37 year old (he will turn 38 years old in the off-season) starting pitcher Kevin Millwood signed a minor league free agent contract with the Mariners before the start of the 2012 season and I was very lukewarm on the signing. I didn’t picture him as being able to contribute as an average starter. Perhaps just to spite me, that is just what Millwood did, with a 2.0 fWAR and 101 FIP -. In 28 starts, he was about as average as a starter can possibly be. Considering the Mariners pitching was slightly below average (when park adjusted), Millwood had some real value for the Mariners (he was worth 9 million dollars according to Fangraphs “WAR dollars”, certainly worth more than Baseball Reference’s .2 runs above replacement and -1.1 WAA. He was docked because of a bad ERA. His ERA + was 88 and his ERA – was 111. Baseball Prospectus’ VORP and WARP seem somewhat conservative as well, as they have him at 6-7 runs above replacement level. Their metric FRA, has him at a 4.45 expected ERA, which is closer to his 4.42 xFIP and 4.53 SIERA. He has a .868 xOPS off the bat, .010 points of OPS higher than league average, with a total xOPS of .744, which is just .005 OPS higher than a MLB average starter. Despite missing a lot of bats, and probably too high of a walk rate for his strikeout rate, it appears to me that he was an average pitcher.)
However, when looking at his numbers, it is quite clear that Millwood faded down the stretch. His numbers really correlated with his drop in velocity: (courtesy of Fangraphs)
As mentioned above, he had a .868 xOPS off the bat this season. In early June, his xOPS off the bat was .827 (however, he actually had a higher walk rate, which led to a slghtly worse xOPS in total. One theory could be that he was hit less hard because he was nibbling more at the beginning of the season). This year, the average ball put in play went 246.327, which as we have seen is really good. Millwood was good this year and I get the sense that not enough people appreciate this fact. He had a sore shoulder at the end of the year that caused him to be shut down and miss his last couple of starts. Perhaps that was the reason he struggled down the stretch, or perhaps it was fatigue caused by aging. Perhaps the two are one in the same.
Millwood has below average velocity, as his fastball averaged 90.84 MPH, which is the same as Dillon Gee (98 FIP – this year) and .01 MPH below Marco Estrada (86 FIP – this year), but it is really more of a sinker (Fangraphs splits his fastball and sinker, while Brooks Baseball combines it). Of course, Millwood also cuts his fastball. He doesn’t lose really any velocity on it when he does (90.33 MPH, just below Yu Darvish and just above Scott Feldman), and gets similar horizontal movement on it to Luke Hochaver and Shaun Marcum and vertical movement similar to Travis Wood and Erik Bedard. The fastball was his worst pitch as far as what hitters did against it (144 wRC +, which is still better than it was last year when he pitched for the Rockies). It was the pitch he got the most grounders on though and his cutter was an okay ground-ball pitch that proved serviceable to him (99 wRC +).
Millwood also throws a slider (he seems to have ditched his splitter that he used to throw in previous years) at 83-84 MPH, similar to Trevor Cahill and Chris Volstad (two sinker ballers who rely heavily on contact and ground-balls). Horizontally, it moves like Jacob Turner’s and Nick Blackburn’s (two pitchers who really struggled this year), while vertically it moves like Dice-K‘s and Ross Ohlendorf‘s (two pitchers who really struggled in limited opportunities this year. I really didn’t like either of their sliders in watching them, as I thought they broke too slow and neither had good control of it.). For most of his career, it has been a good pitch for Millwood (other than in 2010, when it was a disaster for him. To be fair, just about everything was a disaster for Millwood in 2010), but this year, it was a mediocre pitch (103 wRC +, 20 K%).
Millwood’s curveball averages about 73 MPH (between Dallas Keuchel’s and Paul Maholm’s). This is a jump in velocity from the previous two years (as you see with almost all of the rest of his pitches). It breaks horizontally like Michael Fiers and Jerome Williams’ curves (two pretty good ones) and vertically it breaks like Cole Devries and Jeremy Hefner’s (which is probably less impressive. It does break slightly more vertically than Barry Zito’s, which would be a great thing 5-6 years ago, but his curve didn’t look that great in times I saw him this year). Even though Millwood didn’t miss a lot of bats this year, his curveball was his best strikeout pitch. Hitters simply weren’t able to hit it hard this year either, as he gave up just a 19 wRC + on curveballs, by far his best pitch.
The changeup Millwood has averages 82-83 MPH (technically between David Huff and Michael Gonzalez, which probably doesn’t tell you as much as the fact that it is similar to Colby Lewis and Jair Jurrjens). Horizontally, it breaks like Adam Wainwright and Drew Pomeranz’ changes, and it breaks like Erik Bedard and Luke Hochevar’s (two names we have seen before) vertically. It wasn’t a pitch he got many swings and misses with, but it was also not hit very well, and along with the curveball (which he also got a lot of infield pop ups with), he didn’t give up a home run with it this year.
So obviously Millwood comes at hitters with a full array of pitches, as this chart from Fangraphs shows
He has all the basic pitches (it would be fun to see him throw a knuckleball or break out a screwball though). “Knowing how to pitch” is usually a tired cliche reserved for pitchers that aren’t very good and try to make up for bad fastballs by pitching backwards and throwing a couple different breaking pitches with a lot of changeups (and usually give up a lot of homers). I don’t know if Millwood falls into this category of pitcher or not (I think the numbers speak somewhat for themselves), but he certainly knows how to pitch.
Medical information is something that teams clearly have more of than the general public, elaborating on his injuries is probably something that isn’t worth a lot of time. However, it is something to keep in mind, as it may be difficult to give a guaranteed contract to a guy who is an injury risk. If no one seems to want to pick him up in the off-season, it could be because they are scared of what they see with his shoulder. The groin strain that hampered him in June (during the no hitter no less) isn’t exactly something that is concerning in a predictive sense other than the fact that his age will make it more likely that he will have these kinds of injuries than a younger pitcher (although they get hurt as well obviously). It is interesting to note that he had basically the same injury (and re-aggravated it like he did with the Mariners) in 2008. He doesn’t have much of history (especially if you are just looking at the last decade or so) with shoulder issues, so again it could have just been fatigued and he may have to be skipped a couple times next year in the rotation if he decides to pitch.
And that is the biggest issue. Millwood has voiced that he may retire. I almost decided against writing this article because it is all pretty irrelevant if he does retire.
For 1 million dollars and a non guaranteed roster spot, Kevin Millwood was obviously a bargain for the Mariners in 2012. A similar salary for 2013 would be positive for a club as well. If he wants to pitch again, he looks like he is still a guy that could be effective again, even if it is just for half of a season until prospects come into their own and take his spot in the rotation. He is more than a warm body, he can help you win some ballgames with average run support (something he obviously didn’t receive this year).
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Favorite general sports moment: The Texas versus USC college football national championship comes to mind, as does Gary Matthews Jr. catch on July 1st 2006.
Favorite Seattle Sports Moment: King Felix throwing a perfect game against the Rays
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