Middle Infield Adjustment Watch
Obviously, right now, Brad Miller and Nick Franklin are kind of growing together. They’re not literally growing together, but they’re *developing together* as Mariners middle infielders. When they’re going well, they look like foundation pieces for the next good Mariners team. When they’re not going well, it’s no biggie, they’re rookies, they’re supposed to slump, they’ll build character and be better for it in the long run. Not a whole lot of downside with rooting for young players. It’s all either good news or no news, until you have a quality player or a player who’s too old to still be young and learning. Then it’s on the player for being an annoying bust, like Jeremy Reed. Jeremy Reed is 32 years old. Jacoby Ellsbury is 29.
Anyway, what the Mariners are doing is trying to figure out whether Miller and Franklin will make up next year’s middle infield. Clearly, the potential is there; clearly, there’s some work to be done, on Franklin’s offense and Miller’s defense. Given their somewhat similar backgrounds you could call them the Double Play Twins if that nickname didn’t carry an Indian curse. Instead you can just call them Brad Miller and Nick Franklin, and in order to proceed, I’ll note that Miller debuted almost exactly a month after Franklin did.
From his debut through June 28, Franklin batted 117 times in 29 games and 27 starts. From his debut through July 30, Miller batted 116 times in 27 games and 25 starts. We’ll refer to these as Phase One. All their games and plate appearances since? We’ll refer to those as Phase Two. Let’s dig just a little bit into adjustment periods and whatnot.
For his first stretch, Franklin saw about 69% of what Brooks Baseball classifies as “hard” pitches. So, fastballs, basically. He batted .302/.368/.500, with 15% strikeouts. He had 13 extra-base hits, and nine of them came off hard pitches.
For his first stretch, Miller saw about 68% hard pitches. He batted .240/.319/.394, with 17% strikeouts. Of his ten extra-base hits, five came off hard pitches.
For his second stretch, Franklin has seen about 61% hard pitches. He’s batted .193/.263/.366, with 34% strikeouts. Five of his six homers have come off hard stuff, and he’s hardly been able to touch the rest.
For his second stretch, Miller has seen about 57% hard pitches. He’s batted .266/.319/.484, with 16% strikeouts. He has three extra-base hits against hard stuff, and four extra-base hits against breaking stuff.
The short of it: Miller and Franklin have seen somewhat similar reductions in fastballs seen. Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into league adjustments, and Franklin has an extra month of data, so the numbers mean only so much, but what we’re seeing is that Franklin is having a lot of trouble hitting against guys throwing him more bendy stuff, while Miller is handling it just fine. Franklin’s strikeout rate has doubled. Miller’s strikeout rate has stayed the same, and he hasn’t had to sit on heaters. Just based on this, pitchers have no reason yet to change the way they’re working against Franklin, but Miller has passed his tests.
If you want some Franklin optimism, Yasiel Puig went through a little ugly stretch where he couldn’t hit any sliders, then he figured it out overnight and went back to being absolutely incredible. On the other hand, Nick Franklin isn’t Yasiel Puig. If you want some Miller realism, we’re looking at small samples and the league might still be learning him. It’s not like Miller is a known entity, and maybe they’ll discover a hole or two. Maybe he’ll hit a slump like Franklin’s current slump, and maybe he’ll get out of it and maybe he won’t. The future! Can’t tell it. Only know who’s done best recently, which is the best I can do.
Franklin’s been striking out for a while. He saw 64% hard stuff in July, and he’s seen 56% hard stuff in August. He struck out 36% of the time in July, and he’s struck out 29% of the time in August, which might be progress although the rest of his numbers really suck. If Miller had a strikeout phase, it came early — he struck out a quarter of the time through his first couple weeks. Since then he’s been something of a contact machine, tonight excepted, where an awesome lefty was on the mound. And Neal Cotts is also an awesome lefty.
Right now, Miller’s stock is higher. Right now, Miller looks like a legitimate starting shortstop for 2014. Used to be Franklin looked like a lot more of a sure thing, but they know what the problem is and they’re working on it. That should fix his troubles, unless it doesn’t, because not all troubles can just be fixed and smoothed out at the highest level. You don’t need me to tell you it’s going to be a critical last month and a half, for both these guys. From Miller, I’d like to see fewer errors and maintained decent production. From Franklin, I’d like to see way fewer strikeouts. And from Dustin Ackley I’d like to see a home run and from the Mariners I’d like to see 41 consecutive wins. Don’t really care if it’s all because of Raul Ibanez. Grant a dying man’s wish, God*.
* we’re all dying, even you