So You Want to Beat Andrew Miller: A Walkthrough

Congratulations, [National League champion], on winning the National League pennant and advancing to the World Series! By this point, no matter what happens, you’ve had a hell of a year. You fought through [early-to-midseason adversity], [previously unheralded player] stepped up and made a name for himself, [star player] cemented his status as one of the true greats in the world, and [famous front-office executive or manager] really has a group to be proud of here. This has truly been a run to remember.

And now you’ve got one more task before you can put a bow on this season once and for all: the Cleveland Indians. The Indians didn’t have as rocky a road as you did to get here; they swept the Red Sox in the ALDS, nearly swept the Blue Jays in the ALCS, and have won 10 of their last 11 games dating back to September 30. And, while there’s a lot of praise to go around for those victories, you and I both know you biggest individual challenge that awaits you in the World Series: the 6-foot-7 swamp monster that comes out of their bullpen the moment they get a lead by the name of Andrew Miller.

He just won the ALCS MVP. In this postseason, he’s thrown 20 scoreless innings, striking out 31 with just three walks. The last time he gave up a run was more than a month ago, on September 7. He’s recorded more than three outs in every one of his postseason appearances. In every game he’s pitched, the Indians have won. If you want this World Series, that might mean conquering Miller at least once, so, since you asked, I put together that comprehensive walkthrough you wanted. This wasn’t easy.

To “beat” Andrew Miller, two criteria must be fulfilled: score at least one (1) run while Andrew Miller is standing on the pitching rubber, and also either go on to beat Andrew Miller’s team, or at the very least, get him to record a blown save. These two criteria were met, in unison, just seven times all season. Andrew Miller has appeared in 76 games. Like I said, this wasn’t easy. But here are the tales of those who lived to tell it.

* * *

Option No. 1: Don’t face Andrew Miller

OK, so this one is cheating. But it’s also the most foolproof option! The best way to beat Andrew Miller is to not let him come into the game at all. Andrew Miller has never recorded a single out — not even one! — when he’s not actively pitching in the game. In other words, beat the guys in front of him. This is by far the best strategy, because, let’s be honest, the next four options just aren’t gonna be all that great. I know this is supposed to be the definitive walkthrough to beating Andrew Miller, but, listen, dude, you’re probably not gonna do it. You saw the numbers. You’ve watched the playoffs.

And you’re probably not gonna knock around Corey Kluber, either, so, try hitting Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, and Ryan Merritt? Let that first guy walk you a bunch of times and then, for goodness sakes, swing at everything those next two guys throw. Yeah, score off those guys. That’s the best way to beat Andrew Miller.

Option No. 2: Have the winning run on third when Andrew Miller comes in

Of course! Here’s a good one. Leave him no margin for error, whatsoever. This is the strategy employed by the Orioles in the bottom of the 10th inning back on May 5, when Miller came in to face Pedro Alvarez with runners on the corners and no outs in a 0-0 tie. The Yankees had started the inning by replacing Dellin Betances with a man called Johnny Barbato, and Barbato gave up consecutive singles to Hyun Soo Kim and Jonathan Schoop before getting pulled.

Miller came in, threw a first-pitch strike to Alvarez, and then Alvarez lifted an 0-1 slider on the outer-half deep enough to center field to score pinch-runner Nolan Reimold:

When Miller entered the game, Baltimore’s win probability was already 94%. The problem with this strategy is, Terry Francona wasn’t managing this bullpen. We’ve seen how Terry Francona is going to manage his bullpen in the postseason. This scenario is completely unrealistic. Francona wouldn’t have gone to Barbato to start off the inning; he would’ve gone to Miller. Odds are, he would’ve gone to Miller a hell of a lot sooner. Miller’s never going to come into a World Series game when the Indians have already lost 94% of the game, so Miller’s almost never going to have this little margin for error.

Option No. 3: Hit a home run on the first pitch you see

Ah yes, the old “just hit a home run” argument. The oldest trick in the books. The “hit a home run on the first pitch you see” method was the one employed by Melvin Upton Jr. when he walked off against Miller and the Yankees to lead off the bottom of the ninth on July 2:

Upton hit a trademark Miller slider — tip of the cap to him — and while you’re probably not going to do that, there is actually some method to the madness here. Looking at Miller’s worst OPS’ allowed this year, by count, the worst is his 1.333 OPS allowed in 3-1 counts. Problem is, Miller’s only gotten himself into a 3-1 count 17 times all year. The next-worst OPS allowed by count is on the first pitch, at 1.214, and Miller throws a first pitch to every batter he faces. First pitch was also Miller’s worst count by OPS+, which puts his numbers relative to the league in the context of each count. Miller’s going to pound the zone, and you’re so often going to fall behind against him, that maybe it’s best to just try and get it over with as soon as possible. Even better to hit a home run. Yeah, try and do that.

