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Is Kevin Millwood really that bad?

Posted by Andy on March 26, 2011

Kevin Millwood finally has a team after signing a minor-league deal with the Yankees. I'm surprised it took him so long to find a job.

Yeah, in 2010 he had just an 82 ERA+ and 16 losses, but check out the list of the most recent guys to do that:

Rk Player Year L ERA+ Age Tm G GS CG SHO W W-L% IP H R ER BB SO ERA HR OPS+
1 Joe Saunders 2010 17 93 29 TOT 33 33 3 1 9 .346 203.1 232 120 101 64 114 4.47 25 118
2 Kevin Millwood 2010 16 83 35 BAL 31 31 1 0 4 .200 190.2 223 116 108 65 132 5.10 30 119
3 Rodrigo Lopez 2010 16 85 34 ARI 33 33 0 0 7 .304 200.0 227 126 111 56 116 5.00 37 123
4 Jeremy Guthrie 2009 17 90 30 BAL 33 33 1 0 10 .370 200.0 224 120 112 60 110 5.04 35 115
5 Zach Duke 2009 16 102 26 PIT 32 32 3 1 11 .407 213.0 231 101 96 49 106 4.06 23 106
6 Aaron Harang 2008 17 93 30 CIN 30 29 1 1 6 .261 184.1 205 104 98 50 153 4.78 35 119
7 Greg Smith 2008 16 100 24 OAK 32 32 2 0 7 .304 190.1 169 92 88 87 111 4.16 21 97
8 Justin Verlander 2008 17 93 25 DET 33 33 1 0 11 .393 201.0 195 119 108 87 163 4.84 18 88
9 Barry Zito 2008 17 86 30 SFG 32 32 0 0 10 .370 180.0 186 115 103 102 120 5.15 16 106
10 Javier Vazquez 2008 16 98 32 CHW 33 33 1 0 12 .429 208.1 214 113 108 61 200 4.67 25 94
11 Daniel Cabrera 2007 18 83 26 BAL 34 34 1 0 9 .333 204.1 207 133 126 108 166 5.55 25 103
12 Jose Contreras 2007 17 84 35 CHW 32 30 2 2 10 .370 189.0 232 134 117 62 113 5.57 21 110
13 Matt Cain 2007 16 123 22 SFG 32 32 1 0 7 .304 200.0 173 84 81 79 163 3.65 14 78
14 Nate Robertson 2005 16 95 27 DET 32 32 2 0 7 .304 196.2 202 113 98 65 122 4.48 28 103
15 Kip Wells 2005 18 83 28 PIT 33 33 1 1 8 .308 182.0 186 116 103 99 132 5.09 23 115
16 Jamey Wright 2005 16 88 30 COL 34 27 0 0 8 .333 171.1 201 119 104 81 101 5.46 22 120
17 Brandon Webb 2004 16 129 25 ARI 35 35 1 0 7 .304 208.0 194 111 83 119 164 3.59 17 87
18 Darrell May 2004 19 85 32 KCR 31 31 3 1 9 .321 186.0 234 130 116 55 120 5.61 38 130
19 Ryan Franklin 2004 16 93 31 SEA 32 32 2 1 4 .200 200.1 224 116 109 61 104 4.90 33 116
20 John Lackey 2003 16 95 24 ANA 33 33 2 2 10 .385 204.0 223 117 105 66 151 4.63 31 109
21 Jeff D'Amico 2003 16 92 27 PIT 29 29 2 1 9 .360 175.1 204 104 93 42 100 4.77 23 110
22 Nate Cornejo 2003 17 92 23 DET 32 32 2 0 6 .261 194.2 236 111 101 58 46 4.67 18 118
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/25/2011.

This is not a list full of stinkers. Yeah, there are a lot of guys who led their league in losses (see bold numbers). But then there are some guys like #8 Verlander, #13 Cain, and #17 Webb who had excellent OPS+ against numbers and still racked up the losses. Quite a few other names on this list put together good careers and had many other good seasons.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not suggesting that Millwood is a #1 or #2 type guy, especially at his age. But he's a pretty good bet to be solid, pitch a lot of innings, go relatively deep into games, and be a good guy to fill the back end of a rotation. Given that he ultimately agreed to a minor-league deal, I'm surprised some team didn't throw a couple of million bucks at him to make him a #5 starter.

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 26th, 2011 at 7:32 am and is filed under Season Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

28 Responses to “Is Kevin Millwood really that bad?”

  1. But did you also notice that only two other guys on this list had a higher OPS against than Millwood? The guy is toast.

