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Andrew Miller Has Become the Mariano Rivera of New Postseason Age

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 16, 2016

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Andrew Miller #24 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after striking out Josh Donaldson #20 of the Toronto Blue Jays in the top of the eighth inning during game two of the American League Championship Series at Progressive Field on October 15, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

What do you get when you take the postseason version of Mariano Rivera, flip him around, replace his deadly cutter with a deadly slider and ask him to take on a slightly different role?

Basically the Andrew Miller you're seeing right now.

There were rumblings of the Cleveland Indians being on the verge of something special with their tall, lanky left-hander during their sweep of the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series. The 6'7" Miller pitched in two games, tallying four innings that included four baserunners and seven strikeouts. The way he was throwing, even foul balls were minor victories for Red Sox hitters.

Now it's the Toronto Blue Jays' turn to find out how that feels.

Miller has picked up where he left off in the American League Championship Series, helping the Indians to a 2-0 win in Game 1 on Friday and a 2-1 victory in Game 2 on Saturday. Between the two contests, he's logged 3.2 innings, allowed one hit and struck out 10 of the 12 batters he's faced.

"It's easy now," Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez said, per August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs. "He's too good, man."

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Miller had impressed in six previous October appearances, logging eight and a third scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts. But the mind boggles at what he's done this October. He's pitched 7.2 innings in which he's faced 28 batters and allowed only five of them to reach and none to come home. He's fanned 17.

Andrew Miller in the Postseason
YearGIPHERBBKERAWHIP
201457.110180.000.27
20151100020.000.00
201647.2302170.000.65
Total1016403270.000.44
Baseball-Reference.com

That last figure already looms large in the postseason record books. Miller is now tied for the 10th-most strikeouts in a single postseason and is only 11 away from Francisco Rodriguez's record of 28 from 2002. Even if it's a clean four-game sweep, Miller could tie or surpass that mark by the end of the ALCS.

But it's not Rodriguez's name that's suddenly being lumped into the conversation with Miller. It's Rivera's.

His name is popping up on Twitter in a way that it probably hasn't since he pitched his last game for the New York Yankees in 2013. Among the hottest takes is this one from fellow pitching great Pedro Martinez:

Pedro Martinez @45PedroMartinez

Not even the great Mariano Rivera I saw having as much success as Andrew Miller, overpowering hitters. #postseason #Miller

This isn't high praise for Miller. It is the highest of praise.

If you haven't seen it in a while, I recommend going to the table of Rivera's postseason numbers at Baseball-Reference.com. Like Martinez's own prime or Barry Bonds' entire career, it's filled with so many ridiculous numbers that it looks more like some baseball egghead's wild fantasy than a record of actual events.

But Rivera really did those things. He really did pitch in 96 games. He really did allow fewer earned runs (11) than there have been men on the moon (12). He really did allow only 86 hits and 21 walks in 141 innings. He really did blow only five saves.

There's no bad postseason hiding in there. There were eight postseason runs in which the Yankees used Rivera in six or more games. He never did worse than a 1.72 ERA in any of those. His peak was in 2009, when he tallied 16 innings and allowed only one run in 12 appearances.

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 04:  Mariano Rivera #42 of the New York Yankees celebrates with the fans after their 7-3 win against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Six of the 2009 MLB World Series at Yankee Stadium on November 4, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New Y
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The difficulty in comparing Rivera in the postseason to Miller in the postseason has to do with their roles. The Yankees almost exclusively used Rivera to finish games. Cleveland skipper Terry Francona is using Miller as a bridge to Cody Allen, bringing him into contests as early as the fifth inning.

But while he may not be finishing games and fattening his numbers even more by doing so, there has indeed been the same kind of "Game Over" feeling when Miller has entered games that used to exist with Rivera.

This is partially a matter of signature pitches. Rivera had his cutter, which Chipper Jones once said was "like a buzz saw," per Bob Klapisch at Fox Sports. Miller has his slider. It's a devilish pitch that he throws often. Per Baseball Savant, swings and misses on sliders accounted for 13.8 percent of all Miller's pitches in the regular season, easily the highest mark of any pitcher.

It's been same ol', same ol' in October, where not even reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson can keep himself from looking like a rag doll after swinging at it. Behold the visual evidence from Fagerstrom:

August Fagerstrom @AugustFG_

Josh Donaldson doesn't usually look like this when he swings: https://t.co/R0HuEnQGPc

What Miller also has in common with Rivera in October is his ability to work more than one inning. Rivera did that 58 times. Miller has gone more than one inning in each of his appearances this October, and eight of 10 for his career in the postseason.

As such, the innings in which Miller's dominance is taking place are really the only difference between him now and Rivera at his postseason best. And even that is arguably only footnote fodder now that the relief pitcher landscape is changing the way it is.

“It’s turning the baseball world upside down, the way bullpens have been used lately,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said before the ALCS, per Ted Berg of For The Win.

Miller and Francona are at the vanguard of the movement. The conventional wisdom used to be that elite relievers were to be used only in high-leverage innings, preferably with the last three outs on the line. Following a trade that brought Miller from the Yankees in July, Francona made it clear with his aggressive use of the lefty that he was tired of abiding by that wisdom.

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

“I hate waiting for the ninth inning,” Francona told The Ringer's Ben Lindbergh. “I never did understand that. You know, you wait around, wait around, and you lose a game in the eighth. Well, wait a minute, that might’ve been the most important inning of the game.”

What Francona is doing now is something so obvious it's a wonder he's the first to do it. He's essentially treating all postseason innings as the most important inning of the game. They're all high-leverage innings. That means taking no chances, which means using your best pitchers when you can.

Even if he's not yet on the future Hall of Famer's level, Miller is basically the second coming of Rivera in this sense: He's the best at doing what only the best relievers should do.

     

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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