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December 26, 2005

Rangers Ink Millwood

Texas signed free-agent pitcher KEVIN MILLWOOD to a four-year contract with a vesting fifth year.

Specific terms aren’t available at the moment. Millwood reportedly will receive $11-$12 million per season, and the fifth season vests upon pitching a certain number of innings. Thus, Texas will pay him somewhere between $44-$60 million depending on his health and performance. Millwood also reportedly received a partial no-trade clause.

Did the Rangers dive back into the free-agent pitcher pool or perform a belly flop? Certainly, Texas will enjoy the benefit of his services more than almost any other team, as his innings would have gone to replacement-level (or worse) pitchers. He easily assumes the mantle of #1 starter on this squad and propels it to contender status in a division with no overwhelming favorite. Millwood strikes out plenty of batters (7.39 per nine IP) and keeps the ball in the park despite a dubious 1.01 ground/fly ratio. Pitching on the road or in hitter-friendly environments doesn’t faze him. He has an ERA of 3.97 in 45 innings at Coors Field, 2.30 in 27 innings in Houston, 3.00 in one six-inning start in Arlington.

On the other hand, Millwood’s record is sometimes excellent but usually just barely above average. Over his eight full seasons, Millwood’s seasonal ERA+ from best to worst runs as follows: 162, 143 (last year), 127, 104, 103, 102, 100, 90. Also, Millwood has missed at least a few starts in three of the last five seasons. In 2001 he made only 21 starts because of an inflamed labrum. He started only 25 games in 2004 because of elbow tendonitis, and last year he missed three starts with a strained groin. I wouldn’t suggest that Millwood is only an average pitcher or is injury-prone, but he carries significant risks both in performance and health.

Here’s how Millwood’s last three years translate to Arlington using an identical number of batters faced and one-year park factors. The CERA in the table stands for Component ERA, a Bill James invention that predicts ERA based on peripheral stats (my formula varies slightly from his).

PHI 2003 222 210 99 19 68 169 4.01 103 1.25 3.37 122
TEX 2003 217 227
23 67 148
1.35 4.05 122
PHI 2004 141 155 76 14 51 125 4.85 90 1.46 4.62 94
TEX 2004 137 164
14 54 118
1.59 5.39 94
CLE 2005 192 182 61 20 52 146 2.86 143 1.22 3.42 120
TEX 2005 190 188
24 51 143
1.26 3.84 117
* Earned runs allowed for Texas based on CERA

Is he worth four-to-five years and up to $60 million? Probably no pitcher deserves a five-year deal. The risk of a career-ending or career-altering injury is just too high. However, given that the market has resumed mimicking the late 1990’s stock market after a two-year hiatus (Chan Ho Park = JDS Uniphase), I’m going to swallow hard and say that Texas made a good signing. Though Millwood’s contract is similar to Park’s, Millwood shows none of the emotional fragility or road-related performance troubles that cast doubt on the Park signing.

The Rangers aren’t the division favorite, but any conversation about the favorites should include them.

Posted by Lucas at December 26, 2005 11:59 PM