Option No. 4: Leave room after Andrew Miller

Our most plausible scenario yet! Beat somebody else after Miller. This is what the Rangers did on June 27, when it wasn’t Andrew Miller at all who lost the lead, but Kirby Yates! Rougned Odor did his part, hitting a first-pitch (there it is again!) homer off Miller in the eighth to bring the score within one run, before Miller used up all his pitches and the Yankees were forced to turn to Aroldis Chapman (for… one batter?) and then eventually Yates. Yates literally hit three of the first five batters he faced, gave up two singles, and let in four runs.

But, again, the problem with this is Francona, and the rest of the Indians’ bullpen. Kirby Yates isn’t coming in after Miller. The Indians made sure of that when they designated him for assignment back in January and then traded him to the Yankees. Cody Allen is usually the one coming in after Miller, and you might need a whole other walkthrough on how to beat him. Still, this is probably your best bet yet. Simply hold your ground against Miller, and then beat the guy after him. No matter how he pitches, Andrew Miller didn’t beat you if you’re the one celebrating after the game.

Option No. 5: Turn all your hitters into superhumans

You may have noticed something. Every single one of these strategies has come with some major caveat. The first one was barely helpful at all. The plan was essentially “already be winning,” and remember how I said earlier there were only seven instances of Miller giving up at least one run and him either blowing the save or his team losing the game? In two of those seven instances, his team was being blown out when he entered the game. The next one, there was already a runner on third, and the opponent had a 94% chance of winning. The next one, the game was already tied, and Miller had already thrown a scoreless inning. The next one was Kirby Yates’ fault. These are, technically, “beating Andrew Miller,” but none of them have really been “beating Andrew Miller” in the way you’ll likely need to in the World Series.

Except for this one. July 22, 2016. One of literally two times all season Miller himself blew a lead. And it happened in the most remarkable way possible. Miller came into the eighth with the Yankees leading, 2-1, and the 3-4-5 hitters for the San Francisco Giants at the plate. He got Brandon Belt to fly out to lead things off.

Then, he got ahead of Trevor Brown 0-2, and Brown did this:

Hell of an at-bat. Brown laid off a high, 0-2 fastball, fouled off a perfect slider, took another slider, and poked a fastball the other way for a single.

Then, Miller struck out Brandon Crawford for the second out, and got to 0-2 on Grant Green. One strike away from Miller getting out of the inning, Green did this:

Another hell of an at-bat. Almost identical to Brown’s. Laid off high fastball, fouled off perfect slider, took another perfect slider, shot a good slider to center.

Then, Miller got ahead 0-2 again, this time to Mac Williamson, and Williamson did this:

I swear to God those first three pitches were all different pitches. Look, you can even see the count changing! Unreal at-bat. Williamson took three amazing sliders, spotted beautifully on the lower-outside corner of the plate…

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…and then rifled a 95-mph fastball up and away off the left-field wall to score the tying run. This might’ve been the best at-bat against Andrew Miller all season, topping Grant Green before him, who topped Trevor Brown before him.

This was one of two instances, out of 76, that a team actually beat Andrew Miller, fair and square, without any outside help. It took three of the best at-bats against Miller all season, all strung together in a four-batter sequence. It took three batters getting hits after being down 0-2. You wanna know how many hits Miller gave up after getting ahead 0-2 this year? Four. You wanna know something else? Andrew Miller’s team still won this game.

Good luck!





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 august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

11 Comments
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SoxWatcher
5 years ago

Wouldn’t it just be easier to pay off the chef at the hotel, to give him some bad oysters the night before game #1 ?

Easyenoughmember
5 years ago
Reply to  SoxWatcher

Miller only eats mussels.

MikeSmember
5 years ago
Reply to  SoxWatcher

Jeff Gillooly is probably available,

SoxWatcher
5 years ago
Reply to  MikeS

Or hire Tonya Harding to be the elevator girl at the hotel the Indians stay at?