Thursday, December 29, 2005

Scott Boras Owns Texas
By Ben Valentine

Two years ago Scott Boras proudly boasted he had a five year, seventy five million dollar contract on the table for then free agent Kevin Millwood. Considering the Phillies’ pitcher was coming off a poor second half to his 2003 season, many were skeptical. In the end it appeared as though Boras was talking out of his you know what, as Millwood settled for arbitration. Then after a disappointing 2004, Millwood couldn’t even get a multiyear deal. He ended up settling for a one year contract with the Cleveland Indians.

However, after an incredible turn around this season, in which he posted the best ERA in the American League at 2.86, Millwood looked poised to cash in with someone. The Mariners were considered the front runners for a while, but now the ex Brave, Phillie and Indian will make his new home in Texas for the not so cheap price of five years at sixty million. It isn’t quite what Boras promised a few years ago, but 12 million a season for a 31 year old pitcher isn’t too shabby.

Not to shabby for Millwood anyway. But what exactly was Texas thinking?

The Rangers have not had much luck in solving their pitching woes. A large part of it no doubt stems from their ballpark, Ameriquest Field, which has the reputation of being the American league’s version of Coors Field. Unable to procure a great starter via trades, they’ve had to throw a ton of money at anyone who’s come available. AJ Burnett was a target, but they were outbid by the Blue Jays, who offered an up and coming team and a better park to pitch in. They tried to trade for Josh Beckett, but wouldn’t part with the necessary chips to make it happen. They did get Adam Eaton, but an inconsistent 28 year old can hardly be looked upon as Texas’ savior. So desperate, and seeing themselves falling further behind the Angels and A’s in the American League West, they tossed a ton of money at the best pitcher remaining on the market, Millwood.

I questioned the Mariners when they were rumored to be giving Millwood 4 years and 44 million. However the M’s at least have a park favorable towards pitching; in other words the odds were good Millwood would pitch well there. I don’t have much faith he’ll be anything more than a bust in Texas. Some have compared the Millwood signing to that of Chan Ho Park, another Boras client, back in 2002. Is it valid? Well here’s Park’s line in 2001, the year before he went to Texas and Millwood’s (underneath) last year.

15-11, 234 IP, 3.50 ERA, 8.38 K/9, 2.40 K/BB, 3.5 BB/9, 1.171 WHIP, .88 Hr/9

9-11, 192 IP, 2.86 ERA, 6.84 K/9, 2.80 K/BB, 2.44 BB/9, 1.219 WHIP, .934 Hr/9

It was Park’s best year in the majors. Of course it came at Dodger Stadium one of baseball’s best pitcher’s parks. This was not Millwood’s best season, however at age 31 it’s unrealistic to expect him to pitch better than 2005 next year. Park was 28 when he signed that deal with Texas. The deal was pretty much panned everywhere because of Park’s walk and home run rate. So when we look at Millwood we see a pretty good walk rate, but a home run rate that was worse than Park’s. Jacob’s field, according to what I’ve read at sites like Rotoworld, has played like a pitcher’s park the last few years, so we can expect Millwood’s HR rate to rise significantly next season. How significantly? Well here’s Park’s line from his first year in Texas:

9-8, 145.2 IP, 5.75 ERA, 7.51K/9, 1.55 K/BB, 4.82 BB/9, 1.24 Hr/9

His home run rate jumped as did his walk rate. Park was always a guy who had control issues and got by because he pitched at Dodger Stadium and because of his very high strikeout rate. His strikeout rate dropped in Texas, though not that much. However I doubt his old rates would have been able to compensate for the jump in walks and the effect of playing at Ameriquest Field in Texas. We never found out if he could have adjusted, as injuries destroyed the last two seasons for the Korean righty.

The comparison is an apt one because of their home run rates. Will Millwood stink as badly for the Rangers as Chan Ho Park? Probably not. The fact he’s older and strikes out less batters than Park did will be offset by his much better control. However, that doesn’t mean Millwood will be a good pitcher there. Homeruns can kill a pitcher’s ERA and limit his effectiveness. If you don’t believe me, take a look at these peripherals:

215 IP, 8.04 K/9, 4.17 K/BB, 1.92 BB/9, 1.272 WHIP

Peripherals like that suggest this guy is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately for Javier Vasquez, his Hr/9 is a whopping 1.46. That inflated his ERA to 4.42 last season. Like I said, incredible for a guy who not only misses bats but also puts so few guys on via the walk. It just shows what the home run ball can do to a pitcher’s season.

Texas needs ground ball pitchers. AJ Burnett, who although he pitched in a very pitcher friendly park, had a Hr/9 rate of .52 in 2005. He was also one of the better ground ball pitchers in baseball last year. That is the guy Texas needed to overpay to bring in to that stadium. His numbers wouldn’t have been as nice as in Florida, but he had all the tools to succeed there. Kevin Millwood doesn’t.

Sometimes desperation can lead you to all the wrong places. Unfortunately for the Texas Rangers, it seems to always send them towards Scott Boras and second tier pitchers who are destined to make a lot of money serving up gopher balls in the lone star state.

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