CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Wait 'Til Next Year: T... (04/17)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Don't Wo... (04/14)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Save Opp... (04/21)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: S... (04/17)

April 17, 2009

Fantasy Beat

Dreaming of Kevin Millwood

by Marc Normandin

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

This early in the season, everyone is always searching for that pitcher whose newfound success no one knew was coming. That's the kind of acquisition that can push your team over the top if your guess is correct. The last few days I've been asked about Kevin Millwood, and whether or not I think his performance from his first two starts means anything-is he that guy this year? I hadn't looked at it previously, but I thought that the question would serve as a decent thought experiment, where I can show you some of the ways that I look at pitchers while analyzing them. Let's find the answer together, shall we?

Thus far in 2009, Millwood has thrown 14 innings with a 0.64 ERA, 7.1 K/9, 0.64 BB/9, and is yet to give up a home run. Let's ignore for a second that this is just 14 innings, as the point of the exercise is trying to decide if anything has changed that should make us think differently about Millwood. Last year, he threw 168 2/3 innings, posted an ERA of 5.07, struck out 6.7 per nine, and walked 2.6 per nine, while allowing just under a home run per nine. You may be wondering why his ERA was so poor when his peripherals aren't nearly as unattractive-that would be thanks to his BABIP, which was .366, or roughly 70 points above the league average.

His FIP from 2008 was actually a respectable 4.02, and his QERA was 4.44-were he anywhere but Texas, that may have made him worth something heading into 2009. Between The Ballpark at Arlington (.328 BABIP last year at the park) and the Rangers' atrocious defense (.670 Defensive Efficiency, last in the majors) it's no surprise that Millwood underperformed ERA-wise. In fact, his defense was so poor last year that in games when he induced loads of grounders, his performance was worse. Splitting his starts from last year into games with 10 or more grounders and games with fewer than 10 grounders gives us some interesting numbers:


Ground Balls      IP    H/9  K/9   RA
More than 10 GB  88.0  13.0  5.7  5.93
Less than 10 GB  80.2   9.0  7.7  4.57

Basically, Millwood was Livan Hernandez when he induced grounders, despite the fact that ground balls should make a pitcher's job easier. He wasn't incredible when he induced more fly balls, but a 4.57 ERA is rather nifty for a pitcher from Texas over a sample of around 80 innings. One thing I'm wondering about is whether he was doing something differently in the games where he had more strikeouts. Millwood forced 166 grounders in his 88-innings sample, and 161 fly balls during that same stretch. During the 80 2/3-innings sample, the numbers were 86 and 174; there's a significant change in his ground-ball rate, but just a small bump in his number of fly balls, while his strikeouts end up being the recipient of the larger boost.

One thing that those numbers fail to tell us, which is actually a huge problem, is which balls in play are line drives, and which ones are fly balls. ESPN's G/F ratio doesn't differentiate, and Fangraphs isn't broken up into game-by-game samples like ESPN is, which is a shame given that they do differentiate between liners and fly balls. This means that Millwood could have given up around the same number of total fly balls, as documented by ESPN, but what he in fact did was give up fewer line drives in those games while forcing more hitters to pop up weakly due to having good stuff those days, a conclusion supported by his loftier strikeout rates. However, it's hard to tell one way or the other with the given data.

What we can see is that Millwood struggled in games where he gave up lots of grounders, and part of that, if not all, is due to Texas' terrible infield defense. John Dewan's Plus/Minus rates players on grounders and balls in the air separately, in addition to a total score, and shortstop Michael Young was -6 on ground balls last year. First basemen for the Rangers (Blalock, Broussard, Davis, Shelton) accounted for a combined -3 on grounders last year, with just Chris Shelton (+5) doing anything worthwhile among that group. Ian Kinsler was rated -13 on ground balls at second, and the third-base group (Blalock, Davis, Vazquez) accounted for a whopping -26. Given that the outfield group was all average or above (except for Josh Hamilton, who should be playing a corner, in center), it makes sense that fewer ground balls from Millwood would equal more success, whether he's causing guys to fly out or striking them out on his own.

