Kevin Millwood

Appreciating Kevin Millwood’s career

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It’s a trivia question that would have stumped most: who is the active leader in strikeouts among right-handed pitchers?

Until this morning, the answer was Kevin Millwood, at 2,083. Now it’s Roy Halladay, just 17 behind at 2,066, after Millwood announced his retirement.

An 11th-round pick by the Braves in 1993, Millwood opened his career in outstanding fashion, going 17-8 and 18-7 in his first two full seasons. He may have won the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year award, except he threw 1 1/3 too many innings in 1997. In 1999, he made the All-Star team, finished second to Randy Johnson in the NL in ERA and led the league in WHIP.

As it turned out, that was Millwood’s only All-Star team. He was 40-20 after his first 2 1/3 seasons. Afterwards, he was 129-132.

Following a 2002 season in which he went 18-8 with a 3.24 ERA, Millwood was involved in a controversial trade. The Braves, looking to cut payroll, shipped him to Philadelphia for middling catcher Johnny Estrada.

The deal didn’t really work out as hoped for either team. Estrada missed most of the 2003 season and then came back and had one fine year for the Braves in 2004. Millwood went 23-18 with a 4.34 ERA while earning $20 million in his two years with the Phillies. The team had no interest in bringing him back for the 2005 season.

With his stock down, Millwood signed a one-year deal with the Indians in free agency and then went 9-11 with an AL-best 2.86 ERA in 2005. He parlayed that campaign into a five-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers.

Millwood was a modest disappointment in Texas. After going 16-12 in a solid first season, he went 19-24 with ERAs over 5.00 each of the following two years. He bounced back with a nice 2009, going 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA, but the Rangers paid the Orioles to take him that winter.

Doomed in Baltimore, Millwood went 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA in his lone year in the AL East. Even though his numbers outside Camden Yards weren’t bad, no one wanted him afterwards. He finally got another chance with the Rockies towards the end of 2011 and went 4-3 with a 3.98 ERA in nine starts. The Mariners signed him last year, and he went 6-12 with a 4.25 ERA in 28 starts last season.

It’s hardly fair to label Millwood’s career a disappointment, but more was expected after his big start. His teams were often disappointments, and he never went to the postseason again after the Braves traded him (he was 3-3 with a 3.92 ERA in seven starts and two relief appearances with Atlanta).

Still, while Millwood wasn’t often great after the big start, he was never bad. He ended up with a first, a second and an eighth place finish in ERA. He won at least 16 games a total of four times. He led the NL in shutouts in 2003. He even had a couple of nice highlights in his final season with the Mariners. On May 18, he became just the 10th visiting pitcher to throw a shutout at Coors Field, pitching a two-hitter against the Rockies. Just three weeks later on June 8, he was involved in one of the most unusual no-hitters in history, throwing six innings before leaving due to injury and then watching as five relievers finished it off for him.

So, no, Millwood won’t be getting any Hall of Fame votes when the time comes. But 169-152 isn’t bad. Millwood is 188th all-time in wins and 59th in strikeouts. And given that he made about $90 million over the course of his career, he should have a lot of fun in retirement.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]