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What to Expect from Tommy Milone

Drawing conclusions and comparing players

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Brewers and GM David Stearns have been more active in acquiring minor league assets than players for the major league squad this winter, but the recent signing of starting pitcher Tommy Milone adds a competitor for the starting rotation. Milone will be the only left-hander in the mix. His career started promisingly, but has been on the downswing for the past few years. His early career is remarkably similar to the Brewers soft-tossing righty Zach Davies, and I will look at that aspect, too.

In 2011 Milone made his major league debut for the Washington Nationals. The lefty made 5 starts, going 26 innings with a WHIP of 1.23, allowing 9.7 hits per 9 innings, but only 1.7 walks/9. His ERA was 3.81 with a FIP of 3.56.

Year two saw Milone, for the Oakland A’s, work 191 innings on 31 starts. That’s averaging a bit over 6 innings per start, a strong number. A WHIP of 1.28, with 9.8 hits/9 and 1.7 walks/9, was a near repeat of his brief 2011 debut. A 3.74 ERA and 3.96 FIP were also remarkably consistent numbers. Strikeouts improved from 5.2/9 to 6.5/9. He followed up his 3.75 stirkeout:walk ratio in ‘11 with a 3.81 ratio in ‘12. He was 13-10 that year, with a 2.1 WAR (using Baseball-Reference’s RA9 based calculation).

In 2013 Milone’s WAR slipped to 0.6; he appeared in 28 games, starting 26. He maintained a 1.27 WHIP, giving up slightly fewer hits (9.2/9) and slightly more walks (2.2/9). Tommy had the highest strikeout/9 of his career before or since at 7.3. But his ERA climbed to 4.14, with a FIP of 4.30.

At the trade deadline in 2014 the Athletics sent Milone to the Twins for outfielder Sam Fuld. In the first half of 2014 Tommy had gone 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA, a 4.42 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.22 in 16 starts and 96.1 innings. The A’s had traded Yoenis Cespedes and needed more outfield depth. Maybe they knew something; Milone’s strikeout:walk ratio was down to 2.03.

But certainly the Twins thought they were getting a much better pitcher than they ended up with. Milone started 5 games, appearing in 6, for the rest of 2014. He worked 21.2 innings and had a WHIP at 2.22...he allowed 37 hits and walked 11, a 4.6/9 rate. His WAR in his brief stint was -0.7; his ERA was 7.06.

The Twins would be happier with Milone in 2015, although time spent on the DL in August with a flexor strain in his pitching elbow was a cause for concern. He had 23 starts (in 24 appearances), with a WHIP of 1.28, and ERA of 3.92, a FIP of 4.30, and a WAR of 1.4. He went 9-5 with 128.2 innings pitched.

In 2016 Milone again sunk into that morass of mediocrity (or maybe below it) that major leaguers try desperately to avoid. His 2016 numbers ended his tenure with the Twins. His WHIP ballooned back up to 1.53, with a 5.71 ERA (5.54 FIP). His WAR of -0.7, combined with his -0.7 in 2014, essentially wiped out the 1.4 WAR that he contributed in 2015.

So what does all of this have to do with the Brewers no-risk signing? Not much; if start-of-career Tommy Milone (or 2015 Tommy Milone) shows up, great. If not, sayonara. No, what it got me thinking of was another soft tossing, control expert pitcher already on the Brewers: Zach Davies.

Zach Davies is not Tommy Milone, but his early career numbers feel the same: in 2015, Davies threw 34 innings for the Brewers in 6 starts. His WHIP was 1.21; his K/9 was 6.4. He was tougher to hit than Milone (6.9/9) and walked more (4/9). Last year, Davies started 28 games for the Crew, working 163.1 innings with a WHIP of 1.25, with 9.1 hits/9 and 2.1 walks/9. His strikeouts:walks ratio was 3.55. He had an 11-7 record and a 3.97 ERA and a 3.89 FIP. Zach’s WAR was 2.3. So. First full season numbers: ERA: Milone 3.74, Davies 3.97. FIP: Milone 3.86, Davies 3.89. WHIP: Milone 1.28, Davies 1.21. Strikeouts:walks ratio: Milone 3.75, Davies 3.55. WAR: Milone 2.1, Davies 2.3.

Their pitching arsenals are even alike; according to Fangraphs, Milone throws predominantly a fastball (48.5% career rate, 87.4 MPH average velo) along with a cutting variation (13.1%, 85.9 MPH), a curveball (11%, 74.9 MPH), and relies heavily on his changeup as his offspeed pitch (26.7%, 80.6 MPH). Davies’ fastball is more of the two-seam variety, and he throws it more often and a little bit harder than Milone (57.2%, 89.3 MPH), but he also utilizes a cutter (12.6%, 85.4 MPH), curveball (10.4%, 72.2 MPH), and an oft-used changeup (21.3%, 78.5 MPH). Milone does throw left-handed while Davies, of course, is a righty.

Does this mean that Davies is bound to hit the same wall that Milone did? Of course not. It just makes me nervous about counting on Zach Davies to continue his effective pitching into the next period of contention for the Brewers. That, of course, is true of any young pitcher (look at Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson). But it also is a cautionary corollary to the old adage that you just can’t have too much pitching. The Brewers need to keep adding and retaining promising arms to try and ensure that somebody will be around for the inevitable attrition that will happen.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs