SI:AM | Mason Miller Is MLB’s Most Fearsome Reliever

A’s fans have one thing to be excited about.
Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Mason Miller throws a pitch.
Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Mason Miller throws a pitch. / Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I can’t believe I have to wait until 9 p.m. ET for Game 6 of the Knicks-Sixers series tonight. 

In today’s SI:AM: 

🏈 NFL roster needs

🎾 An interview with Zendaya

🏀 NBA admits big mistake

He’s untouchable

Oakland Athletics fans have at least one thing (and maybe only one thing) to be excited about right now: Mason Miller. 

Miller, 25, has been the best reliever in baseball so far this season. But what makes him a fascinating player isn’t just that he’s sitting down opposing hitters with ease—it’s how he’s doing it. 

Miller throws harder than any pitcher in baseball right now. Way harder. His fastball averages 100.7 mph, the highest velocity in the majors. He’s thrown 97 pitches of at least 100 mph this season, 40 more than the guy in second place (Michael Kopech). He’s thrown 19 pitches of at least 102 mph. All other pitchers in the big leagues have thrown eight such pitches combined and no one else has more than three. 

As if that wasn’t intimidating enough for hitters, Miller also throws one of the best sliders in the game. He ranks 10th in the majors in average vertical drop and 22nd in average horizontal movement. That means hitters have to anticipate whether Miller is going to throw them the fastest pitch they’ve seen all year or a breaking ball that disappears off the face of the earth. No one has been able to figure him out yet this season. He ranks second in the majors in whiff rate and seventh in hard-hit rate. 

Miller’s first outing of the season came in mop-up duty in the ninth inning of a 12–3 loss to the Cleveland Guardians. He allowed two runs on three hits. Since then, though, Miller hasn’t allowed a run—a stretch of 11 straight scoreless appearances. He’s also allowed just four hits total over that stretch, and he hasn’t allowed an extra-base hit in any of his last nine games. 

Wednesday afternoon’s game in Oakland was more of the same, as Miller mowed down the Pittsburgh Pirates in order in the ninth inning to lock up a 4–0 win for the A’s. He threw just 10 pitches, eight of which were strikes. He totally baffled Henry Davis with this nasty slider and got him to strike out. The other two outs came on harmless ground balls. It wasn’t a save situation, but it was his 11th straight scoreless outing. 

The A’s, expected before the season to be the saddest team in baseball, are actually off to a pretty good start. They’re 15–17, which certainly isn’t great, but the bar is different for a team that went 50–112 last season and is currently playing games in front of a 90%-empty stadium as it prepares to ditch its longtime home in favor of a minor league park. 

Oakland’s bullpen is a major reason why it has found that unexpected level of success. Last season, the A’s ranked dead last in bullpen WAR at Fangraphs. This year, they’re third. Last year, they had the third-worst bullpen ERA in the majors. This year, it’s the second best. And it isn’t just Miller. Veteran Austin Adams has a 1.86 ERA in 14 appearances and Lucas Erceg has a 1.42 ERA in 13 games. 

As dire as things are for the A’s right now, Miller’s emergence as an elite shutdown reliever gives them hope that, whenever they decide they want to try to start winning again, they’ll have an unstoppable force at the back of the bullpen. 

The best of Sports Illustrated

The top five…

… moments in baseball yesterday: 

5. Oswaldo Cabrera’s home run was fair by mere inches. Seriously, look where the ball landed.

4. Nick Madrigal’s relay throw to nail Pete Alonso at home for the final out of the Cubs’ win over the Mets. 

3. Mets manager Carlos Mendoza’s argument with the umpires over the result of a replay review on the play. 

2. Steven Kwan’s diving catch to start a game-ending double play for the Guardians. 

1. Stuart Fairchild’s perfectly timed leap on his amazing home run robbery.


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Dan Gartland

DAN GARTLAND

Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).