In his fifth start of the season, Miller gave up seven earned runs on seven hits and three walks in a loss to the San Francisco Giants. Then, against the Houston Astros, he allowed six earned runs on 10 hits and three walks. For those who are keeping score at home, that’s a 12.10 ERA that has ballooned Miller’s season total to 4.13 with a 1.29 WHIP.

In both starts, Miller displayed some shaky plate discipline. He found the strike zone just 45% of the time vs. the Astros and just 42% of the time against the Giants. Command hasn’t exactly been Miller’s forte (3.58 BB/9), but it was still disheartening to see just how often some of his pitches were missing their mark. He could not locate either his four-seamer or his sinker and both pitches struggled to get whiffs. His slider wasn’t much better, not registering a single whiff against the Giants and just two against the Astros.

However, Miller did continue to succeed at limiting hard contact. It has been a strength of Miller’s all season and did not desert him even through the past two starts with an average exit velocity around 84 mph between the two games. That didn’t stop either team from getting hits of course and he has some bad luck to thank for that. His BABIP over the two games was .455, which ranked third worst in the league for all qualified starters over that week.

Verdict: Patience. Miller’s skills are legitimate. He has an excellent fastball and has shown a consistent ability to generate weak contact. His 5.24 overall PLV is in the 83rd percentile of the league. Missing bats has never been his strength, so games like this are bound to happen every now and then when the rough side of fortune rears its ugly head. The concern would be how he responds to adversity. One bad game is an aberration, two gets your attention, and three starts to become a bad pattern. Hopefully his confidence stays intact and he makes the necessary adjustments.


Bryce Miller, SP, Seattle Mariners


In a lot of ways, Bryce Miller is like the Bizzaro version of Bobby Miller, and not just because their names. While both rookies come equipped with devastating fastballs, Bryce Miller uses his quite a bit differently, attacking hitters for strikes. He has found success with that approach thanks to incredible control in the strike zone. Miller’s 1.78 BB/9 is among the best in the league for qualified starters.

Miller throws his four-seam fastball nearly 70% of the time with his slider making up another 10% of his pitches. For what it’s worth, PLV absolutely loves his stuff. Miller’s 5.41 PLV is in the 98th percentile in the league.

It’s no wonder that Miller was able to get off to such a strong debut. He held teams scoreless in three of his first five starts, all of which were quality starts. That led to a 1.15 ERA and miniscule 0.51 WHIP. Then he gave up 15 earned runs over his next two games and the numbers suddenly looked much different.

Miller seemingly got back on track with two more quality starts before stumbling again over the weekend.

Alex Fast points out this issue, showing that Miller is losing velocity on his fastball as his pitch count rises. As primarily a fastball pitcher, that’s a big problem. His slider is generating just 24.0% CSW. His changeup and breaking balls are even worse, but the sample sizes aren’t great for how little he uses them. If the fastball isn’t working, Miller has very little to fall back on right now.

Verdict: Patience. But don’t be afraid to panic soon. This is a stash and observe situation. It’s nice to see that Miller’s struggles are not a direct result of some mechanical flaw, but more a problem of endurance. It feels like a very fixable issue that can be worked out with more experience going deep into games. Of course, it doesn’t always work that way. Keep watch.


Taj Bradley, SP, Tampa Bay Rays


Taj Bradley is right up there with Bryce Miller in terms of his fastball approach. Bradley has a consistent high-90s four-seamer that he uses to attack the strike zone with excellent control.

Bradley does not rely on the pitch quite as often as Miller however. He mixes in a cutter that he uses about 28% of the time and also a curve and a change that see usage. Bradley is able to use all four as a putaway pitch depending on the situation. The changeup is his best weapon with a 32.4% CSW.

Of course, the changeup does nothing without the other set-up pitches.

And inconsistency in those pitches are becoming a problem.

In 11 starts this season, Bradley has a 4.58 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. He’s alternated strong starts with weak ones, but the good has been really good. He struck out the first six batters against Oakland earlier this month and finished with 11 Ks in just 4 1/3 innings. He followed that with a six-inning gem vs. the Orioles. Everything was looking up.

Then Arizona struck for six earned runs on seven hits, including four home runs. He struck out just two and walked one. He did not get a single whiff with his four-seamer and just one with the cutter. It wasn’t an issue of velocity either as both pitches were above his season average.

Verdict: Patience. I’m willing to just forget his last start all together. One whiff on 62 combined fastballs? Unless Bradley completely broke, that sounds like a fluke. He finally looked on track before that game and flashed the arm talent that made him such an interesting prospect. Like the rookies here before him, PLV loves Bradley’s arsenal with a 5.31 mark to put him in the 95th percentile. Keep the faith.


Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Ryan Loren

Ryan Loren is a baseball writer for Pitcher List and a Detroit sports fan struggling to remember what it's like to root for winning teams.

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