Skip to Content

Mason Miller Is Keeping The A’s Interesting

Mason Miller #19 of the Oakland Athletics delivers a pitch against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on April 06, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan.
Nic Antaya/Getty Images

A closer in the American League West tends to throw the very last pitches of the baseball day. Some of these are worth sticking around for. Some are not. Mason Miller’s pitches extremely are. 

Before the MLB season began, one could imagine the Oakland Athletics not needing their games closed out so much as gotten over with. Or maybe one was not imagining the A’s pitching needs at all; blogging about them as an actual baseball concern indeed makes me feel a little foolish. But whatever the team is doing right now, it is not the world-historical suck of 2023. At least not yet. While the Astros bullpen faffs around and its erstwhile starting rotation reapplies ice packs, the A’s sit fourth in their division, a game out of second place, and just two and a half games back of the first-place Rangers, who dropped a series to these mighty A’s last week. Granted, this is not an especially hard-won “two and a half games back of first”—an 8-11 record will get you that far in the AL West right now. But last year, the A’s didn’t win their eighth game until May 6, and what matters anyway is they've been in enough games that they have reason to unleash this guy:

Miller throws hard. That is his deal. No one throws harder more often. His fastball sits at 101. Of the 244 pitches clocked at 100 mph or faster so far this season, Miller himself accounts for more than a quarter (64). That's exactly twice as many as the second-most prolific member of the 22-pitcher hundo club, the White Sox's Michael Kopech, a fellow bullpen bright spot on a sadsack team. In nine innings of relief work this season, Miller has struck out 17 of the 37 batters he's faced, and because it would make for a more convincing blog to toss out his first outing of the season, against the pesky and blog-ruining Guardians, I will tell you he has struck out 16 of the last 30 batters he's faced across eight scoreless innings.

The inning that won me over was not the sort of inning any fan expects to go well, and certainly not a fan of the A's, whose bullpen was worst in MLB last year by WAR. Miller took the mound in the bottom of the ninth to protect a 1-0 lead against the top of the Rangers’ order. In these circumstances, a manager might do well to tell the game's official scorer to award the walk-off bomb to whichever of Marcus Semien or Corey Seager they'd prefer, to save everyone the time and heartache. But in a twist, it was only the rookie three-hole hitter Wyatt Langford who could hold his head high after battling with Miller. He managed to foul off a 104-mph fastball in a two-strike count, and then at least pop up a 90-mph slider to end the game. Before that, Miller had surprised Semien with three straight 88-mph sliders, and blown 103 past Seager, after dotting strikes one and two.

I remember going to a baseball game, maybe a year ago, and struggling to understand the cheers and jeers of a man in my section. His loyalties followed no logic, or none that I could see. What team was he was rooting for? Why was he thrilled by one player's double but indifferent to the hit that scored the player from second? Was he someone's dad or something? Don't dads get better seats? Eventually, I understood: His allegiance was to the legs of his single-game parlay. My reasons are purer than the gambler's, but the promise of Mason Miller on TV has driven me to the gambler mindset. I would like the A's to be winning, but they can't be winning by too much. Shea Langeliers hits a go-ahead solo homer? Excellent. Anything more than that? Go to jail! Being down a run is probably OK, too. I think I have just invented “having a guy on your fantasy team, without having the fantasy team.”

If it weren't fun enough to watch Miller pitch, he also lets you imagine that someone at your desk job might, in more fortunate circumstances, instead be throwing gas past Lane Thomas. When his senior season at D-III Waynesburg University was cut short in the spring of 2020, Miller planned to wrap up his baseball career and take a finance job he had lined up in nearby Pittsburgh. (The feature on Miller in the Waynesburg alumni magazine notes his 3.93 GPA.) His interest in finance had already reshaped his baseball career. As a 6-foot-5, 150-pound college sophomore in 2018, he took a drug test, a prerequisite for a summer internship, which showed his blood sugar levels were dangerously high. Miller says his eventual Type 1 diabetes diagnosis forced him to pay closer attention to his diet. He gained about 50 pounds before his junior season and added 10 mph on his fastball. Though he was starting to intrigue some MLB scouts at this point, he had little hope of being selected in the 2020 draft, which was shortened to five rounds. He accepted his postgrad job offer, but when players were granted an extra year of college eligibility, he decided to use it at D-I Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina. The A’s selected him in the third round of the 2021 draft. 

Miller debuted in the A's rotation last year, but was shut down quickly after being diagnosed with a mild UCL sprain. Before spring training this year, A's manager Mark Kotsay said they planned to move him to the pen to preserve his arm. Whether max-effort closing really qualifies as arm preservation remains to be seen.

Miller's fastball already averaged 98.3 mph when he was a starter, and he wasn't sure at first whether the new role would have much effect. “I think I’m a low-motor guy, so I don’t know how much it’s going to change,” he told in February. “But if I can squeeze out another mile per hour or two, that wouldn’t hurt, for sure.” He did more than that, and for now, it hasn't.

Already a user?Log in

Welcome to Defector!

Sign up to read another couple free blogs.

Or, click here to subscribe!

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter