When it comes to archetypes, sports are chock-full of them. There’s the tall but slow center in basketball, the loud, team-leading middle linebacker in football and the low average, power-hitting catcher in softball and baseball.
Last season, freshman Chloe Miller was filling her role as the team’s stereotypical catcher. She batted .295, which is not exactly low, but it was fifth on the team and 80 points lower than team leader senior outfielder Mary Massei. She also led the team with 12 homers and was tied for second in slugging at .617. Then, in the off-season, something changed.
“In the fall me and [sophomore] Sara Novak, we were hitting doubles, and that’s what we were trying to do. We were just trying to up our batting average and get on base more, become well-rounded, whole players,” Miller said.
Now a sophomore, Miller has broken out of the traditional catcher’s role. She is batting .362, about 70 points higher than last year, and is second on the team behind only senior outfielder Maria Van Abel at .384. Miller is also second on the team in on-base percentage with .491, an often more accurate indication of offensive value.
While the average has gone up, Miller’s power has decreased. With only three games left on the year, Miller has only one home run, a significant drop-off from last year. She leads the team in slugging percentage with .515, despite her percentage dropping about 100 points from last year, showing just how little power this year’s Badger squad has had.
Just hitting homers isn’t the end-all, be-all of offense, and that is true for Miller and the Badgers this year. Miller has 43 RBIs this year so far after having only 37 during all of last season, with seven more games played.
Miller’s shift has been parallel to this year’s UW team as a whole. The team has hit about 40 less home runs this year, yet averages more runs per game due to the success of head coach Yvette Healy’s small-ball philosophy that centers around getting on base and stealing rather than swinging for the fences every at-bat. Healy believes Miller’s style switch is less about what she’s chosen to do, but about the team around her.
“She’s just not surrounded by other home run kids. You graduate three seniors that are all All-Region, they’re all double-digit home run kids, so you get more pitches,” Healy said. “But [Miller’s] the only real power threat on our team, so I think next year when she’s surrounded by more power hitters, it’ll come back.”
With another year’s experience under her belt, the still young Miller has plenty of time to continue to develop. Next season, her power numbers should bounce back up after a year of being the only power threat due to injuries to Novak and junior Stefanni LaJeunesse. Regardless if the power hitting Miller or the high-average Miller shows up, she will be one of the only two-year starters returning to the team, putting her in a clear position as a potential team leader.
“With the big hitters last year, and of course the three seniors this year, it’s kinda hard to be in that leadership role,” Miller said. “But I think coming off of a year like this, someone needs to take it, and it’s up for grabs.
Regardless of archetypical positional roles, Miller has had a solid sophomore campaign, and could provide a long-term glimmer of hope a team that has struggled all season long.