Brewers' Milner has a profile as low as his ERA

February 16th, 2024

PHOENIX -- ’s national profile is about as low as the tidy 1.82 ERA he posted in 2023. That is OK with him.

He actually prefers it that way, although stacking another year like the last one could put that in jeopardy.

Milner, a side-arming left-hander, was a key bullpen piece in front of Brewers closer a year ago, when he followed a breakout 2022 season with an even more eye-popping 2023.

Milner set a career high with 73 appearances and also posted a career-low 0.96 WHIP last season, seemingly landing on the precise arm slot, the precise approach and the precise command of a four-pitch mix that he once doubted was enough at this level.

“I’m not stressing that my stuff doesn’t play like I used to,” said Milner, 33, who is entering his eighth Major League season and his fourth with the Brewers. “I know it does, so there is added confidence in that. Knowing that my process works, my preparation works, I’m going to do the same thing. I’m comfortable with what I did the last two years, and I’m going to do my best to repeat that.”

And as far as excelling in anonymity …

“Being under the radar is always good for my position,” Milner said. “Mentally, that’s how I see it. No one knows who I am. Hitters also underestimate you as well. I’ll go into a series against someone we don’t normally play, and if they have no idea who I am, they might lower expectations.”

Brewers manager Pat Murphy noted that Milner is not a situational reliever, describing him as “an out-getter.” At the same time, Milner has done his best work against left-handed hitters the last two seasons.

Lefties had a .155 batting average against Milner last season, and their power numbers were even more meager -- a .227 slugging percentage and a .450 OPS. Baseball people call it soft contact.

While Milner’s fastball averaged 88.5 mph last season, it came back into the field of play slower. Opponents’ exit velocity on his pitches was only 86.6 mph, according to Statcast. Only All-Stars Williams and Corbin Burnes had lower exit velocities among Brewers pitchers in 2023.

Milner credited the Brewers’ analytics department for helping identify the right time and place to use his four pitches — two- and four-seam fastballs, a slider and a changeup. His fastball usage dropped and his changeup usage increased beginning in 2022, when he had a 3.76 ERA in 67 appearances.

“Changing speeds and executing pitches is really all it is,” he said.

“We have people that do all the research on what pitches to throw and when. They ingrain that into the catchers, so that’s less work I have to do. All I have to do is worry about executing what they are calling. Occasionally, we’ll throw a different pitch from that. But for the most part I have a lot of trust in what they are calling. That’s half the battle, what pitch to throw. The other half is how well can you throw it.”

Milner began throwing sidearm while with Philadelphia in 2015, and has refined his mechanics since. He has found it easier to repeat his delivery throwing sidearm rather than over the top, his former style.

“We also have found a formula that works for me,” he said. “Sometimes I need to throw four-seams up. Sometimes there are guys I need to throw two-seams only. Two-seams this side of the plate instead of four-seams this side of the plate. Just tweaking all that over the years.

“Analytics and track record. I’ve been around that long enough. That doesn’t work. That doesn’t work. That doesn’t work.”

Murphy called Milner an example of a player the Brewers have identified, acquired and developed into a top contributor, similar to Josh Hader, Burnes, Williams, Brandon Woodruff and Junior Guerra.

“The front office has done an amazing job of acquiring guys with the potential to move in the right direction,” Murphy said. “Hoby is a perfect example. He emerged the last couple of years as really consistent and really effective.

“Once you get close to the big leagues, you are an inch from the top and you are an inch from the bottom. You are an inch from being really, really good. It’s the little things that take you and keep you there. Most of that is in our [head], and some of it is maybe physical adjustments.”

Milner seems to have found both.