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Has Erik Miller already become the key lefty in the Giants’ bullpen?

Erik Miller has thrown just 264 pitches in his major league career but that’s enough of a sample to pass the eye test. The San Francisco Giants might have a dude. A 6-5 lefty with only 159.1 professional innings coming into his age-26 season averaging 96 mph with a four-seamer and an eye-popping 2,694 rpm slider? That’s value.

He also has a changeup he’s thrown just 94 times but has already popped up near the top of the MLB Statcast leaderboard for effectiveness, coming in 14th in MLB among both starters and relievers, with +3 Run Value (read about Run Value here). His four-seamer has less Run Value as does his slider, but consider this: he uses that power pitch to setup the other two and throws the slider more than the changeup, and in a small sample has a better chance of showing as less effective. A 2,600+ rpm slider though will be effective long-term.

And about that four-seamer…

The four-seamer has become a less popular pitch in the Statcast era mainly because hitters have traditionally done the most damage against that pitch even as average four seam velocity has increased. That makes sense because it’s likely the straightest pitch and is thrown the most often. The Giants have shifted to the more foolproof sinker-slider combo where velocity + movement makes pretty much any pitcher extremely effective.

But when you can unleash 100 mph do you really need that much movement? Right now, Miller’s four-seamer has about as much spin (2,247 rpm) as Kyle Harrison’s (2,231), but he’s throwing his, on average, 3 mph faster.

That’s when deception and location come into play. Miller’s minor league BB/9 of 5.8 shows that he’s got a way to go in that regard. He’s walked 8 of the 57 batters faced so far (14%) which is like DEFCON 2 in terms of present utility — unsustainable if he’s to be a key arm in the pen, but not yet warranting a demotion — and with Taylor Rogers still sort of righting the ship (6.33 FIP heading into this important 4-game series against the Phillies) he’s a really solid second option and depending on the day and matchups, the best option against left-handed hitters late in the game.

On the other hand, the split within that streak is really something and illustrates why forming conclusions after a month of games is simply not logical — especially when talking about the bullpen. Miller walked 5 in his first 5 major league apparances which led to 6 earned runs in 5 innings (10.80 ERA / 6.74 FIP). Since then, he’s thrown 10 innings exactly and walked only 3 while striking out 14 (1.80 ERA / 1.24 FIP).

The big question with any professional player and any rookie is sustainability. Can he put it together and can he maintain it? Working against him: the best hitters on the planet. If he only had to face the Giants lineup, he’d be the next Billy Wagner, perhaps. This weekend, at least, he’ll have to contend with the Philadelphia Phillies, who have a collective 115 wRC+ against left-handed pitching 30-something games into the 2024 season.

It’s still early, of course, but Erik Miller is impressive sizzle. He’s making it very easy to imagine him joining the line of Camilo Doval and Ryan Walker as hard throwing relievers developed by the Giants.

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