Tuesday, September 09, 2003

25 or 6 to 4


The 25 really has no place in today's post...the score from last night's game just put the song in my head, and it's been stuck there ever since. So, now I spread that joy to all of you.

What a fun weekend, huh? First of all, if you are in the Philadelphia area, you may be under the impression that there was nothing else going on in the world this weekend other than the Eagles first game at the Linc, last night against the Super Bowl Champion Bucs. News coverage has focused on nothing but this game and the opening of the stadium. If the world had ended this weekend, we wouldn't have known about it. And what for? So the Eagles could go in last night and play a stinker in front of a national audience. Lovely...

(For those of you unsure about that last paragraph, it was about football -- that game played with an oblong ball affectionately known as a "pigskin" that interrupts baseball season every year at about this time. It will continue for the next four months; I usually start paying attention when the Phillies season realistically ends -- which is also usually about this time of year.)

Anyway...back to baseball...

The Phillies, of course, started the now infamous road trip at 1-9, and then went into New York and swept the Mets. A one-game loss to the Red Sox was followed by a two-game sweep of the Expos, and a four-game whitewash of the Mets again. 1-9 quickly turned into 9-1, yet the Phillies could only stretch the Wild Card lead to a single game. And last night that one-game lead disappeared again, as the Phillies traveled to Atlanta and wasted a 4-0 first inning lead.

Jimmy Rollins walked with one out in the top of the first, swiped second, and scored on a Bobby Abreu double. Jim Thome walked, and Mike Lieberthal dropped a three-run homer into the left field seats. Just like that, it was 4-0 Phillies after one-half an inning. With "ace" Kevin Millwood on the mound, a 4-0 lead seemed fairly safe. Except for two things: 1) these were the Braves, and 2) Millwood wasn't quite "on" last night.

A single by Rafael Furcal and a two-run homer by Mark DeRosa in the bottom of the inning cut the lead in half. The lead was cut to one in the third when Gary Sheffield singled and Chipper Jones doubled him in. The Braves tied it an inning later when Furcal singled in Robert Fick, who had singled earlier in the inning. Atlanta grabbed the lead an inning later: with the bases loaded and no one out, Andruw Jones grounded into a double play -- two outs, but one run scored, and the Phillies found themselves down 5-4. Through the first five innings, Millwood had given up five runs on nine hits and three walks to his former team.

Meanwhile, the Phillies bats were on ice. After the four-run first, and a leadoff double by Chase Utley in the second, the Phillies went hitless until Marlon Byrd's two-out single in the ninth. 23 outs in between hits, folks. You are not going to win many ballgames that way, unless you grab a four-run lead before you go cold. Oh, wait...

Games like this happen. It's a long season, and every-so-often, you are going to have a night where the hitters disappear and the pitcher can't hold the lead. Last night was just a case of bad timing. The Phillies had won nine of ten and were feeling pretty good about themselves for a change. And even on a weak night, they did not give up. The tying run reached second base in the top of the ninth; unfortunately, two outs were already in the books, and Rollins could do nothing more than ground out to first to end the small threat. But the loss came at a bad time. You hand a four-run lead to your ace and lose. The Marlins win, and there is another tie for the Wild Card. 18 games left...anyone (other than Larry Bowa) sweating yet?

But last night's game brings to my mind a question that may not seem very popular: we all know that the Phillies will go all-out this offseason to resign Kevin Millwood. But if he chooses not to resign, is it that big of a loss? I cannot measure his off-the-field contributions; his work with Brett Myers this season has been outstanding. For the most part, he has said the right things, and has supposedly taken a leadership role on this pitching staff. But on the field, are we truly losing an "ace"?

Last night's loss took Millwood to 14-10 on the year. Millwood is one of 21 pitchers in the majors with 14 wins. 21 is a select group -- fewer than one per team. But only five of those pitchers have as many as 10 losses: LA's Hideo Nomo (15-11), Anaheim's Ramon Ortiz (15-11), Atlanta's Greg Maddux (14-10), Seattle's Gil Meche (14-10), and Millwood. All five are good pitchers on good teams (Anaheim is stuggling, but they are the defending champs), so what is the common link? Why are they getting the wins AND the losses? Off the top of my head, I think to look to two categories: innings pitched per start, and run support.

Nomo4.276 2/32.88
Ortiz6.315 2/34.84
Millwood4.606 1/33.74

The first thing I see is that the two guys with the best run support (Ortiz and Meche) are the two guys with 4.00+ ERAs. Whether that means that they get a large lead and give up some soft runs, or that they give up the runs and their offenses bail them out, I don't know. But it does tell me that there are some games where they get a lot of support and get the W, and there are some games where they get bombed and take the L.

Nomo has the best ERA of the bunch, and goes the longest per start, but he has the worst run support. (Then again, I think the entire Dodgers' staff qualifies for that honor.) If he gets even the minimal support, he's likely to give the team a win. But even a run or two with that offense behind him can mean a loss.

Maddux and Millwood have comparable numbers, and like the others in the group have had their good days and bad. The good have outnumbered the bad, but not by much. So they are winning games...but taking their lumps, too.

But their records are based on run support. Let's take a look at their support-neutral stats:


The only true outlier in this group is Ortiz, who ranks as the 3rd luckiest starter in the majors, and 2nd in terms of being helped by his bullpen (Brandon Duckworth is first on that list, by the way).

So this continues to tell us...well, not much, other than Millwood has been up and down this season, and his record reflects that. Aces tend to have more ups than downs, and Millwood hasn't been quite that good this year.

Another sign of an ace that can be counted on is how he picks up the team after a loss. Millwood has pitched following a Phillies loss 16 times this season; in those 16 games, the Phillies are 9-7. Millwood himself is 7-5 in those games. Better than .500, but not exactly a lights-out streak stopper. Add in the knowledge that most of those wins came before June 8th, when he was 8-3, and it looks worse than the numbers show. Since the All-Star break, Millwood is 2-3 following a Phillies loss -- the team is 2-4, at the time of the year that a team needs a stopper in its rotation. Millwood just hasn't been that guy on a consistant basis.

So I guess my question is this: does his off-the-field contributions and leadership outweigh his less-than-ace-like numbers on the field? If he leaves in the offseason, will there be a suitable replacement? Will the Phillies find an equal in the free agent market, either from the knowns or unknowns (come on, who had Esteban Loiaza at 19 wins this season??)? Will they turn around and trade for a Javier Vazquez or a Curt Schilling? Or will a Ryan Madson come up and play a roll?

I don't have those answers. Personally, I'd like to see Millwood stay. I don't think his numbers this year are the best of what he's got. I'd like to see him in Philly long-term. But I think I've reached the mindset that if he leaves, it won't be the end of the world. There will be someone out there that can give the Phillies what he has. Who that is, I don't know. But it is just another question for what is shaping up to be an interesting offseason.