RAB recently reported that the Yankees are still considering adding Kevin Millwood to the team’s 2011 rotation. For those who don’t know, Millwood was awful in 2010. Larry covered his performance earlier this year, but, in short, Millwood posted an 83 ERA+ over 190.2 innings, just about what the Yankees got from A.J. Burnett. In January Larry rightly dismissed Millwood as an unsuitable option for the back of the Yankee rotation because Kevin Millwood sucks.
Unfortunately, that was early January, when the Yankees had more time to address their back of the rotation issues. Now, it’s February. Spring Training has begun and, in his infinite wisdom, Brian Cashman has invited Mark Prior, Freddy Garcia and Krispy Kreme to camp. We know Kevin Millwood was bad in 2010 because he pitched in 2010, which is a lot more than we can say for those other guys. Are the Yankees right to consider him?
On any other team, the answer would be a resounding no. Why give a few million dollars and the ball to a pitcher whose career is clearly all but finished? On the Yankees, however, the math is different. No one thinks Millwood will be able to pitch well in 2011. The question for the Yankees is whether or not he can pitch adequately enough to keep the offense in the game until the bullpen can take things over. The Yankees don’t need a pitcher to be dominant. They only need him to last about six innings without giving up more than four runs. Can Kevin Millwood do that?
The data below are taken from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference. They compare four pitchers: Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Edwin Jackson, and, of course, Mr. Millwood. The top set of data are the pitchers’ actual performances from 2010. The bottom set are the Bill James and Marcel projections for the 2011 season, taken from Fangraphs.
I’ve included Edwin Jackson because his name hasn’t come up recently as a possible trade target, but he’s a free agent after this season, isn’t as expensive an option as Mark Buehrle, and could be had in trade that allows the Bombers to keep their best prospects. Jackson is a Scott Boras client who may be looking for a big pay day at season’s end. If the White Sox are struggling mid-season, expect his name to come up in trade talks.
The first thing this table tells me is why the Yankees are taking a look at just about any present or former Major Leaguer with an arm and a pulse. The team is being dishonest when it says that Sergio Mitre is in the starting rotation. Maybe he’ll get the ball in a spot situation, but a viable starter needs to give a team about 175 innings, or 121 more than Mitre put in last year. He won’t make more than three consecutive starts, let alone take the mound every fifth day for six months. (The same cannot be said of Nova, who accumulated 187 total innings between the majors and AAA.)
The data also show why the Yankees are sniffing around Millwood. It’s not that they want Millwood on the team. Kevin Millwood doesn’t want himself on his own fantasy team. It’s that he fits the criteria outlined above: arm, pulse. Millwood managed to give the Orioles 190.2 innings of work last season over 31 starts. They were 190.2 innings of lousy work, but his aERA was 3.48 and his IPGS was 6.1. He’s actually projected to be a bit better next season but even if he were only to repeat his 2010 performance, the 2011 Yankee offense projects to have a slight lead, on average, when he would leave the game. As far as fifth starters go, the team could do worse.
If I were the Yankee GM, I would be inquiring about Edwin Jackson. Apart from being better than Millwood, his real asset is his age. 2011 will be his age 27 season. If he establishes that he can pitch on the Yankees then he may be a suitable, medium-term solution for the back of the rotation. If he bombs then the damage is limited because he’s not very expensive and the Yankees can let him walk at season’s end. He’s worth the phone call, to say the least.
The Yankees are entering the 2011 season with their weakest rotation since 2008, the year the team asked Darrell Rasner and Sidney Ponson to combine for 35 starts. The team also has about $35 million to spend, now that Andy Pettitte has retired and Cliff Lee is taking his talents to Philadelphia. This is why Brian Cashman has been handing out minor league contracts to just about anyone who wants one. He’s hoping he can make up for what he lacks in quality with quantity, rolling the dice on a large number of low-cost options, hoping one of them will turn into next year’s Aaron Small. With that in mind, everything comes down to cost and years. If Kevin Millwood can be had for one year and $5 million or less there is no reason not to sign him because it will be easy to get rid of him. As spring training begins expect the rumors linking the Yankees to crappy but available pitchers to increase. For my part, I’m hoping they can pry Jackson away from the White Sox. At least he has upside.
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