Over the last calendar year, Andrew Miller has a 1.81 ERA and a 2.22 FIP. Those dominant numbers, combined with the compelling nature of Miller’s complete transformation, have rightfully earned him the reputation as perhaps baseball’s best active relief pitcher.
Over the last calendar year, Addison Reed has a 1.87 ERA and a 2.14 FIP. You might not have heard about it, but dating back 365 days, Reed’s been every bit as dominant as the guy who’s rightfully earned the reputation as perhaps baseball’s best active relief pitcher. And you might not have realized it, but Reed’s undergone a similarly compelling transformation that’s left him looking more and more like Miller than one might expect.
No, Reed didn’t begin throwing with his left hand. We’ll have to look past that difference for now. And he didn’t transition from being a starter to a reliever — Reed’s always worked out of the bullpen. But when Miller made that transition from starter to reliever in 2012 after struggling to deliver on his top prospect status for so long, it wasn’t simply the stuff playing up due to the change in role that catapulted him into baseball’s elite. There was a significant overhaul in his mechanics.
Here’s Miller about to give up a dong to Edwin Encarnacion in 2011:
Miller’s tall and lanky, at 6-foot-7, and as a starter, he used to have an overly complicated delivery that would get him in trouble. He had a high leg kick, and he swung his arm back behind his body, and then threw across his body by whipping it around in a three-quarters motion. When Miller fixed himself in Boston in 2012, it was in large part because he simplified his mechanics. He came set from the stretch. He ditched the leg kick. He went straight to home, with the ball coming more over the top, rather than across his body. He streamlined his mechanics, making him more direct to the plate, and he was suddenly able to command his pitches for the first time in his career.
Enough about Miller. This post is about Addison Reed. I want to show you a clip of Reed pitching for the Diamondbacks in his sub-replacement-level 2014:
And now a clip from 2016, the year in which his results have been identical to Andrew Miller’s:
The mechanical changes are as identical as the results. Reed’s tall and lanky, at 6-foot-4, and he used to have an overly complicated delivery. He ditched the leg kick. He stopped throwing across his body. He streamlined his mechanics, taking him directly to the plate, and suddenly, he’s throwing strikes like few other pitchers in the game.
Reed’s striking out batters at a career-high 30% rate this season, but perhaps the defining characteristic of his new and improved game is his strike-throwing ability. Among 307 pitchers with at least 50 innings thrown this season, Reed’s 72% first-pitch-strike rate ranks first. His 57% rate of in-zone pitches ranks fourth. His 4.3% walk rate ranks 15th. Miller’s fifth, at 3.5%.
Reed’s thrown strikes early and often, and because of that, he’s had the upper-hand in the count more often than any other pitcher in the game.
|Name||Total Pitches||Pitches Ahead||Ahead%|
You see Miller’s name there in third. You also see the guy between them. Reed doesn’t have Miller’s plus-plus stuff — the fastball sits just 92 and the slider’s more of a ground-ball pitch than it is a swing-and-miss pitch — but you know what’s a great way to get seemingly average stuff to play up? Constantly have hitters on the defensive by getting and staying ahead in the count.
And, about that arsenal. Exclusively fastball/slider. Sound like someone you know? Think of a typical Andrew Miller slider. You thought of a slider buried in the dirt at which the hitter doesn’t want to swing, but does. You thought of that Dozier pitch from above.
Now, consider this heat map of Reed’s slider locations from 2014, and then from 2016:
Reed’s slider is less often catching hittable parts of the zone, and it’s more often buried down and away from same-handed hitters, and underneath the hands of opposite-handed batters. Among 197 pitchers with at least 200 sliders thrown this season, only three have more consistently buried their slider than Reed:
Reed made the Andrew Miller mechanical adjustment, and then he started pitching sort of like Andrew Miller. And so, appropriately, the Mets began leveraging him like Andrew Miller. Reed’s been deployed like a true relief ace. Only three relievers have made more appearances than Reed’s 73, and he’s thrown a team-high 71.2 relief innings.
More importantly, though, he’s been used in the fantastically valuable role of “multi-inning, high-leverage reliever,” similar to how… Miller’s been used since coming to Cleveland. Reed’s made 12 multi-inning relief appearances, with an average leverage index of 1.404. The only relievers with more multi-inning relief appearances and a higher average leverage index are Dellin Betances, Nate Jones, and Erasmo Ramirez. Reed’s being asked to pitch in highly important spots, and he’s getting as many outs as the Mets need. His role may not be quite as fluid as Miller’s is in Cleveland, but he’s been the bridge to closer Jeurys Familia that the Mets so sorely lacked in the 2015 postseason.
A pair of long-limbed pitchers. A pair of former top prospects. A pair of messy mechanics, now streamlined and efficient. A pair of fastballs for strikes and sliders below the zone. A pair of baseball’s lowest walk rates, and most time spent ahead in the count. A pair of the game’s most dominant relievers, being used as such. Addison Reed isn’t quite at Andrew Miller’s level — it’s possible nobody is. But it’s remarkable how close he’s gotten.
August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.