The flamethrower who's becoming MLB's most electric closer

April 27th, 2024

, pitching in one of the most tense roles in baseball, feels free -- and the radar gun is showing it.

The A's sophomore right-hander, moved to the bullpen in an effort to preserve his health, is suddenly the most electric closer in baseball, blowing MLB's best hitters away with triple-digit heat.

Miller is having a moment. After his save at Yankee Stadium on Monday -- when he mowed down Anthony Volpe, Juan Soto and Aaron Judge to end the game on fastballs that registered at 102.5 mph, 103.3 mph and 102.5 mph -- the 25-year-old is officially on the map. Miller is 7-for-7 in saves and has a 1.46 ERA in 2024. He has 25 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. His fastball is averaging almost 101 mph.

"I'm getting to the point this year where I can just throw strikes," Miller told "It's like, 'Put your stuff in the zone.' If they hit it, good for them. But we're seeing a lot of guys that are putting their best swing on it and haven't been able to get to it."

Highest avg. fastball velocity in MLB, 2024
Combined 4-seamer/sinker

  1. Mason Miller: 100.7 mph
  2. Justin Martinez: 99.6 mph
  3. Ryan Helsley: 99.0 mph
  4. Michael Kopech: 98.7 mph
  5. Lucas Erceg / Abner Uribe: 98.6 mph

As exciting as Miller's stuff looked when he debuted in 2023 as a starting pitcher, this is another level. Now healthy after missing four months last season with a sprained UCL in his right elbow, and in a ninth-inning, high-adrenaline role, Miller can let it rip.

Miller has added nearly 2.5 mph on his four-seamer, which averaged "only" 98.3 mph in 2023. He's one of only four pitchers to add over 2 mph of velo from 2023 to 2024 (Kopech, Kyle Freeland and Hunter Gaddis are the others) … but he's the only one whose boost has taken him over the 100 mph mark.

The transformation from touching 100 to sitting over 100 makes a real difference. Miller's fastball has become the most powerful pitch in the Major Leagues. He can simply bombard hitters with it.

"Going deep into a game as a starter, you want to go in-out, up-down more. Now I kind of just set up away, and my miss is up, which is where my fastball is best," Miller said. "I'm just throwing it, letting it play. If I'm executing, it's gonna be hard to hit."

Fastest strikeout pitches in MLB in 2024

  • Mason Miller: 103.3 mph, 4/22 vs. NYY
  • Mason Miller: 102.9 mph, 4/14 vs. WSH
  • Mason Miller: 102.9 mph, 4/11 vs. TEX
  • Mason Miller: 102.5 mph, 4/22 vs. NYY
  • Mason Miller: 102.5 mph, 4/22 vs. NYY
  • Mason Miller: 102.1 mph, 4/17 vs. STL
  • Aroldis Chapman: 102.0 mph, 4/21 vs. BOS
  • Michael Kopech: 102.0 mph, 4/9 vs. CLE
  • Mason Miller: 101.9 mph, 4/25 vs. NYY
  • Mason Miller: 101.8 mph, 4/2 vs. BOS
  • Mason Miller: 101.8 mph, 4/26 vs. BAL
  • Aroldis Chapman: 101.8 mph, 4/22 vs. MIL

Miller has the six fastest strikeout pitches of the MLB season -- including all three of his K's against the Yankees -- and nine of the top 12. He has the three fastest pitches of the MLB season overall (with a high of 103.7 mph on April 11 against the Rangers), and 15 of the top 20.

He's reached triple digits 86 times already this season, nearly double the next-closest pitcher, Michael Kopech (45). Up the ante a little higher, and it's Miller all alone, then the rest of the league.

Pitches thrown at extreme velocity in 2024

  • 101+ mph: Miller -- 53 | Rest of MLB -- 41
  • 102+ mph: Miller -- 19 | Rest of MLB -- 8
  • 103+ mph: Miller -- 3 | Rest of MLB -- 1 (Chapman)

Miller doesn't necessarily want to chase those 101s, 102s, 103s on the scoreboard, but he'll sure take them.

"I try not to," Miller said. "The best velocity is just your best stuff in the best location. It's coming to the point where it's the best of both worlds, and that's awesome. Everybody likes to look up and see 100, for sure. But I try to focus more on where I'm throwing it, as opposed to how hard. Usually if I'm in a good zone, location-wise, the velo comes with it."

Miller's dominance in 2024 isn't just about his overpowering velocity, though. It's about how he deploys his most overpowering velocity, to put hitters away.