  2. Paul Lebowitz Says:

    He's not bad at all, but the combination of larger than reasonable financial demands; the implication that he's out of shape; and his reportedly diminished velocity makes it understandable that teams like the Cardinals chose to go with what they had instead.
    The Yankees are desperate.

  3. Who cares about losses? Look at the guys with the low ERA+ and high OPS+--Millwood doesn't have a lot of good company there. With the exception of Harang, not a lot to like.

  4. "I'm surprised some team didn't throw a couple of million bucks at him to make him a #5 starter."

    That does not surprise me one bit, even given the desperation of some GMs. Even if he does chew innings as a number 5, you'd want something resembling a .500 pitcher and/or a mid 4 ERA to want to throw money at.

    Millwood could be that bad again; he's been ridiculously unpredictable in the last few years. Time is not on his side, but it's hard to argue a low investment signing to a guy with his experience.

  5. Fair enough. With the trade of Sergio Mitre, it seems that the Yankees have committed to having Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, and Freddy Garcia all on their pitching staff. Colon seems the most likely to break down. I wouldn't be surprised if Millwood ends up with a handful of starts.

    I wonder how much GMs were bothered by his W-L record in evaluating him, though. I'm not saying his other numbers were good, but certainly not as bad as a cursory analysis of his record might suggest.

  6. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    I would say he's pretty bad; but then, no one ever offerred me a contract to pitch, so I suppose I can't judge.

  7. You'd enhance the credibility of the piece if you would spell his name right. Millwood. Two l's, and it's not like it's a one-time mistake. It is misspelled throughout the entire piece.

  8. #6 Thanks. I pride myself on correct spelling but do occasionally make mistakes. Fixed now.

  9. The question is not whether Millwood stinks; the question is whether can you get a pitcher of similar talent for less money. Given Millwood's numbers last year, aren't there an almost infinite number of replacement level players who will sign for the minimum and save a team $1 million or so?

  10. I think it's just the opposite, Wine Curmudgeon: If you're the Yankees, would you rather spend $1 million on a replacement-level Millwood, or be forced to promote Betances/Brackman/Banuelos a year too early?

  11. Millwood was pretty awful last year and he's going to be 36 years old so that has to be taken into consideration.

    He was awful with letting up the HR ball last year, ranking 42/43 in HR/9 in the A.L. He was pretty awful in letting up hits as well, ranking 41/43 in H/9 in the A.L.

    His k/bb wasn't that great either, 2.03, 31st/43 in the A.L.

    He might be halfway decent in a pitcher's park like San Diego, Seattle or Citi Field where the ball park would tend to keep those HR in the park.

  12. Quick, how many modern-era (since 1920) HOF pitchers have lost 20 games in a season? If you've said 7, you're right (and some of those have done it more than once).

    Now, I'm certainly not saying Millwood's going to the Hall. But, even very good pitchers can pile up the losses on occasion.

  13. @ Doug: Again, it isn't about wins in isolation. His peripherals stunk and haven't been that good for a while.

    Last year he had the worst FIP for any pitcher in the AL with >=180 IP. His xFIP was 5th worst.

    His HR/9 hasn't been significantly below league average since 2006, and he's been giving up ~40% fly balls in hitter friendly environments, with a HR/FB rate of about 11%. Also, his K/BB ratio has been trending the wrong way since 2006.

    All told, that's not exactly a great fit for NY.

  14. He has pitched to a WHIP >1.5 three out of the past four years. He's now 36. Yes, he's that bad.

  15. @ 12.

    Bill, not defending Millwood's performance or results (both sub-par, I agree) but most 36 year-olds will have have seen their performance metrics trending the wrong way for a while - probably, like Millwood, starting in their early 30s.

    I also agree that if you were going to fit Millwood to the ballpark least likely to expose his weaknesses, then Yankee Stadium is just about the last place you would put him. Hard to figure why the Yanks would get him unless they are truly desperate, or they think they can fix something they've spotted in his delivery that might be contributing to all the fly balls.

    BTW, that HOF query result was just something I ran a few days ago after I was looking at Red Ruffing's player page, and was startled to see back-to-back 20-loss seasons just below the "Hall of Fame" banner. To digress, Ruffing was actually 19-47 those two years and, unsurprisingly, got traded to the Yankees the next season. But, unlike Millwood's case, Ruffing's Yanks were picking up a 25 year-old with 5 years big-league experience and still a lot of potential upside.

  16. Millwood's career has been very up and down. He was good-to-great in '99, '02, '05 and '09 with some fairly ordinary-to-crummy years in between.

