Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Jon on Thursday, February 12, 2004

Lucky Season Makes Millwood More Money

Before the start of the 2003 season, the Phillies acquired Kevin Millwood to lead their young pitching staff, giving up a top (and I mean tip top) prospect in Johnny Estrada. They thought they were acquiring a legitimate staff ace, and they paid that kind of money to get him ($9.9 million). In case you missed it, the Phillies just signed Kevin to a one year $11 million contract to avoid arbitration. Yesterday, Mike touched on some Millwood issues. He pointed to Millwood’s ERA+ numbers over his seven year career, which indicate that aside from one very good season in 1999, the Phillies were picking up an average guy to insert into their rotation as a number one starter.

I hold nothing against Mike for these claims, for they are quite accurate. Aside from 1999, Millwood has been nothing special. But, as Dave pointed out to me, what Philly was signing was hope that Kevin, after a better season in 2002, was on the verge of returning to his 1999 form. In 1999, Millwood went 18-7, striking out 205 batters in 228 innings. He was second in the league with a 2.68 ERA. In 1999, Millwood truly appeared to be the latest recipient of Mazzone Magic in Atlanta. After that season, an $11 million contract actually appears reasonable. But a closer inspection of Millwood’s career pitching in 1999 reveals why Millwood seemed so much better in 1999. Rest assured, Millwood had a good season, but if that season was the Phillies’ basis for his original contract, they missed an important factor. Interestingly, Millwood’s dramatic drop-off in ERA was a result of predominantly one factor: luck.

Mike gave us Millwood’s ERA+ over his career. Here is his ERA+ in addition to his hits allowed per nine innings for each year, with his 1999 season highlighted:


The only two seasons that really pop out at you going down these columns are his 1999 numbers: 162 ERA+ and 6.63 hits allowed per nine innings. Was Millwood really that much of a better pitcher in 1999 than the rest of his career? His strike outs per nine innings were actually down from 1998.

In fact, Millwood did not have the National League’s second-best ERA in 1999 because his pitching was so much better than his previous year. The real reason for his success in 1999 lies in his H/9. In 1999, Millwood allowed more than one hit fewer than he has in any other season. No reason is apparent from his stats. In fact, his win total, strike outs per nine innings, and walks per nine innings were remarkably similar to his 1998 performance. So how can we account for Millwood’s miraculous 1999 ERA? It had to be luck! Thanks to Voros McCracken we understand that in most cases, luck has a strong affects on whether a ball hit into play is recorded as an out, or falls as a hit. It appears that in 1999, Millwood pitched so well because he was particularly lucky. A pitcher’s hits allowed is never a good measure of a pitcher’s performance because it is a stat that depends on luck, at least to a reasonable extent. Millwood’s career year was nothing more than a lucky season. He pitched well, but not significantly better than any other seasons of his career. Philly should not have been banking on Millwood returning to his 1999 form. In 1999, aside from his ERA, he was the same pitcher he has always been: slightly above average.

Which brings me to my point: Millwood is possibly the most overrated pitcher in baseball, and he is one of the most overpaid athletes in the sport. I agree with Mike in that the Phillies need some stability in their rotation and that Millwood is a good fit, but for $10 million?! Millwood was going to be a Phillie this year regardless of his signing this contract (they were in the process of salary arbitration), so it’s not as if Philadelphia could have refrained from signing him. But what I do not understand is Philadelphia GM Ed Wade’s urge to sign him to a multi-year contract. In November, he offered Millwood a three-year $30 million contract, with an option for a fourth year, which the most popular agent at Talking Baseball (in one of Dave’s recent posts and also in my previous post), Scott Boras, elected to decline. Yes, you are correct. Ed Wade offered to sign Millwood long term at about the same rate that Roy Halladay was just signed to and Boras declined, which is his worst money move to date if you ask me. After one more season of mediocrity, Wade will be glad he wasn’t taken up on his offer.

From Overrated to Underrated

I have a news flash for all of you baseball fans out there: Frank Thomas is still an elite slugger. Unjustifiably, nobody talks about Thomas anymore. After an injury in 2001 cost him most of the season, the Big Hurt played more like he was still Hurt 2002, not playing up to his standards. He slugged a modest .472 and he his OBP dropped to a paltry .361, amazingly his lowest OBP in his 13 seasons appearing in over 20 games. But last season, when most expected his numbers to drop into the deep end, he rebounded, banging out 42 home runs with a dramatically improved .390 OBP. More than half of his hits were for extra bases, and his AB/HR ratio (13.00) was his third lowest and his best mark since the 1995 season. Admittedly, he started hitting for power at the end of the season, just trying to crank out homers, but don’t be fooled. The Big Hurt can still hit, and should be a force in 2004. Unfortunately, the White Sox seemed stuck in reverse this off-season, making up for the losses of Bartolo Colon and Tom Gordon by acquiring Cliff Politte. With that kind of an upgrade, watching Thomas cranking balls over the fence may be the only thing Sox fans have to look forward to next season.

Going 52 in a 25

It’s nice to know that some athletes can’t buy their way out of jail time. Yesterday, Milton Bradley received a three-day jail sentence after driving away from a police officer after the officer pulled him over driving 52 mph in a 25 mph zone (maybe he’s dyslexic?). I can’t think of a better place to spend the final week before Spring Training than in the big house.

From the Bleachers

Starting today, I’ll end all of my posts with some fun fact or insight. It’s so late tonight that I decided to have a little fun…

This relates back to my February 4th post, in which I wrote that Johan Santana is actually worth more than he is being offered in arbitration. I wonder what the arbiters will decide.

Two cases went to arbitration
With both teams winning mediations
But that darned players’ union
Will soon scream ‘collusion!’
Unless Johan gets fair compensation.

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