The Padres Have This Deadline’s Potential Andrew Miller

The Padres have already made one trade of consequence, having sent Trevor Cahill, Ryan Buchter, and Brandon Maurer to Kansas City. Though the Padres aren’t exactly poised to do much of anything else, there’s one valuable asset they still possess that many expect to see moved. The deadline is a time when available relievers are prized more highly than ever, and I’m not sure there’s a reliever being more intensely pursued than Brad Hand.

The Padres have reportedly set a high price. Ownership says trade offers haven’t been adequate. You didn’t need links to know either of these things. We already know a trade hasn’t been agreed to yet, and that’s because the Padres have asked for more than has been offered to them. That’s always the case. I wouldn’t buy the idea that Hand will ultimately stick around. Though he is under team control through 2019, relievers can be too much of a risk for a rebuilding club to hang onto. Hand’s value could disappear in an instant. They might as well trade him, and if and when they do, the return should be substantial.

Because Hand could be this year’s Andrew Miller. He’s not actually Andrew Miller, of course. And even Andrew Miller in 2017 might not mean as much as Andrew Miller meant in 2016. But teams are all looking for that kind of weapon, and in Hand, there are more than enough parallels.

Hand broke out last year after being claimed from the Marlins. A major reason why was the development of a lights-out slider. Here is a moving image of said slider:

Hand has progressed to throwing that slider nearly half of the time. That doesn’t make him unusual for a reliever, but the results have been tremendous. And I should mention that Hand’s slider moves like Miller’s does. They’re comparable pitches, leaned on to comparable degrees. Hand has turned into a reliable high-leverage southpaw, while I’m sure the Marlins are kicking themselves.

Overall, Hand has had wonderful numbers. He’s been effective against both lefties and righties. The Padres have backed off on his usage somewhat, but he’s among the league leaders in appearances since the start of last year. He’s also been among the leaders in appearances lasting more than one inning, and he’s been among the leaders in appearances on zero days’ rest. The Padres have worked him hard, and Hand has so far held up. That much is encouraging, and it allows contending teams to dream about potential playoff usage. We saw how Miller was worked to the bone. Hand could be a similar kind of fireman.

Hand, already, is plenty good enough. He doesn’t need to get any better. But as I think about him, and as I think about how he compares to Miller, I wonder if there’s another lesson he could learn. I wonder if Miller could be instructive. Here is how Miller and Hand have located their sliders over the past year:

Nothing too shocking. They both command the pitch well. You don’t throw a secondary pitch so often if you don’t believe in it. Miller knows where his slider is going, and the same is true for Hand. But then, there’s the matter of usage. Again, examining the past year, here are their respective slider rates, broken down by count. The counts here are arranged in descending order of batter-friendliness.

There are 12 counts shown. For simplicity, we can split them into three groups of four each. Here are those numbers:

Something there is immediately apparent. Miller doesn’t have any pattern. No matter the situation, he throws roughly the same rate of sliders. Hand’s pattern is what you might think of as more familiar. He’s mostly concentrated his putaway pitch in putaway situations. That would be somewhat in keeping with traditional baseball, but, might there not be an opportunity here for Hand to make a change? Could Hand not also lean heavily on his slider, regardless of the circumstances?

By effectiveness, there’s evidence there. This is a plot of wOBA allowed.

After batters have gotten ahead, they’ve taken relative advantage of Hand. They go up there with a pretty good idea that a fastball is coming. With Miller, there’s been no real advantage. You have to think it’s at least partly because Miller’s refused to back off of his primary weapon. Batters are never able to eliminate the slider. It’s too good of a slider.

This plot is similar to the one above, but folding in K-BB% instead.

It’s the same basic idea. The greatest difference between Miller and Hand shows up in counts where the batter has gotten ahead. In those counts, Miller has been happy to keep on throwing sliders, while Hand has mostly put the slider in his back pocket. I get that Miller might just trust his slider more, and I get that Miller might just command his slider better, but I can’t think that, for Hand, this is optimal. His slider is good enough that it should be thrown more. And it should be thrown more in non-traditional counts, because a pitcher can’t have a hitter eliminate his main weapon. That’s how a pitcher gets exposed, and that’s what Miller’s been able to avoid.

Again, baseball isn’t quite this simple. Brad Hand’s slider isn’t exactly the same as Andrew Miller’s slider. They throw different fastballs, and they throw with different deliveries, from different slots. I don’t know what it’s like to face Miller, relative to what it’s like to face Hand. I have every reason to suspect that Miller is the tougher one. But Miller could also teach Hand a little something for the stretch run, even if indirectly. A team could, in theory, acquire Hand and have him mix up his slider usage. I believe that could make him even better than he already is. Exactly as good as Miller? Probably not. But close enough, with similar versatility. The Padres are right to demand a valuable package. And contenders are right to be thinking about it.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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One interesting thing with Hand is that padres had like a 3 week stretch where they tried to make him a reliever that finished inning than starting next one. He’s been much worse in that role, my guess is his ERA 6+ when finishing inning+starting new one. Padres have stopped using Hand in that role like 5 weeks ago, and he’s been even better during that stretch. Of course there maybe some SSS randomness there