    This is where I'd be interested in hearing what the scouts and coaches say. If someone thinks they understand what he's doing right in the good years and wrong in the bad years. Is it all just random BABIP stuff or is it injuries or mechanics? Or is his arm just dead? It makes sense that somebody would take a chance and see if they can fix him.

  17. As a diehard fan since 76 I have been calling for the Yanks to sign
    Millwood all winter, once it became apparent that Andy was retitred.

    The reason is quite simple. Put him at #5 and count on 30 starts. Then
    if you end up with a better option, great. If not, you have a durable and
    experienced innings eater.

  18. Millwood will never be "that bad" as long as there's Jamey Wright on a list for him to be compared to.

  19. All the Yankees need to do now is sign Tommy John and they will start to resemble their late 80's gong show of a pitching staff.

  20. Except for a decent 2009, Millwood's ERA has sucked big time every year since 2005, and that title was sort of like Del Unser leading the A.L. in triples in '69. Sometimes a player gets kinda lucky! He's toast........but worth a cheap gamble on. I hope he's done, if only for the fact that the Yuckees would fail to capture the illusive 'lightening in a bottle'.

  21. @15, Ruffing had those bad years with terrible Red Sox teams. Bill James pointed out many years ago that there were a bunch of pitchers who would go .300 with a .400 team but .700 with a .600 team, and Ruffing was one of his examples.

  22. #21 -"Bill James pointed out many years ago that there were a bunch of pitchers who would go .300 with a .400 team but .700 with a .600 team, and Ruffing was one of his examples."

    I thought that Ruffing was the only pitcher that James pointed out, who else did he mention?

  23. Yes.

  24. @2, Signing a guy to a minor league contract is not a desperate move. He'll probably never throw an inning for them unless he can show he has something.

  25. John Autin Says:

    Millwood's BABIP has been all over the map in the last few years:
    -- 2007, .340
    -- 2008, .358
    -- 2009, .275
    -- 2010, .320
    (His career BABIP is a very normal .301.)

    His ERA has followed suit:
    -- 2007, 5.16
    -- 2008, 5.07
    -- 2009, 3.75
    -- 2010, 5.10

    If BABIP is essentially luck, then Millwood was unlucky last year, very lucky in '09, and extremely unlucky in '08 (when the rest of his rate stats were significantly better than in '09, when he had a good ERA).

    But I don't any of that adds up to a better outlook for Millwood than one would form simply by noting that he's 36 years old and had a bad ERA+ in 3 of the last 4 years.

  26. @ 25: One season can be chalked up to bad luck, maybe two. But when you see 3 out of 4 years it isn't about luck anymore, it's about stuff. The outlier above is 2009, not the other three years.

    Context matters, especially with BABIP. The context here is an ageing pitcher that has shown signs of decline for a few years. Given that, we should interpret his BABIP numbers as another signal that his stuff isn't what it used to be.

  27. John Autin Says:

    @26, Bill Pelti -- I agree with your general assessment of Millwood. But isn't it possible to be both bad and unlucky? Also, while I am not fully read-up on BABIP studies, I haven't heard of a direct correlation between "stuff" and BABIP. As I understand it, "stuff" is best interpreted by strikeouts and HRs allowed.

    Again, while I be as surprised as you would be by a Millwood resurgence, there's also no question that the O's were a poor defensive club last year. Fangraphs has Millwood's expected FIP at 4.66, which is no great shakes but a fair sight better than his 5.10 ERA.

  28. @ 27: Sure, it's possible to be both bad and unlucky. That's why I brought up context. If you look at more than just his BABIP it's pretty clear luck isn't the main culprit. So, sure, his FIP was .44 lower than his ERA, but his FIP was about 60th worst in the AL among starters with >=90 IPs. So 10 starters were worse last year.

    Here are some other numbers.

    HR/9 since 2008:
    .96
    1.18
    1.42

    HR/FB%:
    9.3%
    10.6%
    11.6%

    K/9:
    6.67
    5.57
    6.23

    FIP:
    4.20
    4.78
    4.66

    Also, his first-strike % has decreased from 62% to 56%, and his contact % has increased from 85.6% to 86.1% since 2008.

    Millwood can still strike guys out (he was 38/70 among AL starters >=90 IP in 2010), but if he doesn't the numbers aren't pretty. His K/BB was among the bottom half of starters. And just look at his values by pitch type--nothing signals that his troubles are due to the O's defense.

    To me, the proponderance of the evidence suggests he's just not that good anymore, luck or no luck.