Before #18 Drew Miller suffered an ankle injury during the second half of the 2008 GBL season, he had played in 327 consecutive games for the Calgary Vipers. I was at the first game he missed, and the game the Vipers publicly recognised Drew’s ironman streak to the thousand-or-so faithful at the Hallowed Grounds of Foothills Stadium. This might have even occurred during the same game, but a beer or two too many has muddied the tale in my mind. I do, however, remember it being really weird that Drew wasn’t playing. Perhaps even weirder than the (eventual) trade of #22 Darryl Mr. 400 Brinkley during the freaking playoffs.
Drew Miller is a fan favourite with the Vipers, and not just because he’s a good ol’ Medicine Hat boy. He’s a tough out, has a good glove in the outfield, and can go yard when it matters (remember that 3-run homer he hit to cap of a 6-run 9th inning rally?). I’ve also witnessed his fan-friendliness first-hand when he gave my wife his ball cap.
I’ve also got a theory that baseball is in the Miller family’s blood. Drew’s mother threw out the first pitch once last year, and it was a heater. I haven’t seen many men with that much jam off the bump for an opening pitch. Good on her.
On thing that sticks out on Drew Miller’s career stat sheet as a Viper is is OBP. You can’t score runs if you don’t get on base, and you can’t win games if you don’t score runs, so OBP is very important. Miller’s OBP each season since 2005 (The year he joined the Vipers, and the year the Vipers started competing) goes like this:
.378, .418, .441, .439
Very solid, and a nice increase year-to-year until last season (but who’s going to quibble over a drop of .002?). A similar look at Miller’s batting average, however, tells a different story:
.274, .297, .299, .343
Ditto Miller’s seasonal OPS numbers since 2005:
735, 807, 883, 1092
The largest increases in AVG and OPS occur from 2007 to 2008, the year Miller’s OBP didn’t increase at all. The answer to this is simple, Drew’s swinging the bat more. Miller’s walk-to-strikeout ratio in 2008 was 0.493, by far the lowest of his career. In fact, his 33 walks in 2008 put him in Joe Batter territory for plate discipline – which would be a step down from previous seasons for Drew.
Why was Drew swinging the bat more (and hence walking less and striking out more) in 2008? On most nights, Drew was situated after #23 Carlos Duncan and #24 Felix Jose in the batting order, and those guys were always getting on base. A walk won’t score a runner from second, but a single or a double often does. Also, Miller was playing a kind of secondary clean-up position batting sixth in a strong line-up from the top. Miller averaged nearly an RBI per game in 2008, and almost doubled his personal best in home runs in a season with 19 – even though he missed 14 games. Add in the fact that Drew only hit into one double play in 2008 and the picture becomes more clear: Drew Miller is a smart situational hitter, and has a killer instinct.
If we were to forecast Drew’s 2009 output, I think we could reasonably expect his OBP to remain in the .440 range, and watch his walk-to-strikeout ratio and his OPS jog around as Miller adjusts to what kind of batting situations he sees in 2009. I think he’ll just get on base when he needs to, and he’ll swing the bat a bit more freely when there’s the chance he can bring a run home immediately. If we pay attention, we might see two different Drew Millers: the Miller that bats aggressively with RISP, and the Miller that bats with more discipline without RISP.
Lastly, I can’t mention Drew Miller without commenting on how fun his batting stance is to watch. He kind of swings himself up into a pigeon-toed position to ready himself to swing. It’s remarkable, and obviously effective… but what is his shin-guard protecting* in that position?
* Obviously it's still protecting his shin, but what's going to hit his shin from that angle?