The Athletics’ Mason Miller has taken the baseball world by storm

When it comes to the standings in the early portion of the season, my personal advice is not to really take anything too seriously until Memorial Day at the earliest. That way, it gives baseball an ample amount of time to actually start to get the type of sample sizes that you can rely on going forward. With that being said, the holiday is right around the corner so it wouldn’t hurt to take a tiny little peek at what’s going on in the standings, Yeah, you don’t want to get super invested but these games still count for something.

One thing that jumps out in particular is the bottom of the AL West, which has three surprises in store. The first one is that the Houston Astros are currently underwater and have stumbled out of the gates to start the season. While it’s obviously not over yet for a team that’s as talented and as experienced as the Astros are, they’re going to have to go on a serious run in order to get back to where they’re used to being.

The second is that the team that’s currently in last place is the Los Angeles Angels. That’s not particularly shocking since the Angels were struggling when they had two of the absolute best baseball players in the world under their employ and it’s especially not shocking since one of those players now plays for the Dodgers and the other just had surgery a week ago. Ron Washington has a whale of a task on his hands to turn that ship around and the journey has only just begun in that regard.

The last thing that’s pretty shocking is that the Oakland Athletics are not hopelessly adrift in last place! Now granted, they aren’t that far ahead of the Angels and are only one bad skid of games away from being in White Sox territory but considering how dire the situation seemed for the A’s coming into this season, it’s actually impressive that they’ve already banked this many wins for themselves so far. One of the main reasons behind this level of success is that Oakland’s bullpen at the moment is elite.

As a unit, the A’s bullpen is currently rated as one of the top relief corps in all of baseball according to fWAR — their 2.1 fWAR as a collective only has them behind the Cleveland Guardians in terms of fWAR compiled by bullpen crews so far. Their collective ERA- of 95 (3.49 ERA heading into action on May 16) has them rated as near the middle of the road among baseball but their FIP- of 84 (3.23 FIP) is third-best in all of baseball. It’s almost a night-and-day difference from how Oakland’s bullpen was basically dreadful for nearly all of 2023.

Aside from the fact that relief pitcher performance on the whole is incredibly volatile and can vary from season-to-season, you can explain the A’s early bullpen success in two ways. The first is that they actually did a solid job of picking up complimentary pieces to fill out the bullpen and they’ve all come together to pull together something that has been much greater than the sum of their parts so far. T.J. McFarland, Austin Adams, Mitch Spence and Michael Kelly are all new faces to the A’s this season and each of them have provided positive contributions so far out of the ‘pen. They’ve meshed well with the young talent that the A’s have already had on hand and while they may have hit a rough patch as of late, there’s still hope that they can get back on track at some point.

It also helps that one of those young talented pitchers who’s come up within the A’s organization just happens to be arguably the best closer in baseball and the reason why we’re even talking about Oakland’s bullpen in the first place. Mason Miller has effectively burst onto the major league stage like the Kool-Aid Man bursts through any given wall. Miller has been the best reliever in all of baseball so far and it hasn’t even been particularly close. He’s sitting on an ERA- of 27 (0.98 ERA) and a scarcely-believable FIP- of -8 (-0.22 FIP) — yes, you read that correctly. His FIP- is negative eight. If you take a look at his Baseball Savant page, you might be mistaken for thinking that you’re at a Kansas City Chiefs home game since you’ll be looking at a sea of red once you go there.

mason miller

If those fancy-schmancy stats don’t move you, then let’s just break it down in the simplest terms possible: He has pitched 13.1 innings since April 9 and has given up one hit and two walks since then. Anthony Volpe currently has bragging rights since he’s currently the only guy who has managed to get a base hit against Miller since the Ninth of last month. He’s essentially been unhittable for a while now.

Mason Miller’s repertoire is relatively simple. You’re only going to see a fastball and a slider and maybe a changeup if you’re a left-handed batter and he’s feeling frisky. The problem for hitters is that that four-seamer of his averages 101 mph — for comparison’s sake, Ryan Helsley of the Cardinals is currently in second place when it comes to average speed on four-seamers and he’s “only” throwing 99.4 mph. Miller has reached 104 on the radar gun at times this season and no matter who you are, it’s tough to keep up with velocity that high. As a result, his four-seamer has only a .161 batting average against it (which is actually higher than the expected batting average of .112), it has a 48 percent whiff rate and he’s sat down his fair share of hitters with that pitch alone.

What’s really concerning for opposing hitters is that Miller’s four-seamer is arguably not even his best pitch. That honor goes to his slide, which has an even lower batting average of .065 against it, a stunningly-low xBA of .050 and a whiff rate of 48 percent as well. His slider is coming at 87 mph and with the type of movement that can fool any caliber of hitter in the bigs. This video from Pitching Ninja does a great job of showing just how difficult it is to deal with either one of those pitches from Miller. Hitters either have to get ready to catch up to 102 mph or they have to somehow calibrate themselves in order to deal with an 88 mph slider with serious break. Good luck dealing with either one of those!

Simply put, Mason Miller has taken the baseball world by storm and it’s impressive considering that he’s doing so as a reliever — an incredibly electric one at that. With that being said, the realities of present-day baseball are always looming. He already missed a large chunk of the 2023 season due to injury and the main reason why he’s in the bullpen is because the A’s don’t want a guy throwing that hard for 90-100 pitches every five days. Also because these are the A’s we’re talking about, there are already trade rumors swirling around the rookie flamethrower. For almost any other organization, trading a rookie of this caliber would be out of the question but because we’re talking about a franchise owned by John Fisher, the rumors will linger as long as the front office doesn’t publicly squash the rumors, themselves.

Still, Mason Miller and the rest of Oakland’s bullpen have been putting together a very solid start to the season and Miller himself has been absolutely stunning in his own right. If you thought there was no reason to pay attention to what the A’s are doing this year, think again. If you blink, you’ll miss the ball leaving Miller’s hand and smacking the catcher’s mitt.

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