Andrew Miller has been phenomenal for Boston this season. He has struck out over 40 percent of the batters he has faced, and has been death against both lefties (0.65 FIP, .194 wOBA allowed) and righties (2.41 FIP, .243 wOBA allowed). He has been one of the best relievers in baseball this year — his WAR is 11th-highest among qualified relievers, and his 43 FIP- is fifth-best — and he will surely help the Orioles bullpen down the stretch. But he is also a free agent at the end of the season, which could make the price paid for him — reportedly pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez — steep.
Let’s start with Baltimore. As a unit, their bullpen FIP- is 16th-best in baseball as we sit here right now. Over the past 30 days though, it has been considerably better — their 64 FIP- in this most recent period ranks second-best in baseball. Between Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day, the team has four relievers that they can trust in high-leverage situations. And Ryan Webb and Brad Brach have flashed potential at times as well, though neither gets the strikeouts requisite for being elite in a bullpen role.
In adding Miller to this group, but not adding a starting pitcher, it seems as though the Orioles didn’t like the options available to them in the starting pitching market, or the prices needed to acquire one of the options that they did desire. It would seem that their strategy then is to pray their starting pitching — which by FIP- has been the worst in the majors this season — can keep them in the game through five or six innings, and then turn the ball over to their bullpen. It’s not the prettiest of strategies, but it’s one that helped them get to the brink of the American League Championship Series in 2012.
This time though, they may have dealt away a bit more of their future than they would have preferred. Just last December, the Orioles were saying that they’d have to be blown away to deal Rodriguez, as the Venezuelan native reached Double-A last season at age 20. In 59.2 innings there, he struck out 23.4% of the batters he faced, and caught the attention of the prospect world. Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com all ranked him in the 60s in their top 100 prospect lists this year. At ESPN, Keith Law ranked him 43rd, and FanGraphs’ Marc Hulet ranked him 36th. Law had ranked him 100th the year before as well, so this didn’t just come out of nowhere.
Rodriguez missed some time this year thanks to a knee injury, and he has been inconsistent since returning, but the potential was there not even six months ago, and likely hasn’t vanished.
The Sox turning one-third of a season from a relief pitcher who wasn’t going to help much on a last place team into a top-60 prospect is a pretty nice return, but Miller has been mighty impressive this season, and if the Orioles do reach the postseason, he will be an important weapon for them in October.
Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.
THIS FUCKING TEAM