My Favourite Player: Felix Hughes on Mason Miller

Whether they’re willing to admit it or not, every baseball fan has a favourite baseball player. Maybe it’s their favourite team’s current ace, the random right fielder whose jersey they received as a Christmas gift when they were eight years old, or a promising prospect whose career was cut short by injury.

In this series, we ask British baseball fans to tell us how their favourite player came to be their favourite player and a whole lot more. Next up, Felix Hughes tells us why he loves Oakland A’s flamethrower Mason Miller.


Give batters a chance! The Oakland Athletics’ star relief pitcher, Mason Miller, has dominated opposing batters with his arsenal of record-breaking 4-seam fastballs, unhittable sliders and recording 104mph on the speed radar. Earning the nickname ‘The Reaper’ in his role as a Closer in the current 2024 season for striking fear within the batter’s lineup, he has quickly become a force to be reckoned with and unlike the Blue Öyster Cult’s 1976 hit (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, these facts and figures will show you exactly why you should fear The Reaper.

Career

An average pitcher at an average university, Miller posted a 7.00 ERA (Earned Run Average) in the first two years of college baseball, a below average statistic which made the option of a Major League signing seem a distant possibility for the then 18 year old. Miller needed something extraordinary to change his prospects, and he was granted this when the stars seemingly aligned to provide this under-achieving pitcher the opportunities he needed to make it big.

In 2019, during a routine urine-test required for an internship in finance at a local hospital, Miller was confronted with the news that his sample had been diluted. Neither result of this finding were good, Miller had either tampered with the sample in order to manipulate the outcome, or his blood sugar levels were dangerously high. In fact, his blood sugar levels were seven times higher than what is considered normal. A subsequent Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis meant that Miller now had to control his blood sugar levels through an insulin pump. Regulating his insulin and his diet allowed him to put on weight and muscle efficiently and, most importantly, throw harder. Much harder.

Miller’s following season was electric, a stark contrast from his first two college baseball seasons with an ERA of 1.86 and striking out 97 batters in 11 games. A shortened 2020 season due to COVID-19 allowed Miller to continue his college MBA, and led to his transfer to the highly competitive Division 1 of college baseball playing for the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs, continuing his domination of batters during the 2021 season. Pitching 92.2 Innings to get a K/9 (Strikeouts per 9 Innings) rate of 11.8 and a 3.30 ERA in his first season away, it wasn’t long before he reached triple digits on the speed gun, and Miller’s newfound talent was being picked up on by scouts from Major League Teams.

The Oakland Athletics third round pick in the 2021 draft, Miller’s short stint in the minor leagues told the Athletics everything they needed to know about their pitcher. From 2021 to 2023 it was clear that a Major League start was nothing short of destiny for the A’s new up and comer, posting a 2.52 ERA and a K/9 of 15.8 (for reference, the average ERA for Minor League Pitchers is 4.53) it was just a matter of time.

Major Leagues

“The Reaper continues to haunt Major League hitting!” were the words of NBC Sports Commentator Chris Caray that made popular Miller’s signature moniker. He continues to make pitching 100mph look easy (whilst making batters look silly) in his position this year as a closer, a role that suits Miller – being able to consistently throw ‘gas’ whilst limiting his chances of injury to throwing in fewer innings than his previous role as a starting pitcher. This move to the bullpen came as a result of a UCL sprain in Miller’s elbow in the middle of the 2023 season, putting him out of action for 4 months. A sensible move to preserve Miller’s health, he has used the change in position to closer much to his advantage, striding to the mound in the final few innings to shut down any chance of a comeback from the opposing side. So far, he has done exactly that, with 12 save opportunities and 11 successful saves Miller has rarely  faltered and has maintained his reputation as the Athletics’ star relief pitcher.

At the end of May, Miller was in the top 1% of MLB in six pitching statistics and is leading the Statcast Expected Statistics Leaderboards in their 4 categories (xERA, xWOBA, xBA, xSLG). Expected Outcome stats help to remove defence and ballpark from the equation to express the skill shown at the moment of batted ball contact, and Miller is proving his worth through his No.1 ranking for each of these. Whilst these stats are impressive, they don’t at all retract from the spectacle that is actually seeing Miller throw from the mound. On many occasions, laughter has erupted from commentators and batters alike after Miller has thrown his unhittable fastballs, with fans tuning in for the 9th inning in particular to witness exactly why people are saying that MLB is a ‘pitcher’s game’. All you can do is laugh!

It doesn’t look like Miller’s pitching phenomenon will end any time soon, posting a negative FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) this late into the season is unheard of. With every strikeout and batting whiff, it seems unlikely that Miller’s stats will be anywhere but the top of leaderboards as he continues to dominate in the late-game.

Having re-energised support for the Oakland Athletics, it seems unlikely that the Pittsburgh-born pitcher will be traded (though the A’s certainly have a record for trading away their top players!) Yet, it is every player’s dream to play for their home team (in this case the Pittsburgh Pirates) and Miller has not expressed displeasure at the possibility of a career with the Pirates, when asked in an interview with ‘Pitching Ninja’ Rob Friedman. If Miller can remain relatively injury-free, a position in the starting rotation is likely to open up, but in the meantime we can be sure to expect continued outstanding performances from Oakland’s ‘deadly’ closer.

Photo: Getty Images

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