This season, Millwood has a G/F of 1.6, with 46 percent of his batted balls being the ground-ball variety. He's been known to give up lots of line drives, and this season has been no exception in the early going; is line-drive rate is at 24 percent (last year was 25.3, and his average since 2002 is 22.7). Of course, this is in just 14 innings, so this data may look very different in just a few more weeks. The fact that it resembles his recent work makes me think that we won't see very much in the way of change here, but instead we'll see that his walk and homer rates begin to slide back towards expectations.

We can use QERA to see where his ERA should be now, and where we can expect it to go once those numbers jump back up. The definition for QERA is as follows:

QuikERA (QERA), which estimates what a pitcher's ERA should be based solely on his strikeout rate, walk rate, and GB/FB ratio. These three components-K rate, BB rate, GB/FB-stabilize very quickly, and they have the strongest predictive relationship with a pitcher's ERA going forward. What's more, they are not very dependent on park effects, allowing us to make reasonable comparisons of pitchers across different teams.

For Millwood, we can take into account the fact that his infield defense may still be troublesome (Young, Davis, and Kinsler are all still there, though losing Vazquez and Blalock while adding Elvis Andrus should help things). Let's also consider that he's in a hitter's park and is likely to give up a few home runs-he's allowed just under 1.0 per nine in each of his three seasons with the Rangers. His current QERA is 2.95, which makes sense given his ground-ball rate and more than adequate punchout figures. If we change his walk rate to reflect his three-year average with the Rangers, we get 6.9 percent, which would bring his QERA up to 3.64. The reason that number is nearly a run better than last year's QERA is due to the change in strikeout percentage (16.3 last year, 22.0 so far in '09). Let's look on the bright side of things though, and assume that he keeps those whiffs. We still have to account for homers, his home park, and the defense behind him, which should knock him well over the 4.00 QERA mark.

Remember, those same factors are the reason that he underperformed last year; while he may be an undervalued pitcher in real life, all we care about in fantasy is what he can do for our own team with real-world statistics. Were Millwood to be dealt to someone in a less hitter-friendly park with a solid team defense-say if Oakland suddenly needed a starter-then Millwood would be someone to jump all over, but for now, he's probably not "that guy" that we're all looking for to help us gain an edge.

Related Content:  Kevin Millwood

10 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Richard Bergstrom

I thought this was a very comprehensive analysis. I'd also add the thought that Millwood's best projections for this year could be easily found (and surpassed) by people who are freely available on the waiver wire but might be in better situations (for example, being in the NL, in a pitcher's park, or in front of a better defense). Thus, unless you are in a real deep league or an AL-only league, there's not much reason to waste a roster spot on someone who, at best, is only slightly better than league average and has a chance to be much worse. If Millwood was dealt, as Marc mentions, to a team like Oakland, he'd definitely be worth a flier.

Overall, though, I tend to ignore wins and ERA for pitchers and draft based on WHIP and k/9. Millwood's got a mediocre k/9, but his WHIP (since he has been in Texas) has not been draft-worthy.

Apr 17, 2009 11:26 AM
rating: 0
 
Ira

This has been an interesting analysis. I'm more curious about the Rangers infield defense. We know that both corners were fairly atrocious last year, and that Davis (who's just not that good defensively) is still there. Kinsler's "Rate" last year was 105, so, how was he -13 on grounders? Was he much better on popups? Is it the number of double plays he turned?

Last Year Mike Young had a "Rate" of 107. Yet you show him as -6 on ground balls last year. Again, what's the differential? (even ignoring the Gold Glove he got)

Thanks

Apr 17, 2009 13:51 PM
rating: 2
 
Marc Normandin

The DT numbers are based off of play-by-play data, while John Dewan's system takes much more into account, thanks to the use of video (and comparative analysis of said video). Plus/Minus takes positioning into account, and compares each play (made or not made by the defender) to similar plays by other defenders, so as to determine just what is average, and what is above or below that threshold. That way you can actually come up with a system that says, "These 10 fielders definitely would have made that play while these 15 would not" and you have video proof to back it up. We don't see the video obviously, but Dewan and Co. have done the math so we have something tangible to use in analysis.

