Millwood moving into the class of elite pitchers

It shouldn't come as a surprise that Kevin Millwood pitched a no-hitter in that he's been putting up impressive numbers since last year.

Originally Published: April 28, 2003
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

Kevin Millwood pitched a no-hitter on Sunday?

I'm not surprised.

OK, so I'm a little surprised. After all, Millwood's now done something that neither Greg Maddux nor Tom Glavine nor John Smoltz has ever done.

Kevin Millwood
Starting pitcher
Philadelphia Phillies
Profile
2003 SEASON STATISTICS
GM IP W-L BB SO ERA
6 33.2 4-1 15 33 3.48

But no, I'm not surprised when Kevin Millwood pitches well.

Prior to the season, 27 "ESPN experts" were asked to predict the award winners. For the National League Cy Young Award, 15 votes went to Randy Johnson. Five went to Mark Prior and three went to Roy Oswalt, with the remaining four votes going to four different pitchers. One vote went to Matt Morris (Matt Pike), one went to Wade Miller (Jeff Brantley), one went to Curt Schilling (Bob Klapisch) ... and one went to Kevin Millwood (Rob Neyer).

Yes, Randy Johnson was the obvious pick, and probably the smartest pick. If you wanted to go against the grain and predict that somebody else would win the Cy Young, you were just guessing. Which is what I did.

That said, I do think that a lot of people -- Braves GM John Schuerholz not least among them -- missed the boat on Millwood. If somebody came up and said to you, "I've got a pitcher who's better than Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux," wouldn't you want him?

Sure you would. And the fact is that by almost any objective measure, Millwood pitched better than both Glavine and Maddux last season.

Let's look at all three, but leave out wins and losses (influenced heavily by run support) and ERA (influenced heavily by relief pitchers).

          Innings  H/9  W/9  HR/9  K/9
Maddux      199    8.8  2.0  0.63  5.3
Glavine     225    8.4  3.1  0.84  5.1
Millwood    217    7.7  2.7  0.64  7.4

Millwood had the best hit ratio and the best strikeout ratio. His walk ratio is between Maddux's and Glavine's, and his home-run ratio was a very close second to Maddux's. His Expected ERA (for those who care about such things) was 3.05, significantly better than those of both Maddux (3.46) and Glavine (3.78).

Of course, the (recent) past isn't necessarily prologue. What about 2003? Here's what three different projection methods predicted as ERA's for the aforementioned trio of ex-teammates:

           Maddux  Glavine  Millwood
Silver      3.58     4.05     3.70          
Shandler    3.33     3.92     3.06
Tippett     2.98     3.59     3.00
AVERAGES    3.28     3.84     3.24

"Silver" is Nate Silver, who produces the PECOTA projections favored by Baseball Prospectus. "Shandler" is Ron Shandler, author of Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster. And "Tippett" is Tom Tippett, the mind behind Diamond Mind Baseball.

What's interesting here -- to me, at least -- is how three sophisticated methods devised by bright people can lead to significantly different conclusions. Can't we all just get along?

Probably not. Projections are a tricky business, because if you re-jigger your method to make this sort of player come out right, you'll get that sort of player more wrong.

Anyway, the point here is that before the season we could, with some degree of confidence, have expected Millwood to pitch better than Glavine and at least as good as Maddux. I also happened to think the Phillies would score a huge number of runs this season, resulting in good run support for their pitchers. Including Kevin Millwood. Which is why I made him my Cy Young pick.

But you know, all of this isn't particularly related to throwing a no-hitter. Throwing a no-hitter is about two things: opportunity and hittability.

By "hittability," I mean the hittability of the pitcher and the hittability of the team he's facing. Millwood doesn't allow many hits; his career hits-per-nine-innings ratio is significantly lower than those of both Maddux and Glavine, and if he pitched for enough seasons he was probably going to throw a no-hitter eventually. And while the Giants score plenty of runs, they do not hit for a particularly high batting average.

Millwood probably won't win the Cy Young Award. Even after pitching a no-hitter, his 3.48 ERA ranks just 29th in the National League (granted, he is tied for the league lead with four wins). And if I could have any pitcher in the league for the next five months, I'd probably take Johnson and perhaps even Prior ahead of Millwood.

Keep an eye on him, though. He's healthy and he's pitching for a team that scores runs in bunches, and he's going to win 20 games this year.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information, visit Rob's Web site.

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