Andrew Miller is the most thrilling individual story in this year’s postseason. The Cleveland relief ace is single-handedly reinventing the role of bullpens with the help of his manager, Terry Francona, and a slider that verges on the pornographic.
Miller’s five appearances and nine innings so far in October have certainly felt historic, between Francona’s usage of the lanky 31-year-old, and the sheer dominance of his stuff. Of the 33 hitters he’s faced, six have reached base. Only one has scored, and he got on thanks to a single given up by Josh Tomlin. Miller is delivering one of the most dominant postseason years the game has ever seen.
But forget the ground outs, the fly outs, or the clever usage. Our jaws drop when Andrew Miller climbs the hill because of his strikeouts. Indeed, he could very well find himself in the record books for the rate at which he’s fanning hitters in October. Here are the top 10 strikeout rates for relievers in a single postseason with at least five innings pitched.
Several things about Miller’s performance should jump out. For one, he’s blowing the competition away. No reliever has ever come close to his punchout rate in a single postseason. Hitters could adjust and start making some actual contact on his pitches, thus driving his strikeout rate down. But look into your heart of hearts and ask yourself, is that actually going to happen?
Secondly, he could potentially set his strikeout-rate mark with more innings pitched than any other previous reliever. The current innings record for a reliever is 18.2 frames, set by Tug McGraw in 1973 and Francisco Rodriguez in 2002. Based on Miller’s usage, he could easily surpass that, should Cleveland make it to the World Series. This wouldn’t be a short-sample fluke, like Roger Craig for the Cardinals in 1964, or Scott Williamson for the Red Sox in 2003. Miller would be doing it on a sustained, face-melting level.
Finally, Miller’s raw strikeout total could be a record unto itself. He’s sat 20 hitters down so far. Rodriguez’s eye-opening 2002 with the Angels set the all-time reliever strikeout record with 28, but K-Rod need more than 18 innings to get there. Miller’s postseason strikeout total this year could end up looking like Steph Curry’s three-pointer record. If Cleveland wins the American League pennant, there’s no telling how many strikeouts Miller could end up with by the time his team’s playoff run concludes.
The one potential blemish on Miller’s record is that it might not hold for an extended period of time. Lefty Grove’s masterful performance for the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1929 World Series held for 35 years, in an era where frequent reliever usage was unheard of, massive strikeout rates even less so. Similarly, Moe Drabowsky’s punchout rate in a single relief appearance for the Orioles in the 1966 World Series held for 30 years. Since then, the record has fallen every few years, with the four-year gap between Rosenthal and Miller the smallest ever.
No matter. Andrew Miller is offering the single greatest pleasure of this postseason thus far. Yes, Javier Báez is making insane catch after insane catch for the Cubs; yes, Clayton Kershaw is now apparently an elite closer; yes, the home runs have come fast and furious from every team in October. But only Miller, upon walking through the bullpen gate in the fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth inning, makes you pause, sit up, lean forward, and hold your breath for what’s about to happen.
Cleveland is on the verge of their first pennant in nearly 20 years. It is Miller’s historic campaign that is getting them there.