Bobby Miller was pitching in High-A when I first interviewed him for FanGraphs in June 2021. Drafted 29th overall the previous summer by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of the University of Louisville, the right-hander possessed both a high-octane heater and a lofty ceiling. Since making his MLB debut this past May, he’s met those expectations, going 9–3 with a 3.80 ERA and a 3.67 FIP over 17 starts. The 24-year-old is also coming off of his most impressive outing. Facing the powerhouse Atlanta Braves on September 3, he allowed just three hits and one run in a career-high seven innings.
Miller discussed his continuing evolution as a pitcher and his efforts to find consistency with his slider when the Dodgers visited Fenway Park in late August.
David Laurila: We talked two years ago when you were pitching for the Great Lakes Loons. What has changed and what has stayed the same since that time?
Bobby Miller: “A lot of stuff is the same. At the end of the day, it’s still the same game. But the competition is obviously a lot higher. The hitters are lot more disciplined and experienced. Most of them have seen the game’s best arms, so when you’re out there, you’ve got to know that they’ve faced guys just as good or better than you are.
“Game-planning comes in a lot more at this level. I feel like game-planning is super important to learn in the minor leagues, studying hitters and all that, and I wish I’d have learned more before I came up here. While I had somewhat of an idea, I still have a lot of room to improve on that. I think that’s the biggest thing for me: how much time I spend looking at the upcoming lineups I’m going to face.”
Laurila: Basically, what hitters’ hot and cold zones are, and what they hit and don’t hit in certain counts.
Miller: “Yeah. What to avoid in certain counts. When they’re aggressive and when they’re not aggressive. How aggressive they are with runners in scoring position. At some point, I could get better at learning the baserunners, too. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is getting the batter out of the box. It’s about getting outs for your team.”
Laurila: I talked to Max Scherzer recently, and one of the things he said was that there is a limit to how much you can focus on a hitter’s weaknesses without taking away from your own strengths. I got the impression that he relies on data, at least certain data, less than he did as a younger pitcher.”
Miller: “For sure. I mean, I feel like a lot of guys pay attention to the data at a super young age, pitch metrics and all that. And you do have to understand yourself. Say a certain guy hits a lot of sliders. Well, not everybody has the same slider. You have to trust yours and what the results are telling you. So yeah, I completely understand where he’s coming from.
“Another thing is that you can’t just throw a slider on every pitch [just] because a guy isn’t good at hitting sliders. That includes your own slider. You’ve got to execute your pitch. In my last start [August 22 in Cleveland], I faced a guy who has swung and missed at a lot of sliders, but if you give someone the right slider, one with that in-zone spin, he’s going to crush it. He punished me, for sure.”
Laurila: What is the movement profile on your slider?
Miller: “That’s something I’ve been working on this year, just having consistency with my slider. I feel like I have a lot more consistency on my curveball and my changeup, and my slider could be my best pitch if it were more consistent. I mean, it’s hard to argue with the curveball being my best pitch, my best secondary. I truly believe that it has been my best pitch this year. Throughout my career, it hasn’t always been my best pitch. But it has been an important pitch for me to throw because of the big velocity difference.
“So yeah, the slider is something I need to have dialed in, in my opinion. I just haven’t been super consistent with that. I mean, I need to be more consistent with all of my pitches, and with my fastball location. There’s so much to improve on.”
Laurila: What type of movement do you want on your slider?
Miller: “There are a lot of guys trying to hit my fastball… on every pitch, almost, it feels like guys are staying on the fastball. They’re trying to be ready for 100 mph, because they know going into the game that they’re going to be getting high velocity. So my thing with the slider is that I want it to look like my fastball coming in. I want them to see hard velocity and then it ends up having a different break so they swing right over it. Basically, I want them to think it’s a fastball out of my hand. When I get into trouble is when I make it too depth-y and they can recognize that out of the hand. I don’t want my slider to pop out of my hand, is what I’m saying.”
Laurila: You’re not looking for it to sweep.
Miller: “No. The way I throw doesn’t really fit the big sweep. My curveball already has some horizontal on it with a lot of depth, so I don’t need a super horizontal slider. I just want something hard that’s a different shape than my fastball. Everything plays off of my fastball.”