I don't rely on a single fielding system to come up with my own thoughts on defense. I use Plus/Minus, UZR and David Pinto's PMR for the most part. One thing that we have here at BP that helps put the Rangers' defense into perspective--and also fits with the numbers presented by the advanced defensive systems--is that the Rangers Defensive Efficiency was just .670 in 2008, last in the league. It's hard to believe they could be above-average at a few outfield positions as well as the IF spots you quoted, and still come out as far and away the worst team at getting to balls in play.

Apr 19, 2009 06:40 AM
rating: 0
 
anderson721

Thanks for the splash of cold water. I picked up Millwood for Kuroda the other day...

Apr 17, 2009 14:03 PM
rating: 0
 
Morris Greenberg

This may be a future article, but who may be "that guy".

Apr 17, 2009 18:44 PM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

The Search For "That Guy" sounds like something that could be fun to do these first few weeks, even if we end up with a lot of pitchers like Millwood who don't turn out to be him.

Apr 19, 2009 06:27 AM
rating: 0
 
Pietaster07

Kyle Davies? Ricky Romero? Chris Jakubauskas? Who knows, maybe just pick one up to spice up your team.

I say Kyle Lohse.

Apr 17, 2009 23:08 PM
rating: 0
 
Al Skorupa

I think youre understating the improvement in the Texas defense.

Apr 18, 2009 08:44 AM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

I think keeping Vazquez and Davis away from third is a big first step, but a lot of their improvement rests on how well Mike Young handles third base in their stead. It's not something we have a lot of data points for given we're just a few games in, so I'm cautiously optimistic on the matter.

Apr 19, 2009 06:26 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Defensive improvements don't help as much if the pitchers serve up gopher balls (or play in a band box). Millwood would need a vastly improved K rate to succeed. Not that Millwood's the worst pitcher in the world, but if you're in a 10 or 12 team mixed league, there are a lot of players better than him that won't even be drafted.

Apr 20, 2009 08:24 AM
rating: 0
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article Wait 'Til Next Year: T... (04/17)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Don't Wo... (04/14)
Next Column >>
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Save Opp... (04/21)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: S... (04/17)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Fantasy Article Fantasy Players to Avoid: Starting Pitchers
Fantasy Infographic: Starting Pitchers
Fantasy Article Dynasty League Positional Rankings: Top 175 ...
Premium Article Rumor Roundup: Diamondbacks Third Baseman is...
Premium Article Transaction Analysis: The Bad Bullpen Teams ...
Prospectus Feature: A.J. Preller's Offseason...
Premium Article Raising Aces: The Eyes of March

MORE FROM APRIL 17, 2009
Premium Article Under The Knife: Teach Me Lessons
Premium Article Prospectus Hit List: Small Sample Version
Premium Article Wait 'Til Next Year: The SEC Ascendant

MORE BY MARC NORMANDIN
2009-04-28 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Slow-Start Bargains?
2009-04-24 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Dreaming of Chris Volstad
2009-04-21 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Save Opportunities
2009-04-17 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Dreaming of Kevin Millwood
2009-04-16 - Premium Article Big Apple Ballparks
2009-04-14 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Don't Worry, Don't Panic
2009-04-13 - Premium Article Big Apple Ballparks
More...

MORE FANTASY BEAT
2009-04-28 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Slow-Start Bargains?
2009-04-24 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Dreaming of Chris Volstad
2009-04-21 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Save Opportunities
2009-04-17 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Dreaming of Kevin Millwood
2009-04-14 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Don't Worry, Don't Panic
2009-04-10 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Too Many Square Pegs, Too Few ...
2009-04-07 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Win Expectancy and Leverage
More...

INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2009-05-08 - Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Dreaming of Zach Duke