In the bottom of the eighth of the Phillies’ 5-3 rollercoaster of a victory over the New York Mets on Monday, Brad Miller came up to the plate as a pinch-hitter with one out. The Mets’ victory odds stood at 89 percent at the time of the at-bat, per Statcast.
A second out could have put an end to the Phillies’ chances of grinding out a victory. Instead, Miller smoked a Trevor May fastball into right field. Following key hits from Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto and a devastating defensive miscue from New York, the Phillies ended the inning with a 97 percent chance of winning the game. It’s hard to see the game ending in a Phils victory if Miller failed to get on base.
The Phillies paid Miller $3.5 million this offseason to act as an insurance policy against an injury to one of their regulars, but for now, the 31-year-old will be counted upon to come off the bench and make the occasional spot start. It’s a big investment for a role player, but the Phillies are well aware of how well-liked “Bamboo Brad” Miller was in the clubhouse the first time around and what he could provide if the Phillies’ potent offense goes through a dry spell.
In past years, the makeup of the back end of the active roster was not prioritized. It’s a big reason why the Phillies have failed to make the playoffs since they were declared to be in win-now mode by former general manager Matt Klentak. There are some concerns when it comes to the back end of the rotation, center field and right-handed options off the bench, but for the most part, the Phillies are significantly less top-heavy than they were in 2019 and 2020.
Having Miller helps. The Phillies originally acquired him in a trade for cash considerations with the New York Yankees in June 2019.
It seemed like a nothing move at first. Miller was on to his fourth organization since the beginning of spring training that season. He was cut from Dodgers camp, made the Opening Day roster in Cleveland but was designated for assignment on April 15. A week later, Miller signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees and failed to reach the big league roster before his trade to Philadelphia.
His career was at a crossroads.
“Going into it, I was coming off major hip surgery,” Miller said during spring training. “I had something to prove. I wanted to reestablish myself and show people [and say] ‘Hey, I was playing on one leg and prove that.'”
Miller eventually found success through simplifying his approach. He had mastered the art of hitting the ball as hard as he could, so he doubled down. He focused on attacking fastballs and driving the ball. Against fastballs, Miller has slugged .467 since 2019.
As the Phillies played meaningless baseball towards the end of September, Miller wreaked havoc at the plate. He had three multi-home run games from Sept. 21 through the final game of the season and had a 1.571 OPS through that time span. Miller is the only Phillie in franchise history to have three multi-home run games in a span of nine games.
“For me, when I think of 2019, I definitely think about that punctuation at the end of the year in the last six weeks or so,” Miller said. “I was confident in my identity, what I’m trying to do at the plate, how I set up, what it looks like and being able to have some success there definitely helped me in the offseason when teams were talking to us.”
When the Phillies originally acquired Miller in-season, the team’s outfield and bench depth were depleted. You can make a similar argument that the Phillies were in that same position heading into the 2020 season. Despite a need for depth and witnessing firsthand what Miller can do when he gets on a hot streak, Philadelphia decided against re-signing Miller. The St. Louis Cardinals scooped him up on a one-year/$2 million guaranteed deal.
“The Cardinals, obviously, were pretty adamant about how they saw me fitting in and the role and all that stuff and I don’t think there was anything with Philly per se that was negative,” Miller said. “It was just another team thought ‘Hey, you’re a better fit right now for what we got going on and it worked out really well. … Nothing ever really materialized. It was really just kind of, we got focused on the Cardinals, they got super aggressive and that was it.”
It’s hard to say for sure if the Phillies were a Brad Miller away from sneaking in to the playoffs in 2020, but he thrived in a bigger role with St. Louis. Serving primarily as a DH, Miller started in 29 of the team’s 58 regular season games in the clean-up spot.
“It was fun,” Miller said, “getting to hit behind [Paul] Goldschmidt was pretty cool.”
In 48 games, Miller slashed .232/.357/.451 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs in 2020. He proved once again that he can produce when called upon on a regular basis. He can slot to the middle of the lineup if need be but for now, the Phillies’ order is stacked with guys who belong in the heart of any team’s batting lineup.
Miller secretly hoped all offseason that he would eventually find himself back in red pinstripes. He signed with the awareness that he won’t be hitting behind the likes of Hoskins or Realmuto on an everyday basis, but he did learn from his time in St. Louis that you can obtain the role you strive for if your performance dictates it.
“The beautiful part is as players, if you want a bigger role, then you can perform your way into it,” Miller said. “If you start with a bigger role, you know it’s a performance-based game and you can end up out of the role. It’s happened to me both ways.”
Miller is set to make his first start of the 2021 season on Tuesday night against the Mets.
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