As the Mets continue their search for a bargain-basement pitcher, one name being mentioned in the mainstream media is Kevin Millwood. This is a terrible idea. Yes, I know, I usually present the strengths and weaknesses first and give the reader the information to make up his mind first before I give my opinion. But while reasonable people can disagree on many things, this is not one of them. Signing Millwood is not something a team with designs on winning games should do.
Millwood is very durable. He’s made 30 or more starts in five of the last six years and the one season he failed to reach that plateau, he made 29 starts. The veteran righty has solid control. Lifetime he has a 2.80 BB/9 and last year he posted a 3.07 mark in the category. Also, Millwood saw his strikeout rate go back up last year. He had a 6.23 K/9, which followed up 2009’s 5.57 career-low mark.
Where to start? Let’s begin with his age, as Millwood turns 36 in December. In four of the last five years, his ERA has been above 4.50, with three of those years (including 2010) being above 5. The one year he was below 4.50 was clearly a fluke, as he had a 4.80 FIP and a 4.78 xFIP. That season he had a 78.6 LOB%, one of the best marks in the game. Lifetime, Millwood has a 71.4 LOB%. The three previous seasons before his fluke year, his numbers were: 68.5, 67.7 and 67.6.
Millwood has a lifetime 6.97 K/9, which is a good rate. But he’s been below that mark the last six years. The guy who struck out over eight batters per full game when he broke in with the Braves is gone and he’s not coming back.
His fastball velocity has dropped in five consecutive seasons, down to 89.0 last year. In the first season in which we have the data (2002), his fastball was 25 runs above average. Last year it was a negative offering at -1.7 runs. His changeup (-1.6) was equally bad. And those were his two best pitches. His curve ball was twice as bad (-3.4) while his slider, a pitch he threw 21.6 percent of the time, checked in with a -13.4 run value.
Earlier, it was noted that Millwood has solid control. But the flip side of that is when he does throw it in the strike zone, batters hit the ball pretty good. Hitters made contact 91.4 percent of the time Millwood threw a pitch in the strike zone. He gave up a career-high 30 HR last year and hitters had a .322 BABIP. While most pitchers have a BABIP around .300, Millwood has had a mark of .313 or above in five of the past seven seasons.
Millwood used to be able to get batters to swing and miss, as you might recall from his days with the Braves or be able to deduce from his once-high K/9 rates. But his percentage of swinging strikes has declined seven straight years, to a 5.9 percent rate in 2010. That would be the worst mark among the pitchers who threw at least 50 IP for the Mets last year.
At one time, Millwood was an elite pitcher. Then he was a reliable mid-rotations starter. But now he throws meatballs up there. Yes, he won 13 games and had a 3.67 ERA in his fluke 2009 season. But look at the other years that surround that season.
2007: 10-14, 5.16 ERA
2008: 9-10, 5.07 ERA
2010: 4-16, 5.10 ERA
That’s the Millwood that teams will be getting in 2011, assuming he doesn’t suffer any age-related decline. If you go to Baseball-Reference and look at his age-based comps, you see many big-named pitchers, like Doug Drabek, Kevin Appier and Frank Viola. But if you check what those guys did at age 36, it was not pretty. For every Dennis Martinez, who had a fine season at 36, you’ll find a Bill Gullickson or Rick Rhoden to make you go, ewww.
Millwood had a fine career, one that most pitchers would trade for in a heartbeat. But that career is just about over. Forget the pitcher he was in Atlanta or Philadelphia. Instead, remember the guy the Mets faced in 2010. In his start against New York, Millwood posted the following line:
5.1 IP, 11 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks, 3 HR
That was Millwood’s season in a nutshell. Why anyone who watched that start, or more seriously who watched him pitch the last five years, would want to add him to the staff is beyond me. While Millwood fits the bill of a veteran pitcher willing to sign a cheap contract, let’s hope Sandy Alderson doesn’t even offer him an NRI.