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Andrew Miller seeks return to dominance in '20

@anne__rogers
November 5, 2019

When the Cardinals signed Andrew Miller to a two-year deal last offseason, they hoped they were signing a veteran left-hander whose high-leverage experience would give the back of the bullpen a boost. There were times when Miller was that guy for the Cardinals, and there were times when he wasn’t.

When the Cardinals signed Andrew Miller to a two-year deal last offseason, they hoped they were signing a veteran left-hander whose high-leverage experience would give the back of the bullpen a boost.

There were times when Miller was that guy for the Cardinals, and there were times when he wasn’t. While his 4.45 ERA signifies the ups and downs he endured this year, his 0.00 ERA in the postseason spoke more to what the Cardinals wanted when they committed $25 million, with a $12 million vesting option for a third year, to the 34-year-old.

“You come into a new place and you want to succeed right away, and you put pressure on yourself, and I’ve been in that situation before,” Miller said. “There’s times I’ve aced it, and there’s times it’s been a grind. I know that I’ve got some more time here, so it’s a really special place to play with a special team. My plan is to go, work hard, come back and be better next year.”

Before next year happens, let’s look at how Miller fared in 2019:

What went right?

There were three National League Central left-handed hitters that the Cardinals were thinking about when they signed Miller: Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Reds first baseman Joey Votto and Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich.

“When we signed him, we wanted someone that could handle high-leverage situations,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “When we were talking about our negotiation with him, it was really about getting Rizzo, Votto, Yelich out. And that was the very simplistic strategy of why we signed him.”

Here’s how Miller fared against those three:

Christian Yelich: 2-for-4, one home run, three walks
Joey Votto: 0-for-6, five strikeouts
Anthony Rizzo: 0-for-3, a walk, one strikeout

Miller also handled Brewers third baseman Mike Moustakas (0-for-4) and Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber (1-for-4) well.

The Cardinals southpaw came up big in the postseason against Braves left-handed batters -- Freddie Freeman was 0-for-2 -- in the NLDS and the eventual World Series champion Nationals in the NLCS. In five innings of the postseason, Miller allowed just one hit, which came in the seventh inning of Game 4 of the NLCS from Juan Soto -- who was otherwise shut down during the series, hitting .188 (3-for-16), thanks in part to Miller’s work.

There were some injury concerns when Miller signed, as he was coming off of an injury-plagued 2018 where he was limited to just 37 appearances due to hamstring, knee and shoulder injuries. But the Cardinals weren’t concerned about the lingering effects, and Miller proved them right by staying on the field the whole year.

What went wrong?

Miller describes his year as a rollercoaster, and it seemed like for every good moment, there was also a bad one. He allowed a career-high 11 home runs, and six of those were off of his fastball, which he threw less of in '19 (38 percent of the time) with a slight dip in velocity (92 mph) as well.

He struggled with consistency, putting up zeroes one day and getting in jams the next. While the Cardinals signed him to come through in big spots, Miller sometimes struggled with that as his 9.45 ERA with runners in scoring position showed.

Miller had a 3.91 ERA against lefties compared to a 4.91 ERA against righties. Miller would often be used to face one or two left-handed batters in an inning to avoid the righty matchup, but that will need to change next year when the three-batter minimum rule goes into effect.

Best moment

Outside of the postseason, Miller’s best moment came on Sept. 22, when he closed the fourth game in the Cardinals’ four-game sweep against the Cubs at Wrigley Field to clinch a spot in the postseason.

Closer Carlos Martínez was unavailable that day no matter what, so the Cardinals turned to Miller to protect a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth -- one of those high-leverage spots in a high-leverage game.

He got Ben Zobrist to pop out to first base and struck out Willson Contreras swinging on four pitches. Jason Heyward singled, but Nico Hoerner flied out to center field on Miller’s sixth pitch of the at-bat to clinch the Cardinals’ sweep and postseason berth.

“Winning divisions, being in the postseason, winning World Series, that’s what being a Cardinal is all about,” Miller said at the time. “Hopefully there are much bigger things ahead of this game. I feel like I’m peaking at the right time, moving forward and continuing to get better.”

2020 Outlook

Miller had his best years with the Yankees and the Indians from 2015-2017, and both he and the Cardinals think he can get back to that. He has at least one year left on his contract, with a vesting option for a third if he pitches 110 combined games between 2019 -20 (he appeared in 73 regular-season games this year).

Depending on how the bullpen shakes out next year, there could be a scenario where Miller finds himself closing more games with Jordan Hicks not expected to be back from elbow surgery until the All-Star break and Martínez trying to return to the rotation. In the ninth inning this year, Miller had a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings pitched and has plenty of closing experience.

“First of all, the group’s been great -- from staff to player, front office, all the way down -- it’s been a real treat to play here and get to know these guys,” Miller said. “I love them. It was a heck of a season. It didn’t end the way we wanted… This is something we can build off, that we can get better and learn from this and reach that goal. It’s not unrealistic. Everybody’s going to go bust their tails this offseason to make it happen.”

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.