Of the many driving forces behind the Dodgers’ success over the last decade-plus, their player development program might be the single most impressive strength.
Players such as Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, Will Smith, Walker Buehler and Julio Urías were all drafted or signed by the Dodgers, who subsequently helped develop them into the star MLB players they’d become. Their process of developing players from within has allowed the Dodgers to not miss a beat on an annual basis. That includes this season for a Dodgers team on pace for 100 wins.
Los Angeles’ next development success story might have arrived. Bobby Miller, the Dodgers' No. 2 overall prospect and No. 24 MLB prospect entering the season, made his MLB debut on May 24 in Atlanta. From the get-go, Miller stepped in as a valuable member of the rotation and has a 3.70 ERA and 1.8 WAR in 75 1/3 innings. After a rough four-game stretch that started in June, Miller has dominated with a 2.59 ERA and 3.17 FIP in his last six starts.
What's perhaps most notable about Miller is his otherworldly stuff that has been abundantly clear and is backed by numbers that are comparable to the elite of elite starting pitchers. Here’s more on Miller’s stuff that has put him in prestige company in terms of pure stuff from a starting pitcher and why the sky might be the limit for the 24-year-old.
Stuff comparable to Cole, deGrom
From a swing-and-miss perspective, Miller's numbers have not popped out. His 22.4% strikeout rate ranks in the 41st percentile while his 24.2% whiff rate is in the 35th percentile. While those figures might appear underwhelming, it doesn't fully capture that Miller has some of the best stuff in the Majors.
On Baseball Savant, each pitcher profile features a neat list of comparable pitchers based on stuff and movement. It’s a good way of contextualizing a pitcher’s pure stuff and gaining an understanding of how their overall arsenals stand in comparison to other MLB pitchers.
In the case of Miller, the comparable names jump out in all the best ways.
Just being on a list with these names is impressive in itself. You have a few of the best pitchers of the last decade (Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom), the reigning NL Cy Young award winner (Sandy Alcantara) and one of the game’s brightest young starters (Hunter Greene). Even Luis Severino, who's had a tough 2023 season, possesses great stuff and had produced huge strikeout figures in the past.
“Yeah, it feels great," Miller said when asked about being compared to these names. "Those are some of the best arms in the game."
The electric fastball(s)
When watching Miller for the first time, the immediate and obvious strength you notice is the high-octane fastball.
Miller's four-seam fastball averages 99.2 mph, the fastest by any starter in the Majors.
Fastest avg. four-seamer velocity, SP, 2023
Min. 100 four-seamers
1. Bobby Miller (LAD): 99.2 mph
2. Jacob deGrom (TEX): 98.7 mph
3. Hunter Greene (CIN): 98.6 mph
4. Mason Miller (OAK): 98.3 mph
5. Sandy Alcantara (MIA): 97.9 mph
The elite velocity is just part of the fastball package. At 6-foot-5, Miller has a size advantage that leads to strong extension -- how close a pitcher's release point is to home plate. Add in an above-average spin on his four-seamer (65th percentile) and you have a fastball that quickly gets on hitters.
As if one fastball with elite velocity wasn't enough, Miller also throws a 98.8 mph sinker that he throws nearly as often (23.7%) as the four-seamer (24.2%). Like his four-seam fastball, Miller leads all starters in sinker velocity, holding a whopping 1.2 mph edge over the second-place Alcantara.
When looking at fastball profiles, the Alcantara comparison is an appropriate one. Alcantara, Miller and Dodgers teammate Dustin May are the only starters in 2023 who have averaged 97-plus mph on both their four-seamer and sinker.
Part of Miller's effectiveness with the multi-fastball approach is due to his ability to locate them well in different quadrants of the zone. Miller predominantly goes up with the four-seamer and arm-side with his sinker. With an additional five inches of horizontal movement on the sinker, there's just enough of a difference in movement between the two pitches.
“The two-seamer (sinker) has been a big help for me this year," Miller said. "I feel like I can throw the two-seamer around the whole plate.”
The deGrom-esque fastball/slider combo
With Miller throwing two different fastballs about half of the time, the rest of the usage goes to a trio of great secondary pitches in his slider, changeup and curveball.
From a results standpoint, those pitches have been spectacular. In 155 plate appearances ending on Miller's non-fastballs, opposing hitters have a .581 OPS and 32.3% strikeout rate. For reference, the average starting pitcher has allowed a .667 OPS with a 26.5% strikeout rate on non-fastballs.
It's the slider, however, that Miller relies on the most out of his secondary pitches and what makes the deGrom comparisons so compelling.
"deGrom has been one of the guys I look up to," Miller said. "His fastball and slider combo is kind of what I tried to make my fastball/slider combo. I'm going for the hard slider/hard fastball."
Also like deGrom, Miller has an uncanny ability to consistently locate the pitch low and glove-side. Paired with his fastball, Miller's precisely-located sliders create a tough task for any hitter.
His changeup and curveball could be his best pitches
Miller's least-utilized pitches -- his changeup (13.4% usage) and curveball (17% usage) -- are arguably his most effective.
The changeup is a nasty 88.9 mph offering that has a whopping 17.6 inches of horizontal break. Among the 124 starters who've thrown at least 100 changeups in 2023, Miller's changeup has the third-lowest expected wOBA (.180) -- based on the quality of contact allowed (exit velocity and launch angle), strikeouts and walks. His 38.8% whiff rate is well above the league-average mark of 30.9%.
His low-80s curveball might just be the most visually appealing pitch he throws. The pitch's combination of above-average velocity, vertical and horizontal break make it one of the most effective curveballs by any starting pitcher.
Among the 112 starters who've thrown at least 100 curveballs in 2023, Miller has the 15th-lowest xwOBA (.218). His 36.3% whiff rate on his curveball is well above the league-average mark of 31.2%.
For a rookie with this kind of stuff, Miller commands his arsenal really well. Miller's 7.7% walk rate is much better than the league-average 8.5% rate but it's been even better of late. Across his last six starts, Miller has walked just 5.5% of opposing hitters.
Put it all together and Miller has the package of one of the most exciting young starters in the Majors. Once again, the Dodgers appeared to have struck gold with a frontline-level pitcher who is just starting to tap into his potential.