Miller is a different animal once he gets to two strikes. With less than two strikes, his four-seamer averages a mere 100.3 mph. But with two strikes? That number shoots up over a full tick to 101.5 mph. He is by far the hardest-throwing pitcher in putaway situations.

Fastest 2-strike fastball velocity, 2024
Combined 4-seamer/sinker

  1. Mason Miller: 101.5 mph
  2. Aroldis Chapman / Ryan Helsley: 99.9 mph
  3. Justin Martinez: 99.8 mph
  4. José Soriano: 99.2 mph
  5. Michael Kopech: 99.1 mph

"Here, it's like, save situation, one inning, three outs, so you just go after it," Miller said. "[With two strikes,] if I'm trying to get it past a guy -- especially if he's fouled one off or something -- it's like, 'I'm gonna need an extra tick.'"

Miller has thrown 40 fastballs in two-strike counts. Thirty-nine of those 40 fastballs have been 100 mph or harder. The only one that wasn't, 99.2 mph to José Ramírez, came in Miller's first outing of the year; he's thrown 37 straight two-strike fastballs in triple digits since.

Miller's 10 fastest pitches of the season have all come with two strikes; so have 15 of his 19 pitches at 102-plus mph. His goal is clear: Once Miller gets Strike 2, he wants Strike 3.

"When I get to two strikes, the goal is to put the guy away," Miller said. "If you're gonna get a weak out, you want it to be early. You're not looking for weak contact with two strikes. Those are putaway counts."

His sequence against Volpe, Soto and Judge is the best illustration of how Miller has unleashed his stuff in 2024. Three strikeouts, all on pitches well over 102 mph, against a top trio of hitters.

Only two pitchers in the entire pitch-tracking era, which goes back to 2008, have recorded three strikeouts on pitches thrown 102.5 mph or faster in the same game. One is Aroldis Chapman, who did it with the Cubs on Aug. 10, 2016, and with the Yankees in the 2017 American League Wild Card Game. The other is Mason Miller.

When he faced Soto, Miller was not going out and looking for the K. Soto is too complete of a hitter, too disciplined, too difficult to force to swing and miss, for Miller to set that as the goal for the at-bat. But when Soto swung through a 101.8 mph fastball upstairs for Strike 2, Miller decided to challenge him again. He dialed it up to 103.3, and even Soto couldn't catch up.

"That," Miller said, "was strength on strength."

The Judge at-bat to end the game was a little different. Miller ripped two heaters past Judge at 100.7 mph and 102.2 mph to get ahead 0-2. But instead of rearing back for more gas, he tried his slider, unsuccessfully, three straight times. There was a reason. Miller does study hitters' hot zones; he knows where they take their best swings, where they do their damage, and for Judge, that's up and out over the plate. Miller tries not to pitch to those zones if he doesn't have to.

But Miller also knows a 102 mph fastball can overcome even the best hitters' strengths. In the pitch-tracking era, the 2,269 fastballs thrown 102 mph or harder have yielded just 13 extra-base hits, five home runs … and 331 strikeouts.

"You have to feel pretty good about trusting that," Miller said.

So if the slider game plan doesn't work, no big deal. That's what happened with Judge, who laid off two sliders with Miller trying to get him to chase and fouled back a third that Miller hung over the heart of the plate. Even that didn't worry Miller too much. He knew he had the fastball in the end.

"Everybody has to respect the fastball," Miller said. "They have to look fastball and adjust slider. I mean, even, I left one middle-middle to Judge, but he's in a two-strike count and he's got to respect the fastball, so he just really couldn't do anything with it. He popped it up foul, to the right side, late -- and that was about as middle as it gets."

And even if you respect Mason Miller's fastball -- even if you're looking for it -- that doesn't mean you can hit it. Not one hitter has barreled a ball against him this season, and based on his quality of contact allowed, Miller has the best expected ERA in the Majors. For all those pitches that he's thrown 100-plus mph, Miller has allowed only one single ball to be hit 100 mph or harder against him.

Opposing hitters are swinging and missing 50% of the time against his fastball, the best whiff rate in the Majors for a four-seamer. And when Miller breaks 100 mph, that whiff rate goes up to just over 54%. Those whiffs come even when it's Soto or Judge or Corey Seager or Gunnar Henderson in the batter's box.

"That's what I do best, is throw the fastball," Miller said. "So I'll take my best against their best if I have to."