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Analyzing tonight’s Yankees’ opponent, rookie sensation Bryce Miller

Bryce Miller looks as unhittable as any rookie the Yankees have faced in recent memory.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

After a duel of aces that never was, as both offenses did a number on Gerrit Cole and Yu Darvish in the Yankees’ 10-7 win on Sunday, Aaron Judge and company travel across the country for a series against the Mariners. For Monday’s opener, they’ll face a rookie who’s lighting the baseball world on fire in Bryce Miller. With such an imposing foe on the card, let’s take a closer look at Miller to really get a feel for what the Yankees could be in for tonight.

Miller, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2021 MLB Draft, figured in most Top 100 prospect lists ahead of this season, though not in the upper echelon along the lines of Grayson Rodriguez, Eury Pérez, and the currently sidelined Andrew Painter. Then, how is it that the Mariners’ starter is outperforming every rookie arm, in one of the more great starts to a big league career in recent memory?

Across five starts in the majors, Bryce Miller has struck out 28 batters, and walked only three, earning a quality start in each one of his outings, with only four earned runs allowed, in total.

One could point to the fact he’s faced the Oakland A’s twice as a demerit to his performance, but though the A’s lineup isn’t good, Oakland’s historically awful numbers are more so on the pitching side of things. Furthermore, Miller absolutely dominated against the Houston Astros, conceding a mere two hits in six scoreless frames.

To understand how Miller has been able to make major league hitters look foolish in the beginning of his Major League career, we must turn our attention to his four-seam fastball, the root of all his success.

Miller has thrown 440 pitches in 2023. and 310 of them have been four-seam fastballs for a whopping 78.7 percent usage. That’s a fairly rare sight in the modern game, for a top-tier starting pitcher to be so reliant on just one pitch.

The reason why that heater has been so excellent, even though hitters know it’s coming basically four out of every five times, is because of its perceived rising effect, due to absolutely elite vertical break.

Looking for a comp in the big leagues right now, Miller’s fastball works a lot like that of Spencer Strider, the quickest man in history to reach 200 strikeouts, needing only 130 innings to do so in 2022. Per Statcast, his fastball spin sits in the 98th percentile, and results in 23 percent more vertical break than the typical heater. Coming in at an average velocity of 95.1 mph, Bryce Miller’s fastball has a vertical movement versus average of 3.3 inches, number one among all starters, slightly ahead of Strider (3.0).

For how great his fastball is, and the floor that gives him, Miller doesn’t have a secondary offering as polished as Strider’s slider. In fact, what causes a bit of concern moving forward, in particular for the rest of 2023, is his lack of a strong second pitch.

Miller has a slider, curve, and change, used at a 14.8, 9.3, and 5.5 percent rate, in these first five starts, with none really showing outstanding characteristics, at least as of now.

So far, Miller has been able to ride a well-commanded heater through to unbridled success in his major league career. However, it is inevitable that on nights in which that command isn’t quite there, Miller will most likely struggle unless he can rely on his breaking stuff more, which he’s yet to prove he can. Perhaps, with a bit of luck, the Yankees will stumble upon one of those nights and be able to damage the rookie right-hander. With the offense coming off a great performance against Darvish, and heading into a tough stretch of opposing starters, it would certainly be heartening to see the lineup to start to heat up.