A Fifth Starter Worthy of Recognition

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

While Tommy Milone won't garner the same "oohs" and "aahs" that other pitchers do, he will still be an effective starter.

Before injuries to both A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker, it looked like Tommy Milone stood no shot of cracking the starting rotation for the Oakland A's. Now, with the season finally upon us, Milone will get a shot to prove himself—that is, if Oakland doesn't have any more games postponed due to tarp failure by the grounds crew.

In any case, what I don't want to do is try to predict how Milone will pitch this season. He could play markedly worse than he has in the past two seasons; he could be in the running for the AL Cy Young Award by the end of the season, too. Or, in all likelihood, he could pitch pretty close to how he already has in his short Major League career, and A's fans everywhere should hope that's the case.

Why? Because Tommy Milone has been underappreciated and glanced over in favor of other pitchers who are a bit more "exciting." Don't believe me? How about we do a blind taste test. Here are four pitchers and their statistics from 2011 to 2013:

Player Innings Pitched K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP xFIP fWAR
Player A 315.1 7.53 2.25 3.80 3.63 3.56 4.9
Player B 372.1 6.72 1.91 3.92 4.06 4.12 4.5
Player C 380.1 6.74 3.1 3.53 4.05 4.10 5.7
Player D 384.0 6.45 2.98 3.68 3.93 4.21 5.0

Overall, these pitchers are fairly similar. Player A has impressed in a smaller sample size—around 315 innings pitched instead of roughly 375—with a strong K/9 and a low xFIP; Player B has the lowest BB/9 of the group with an impressive 1.91—for comparison's sake, Clayton Kershaw had a 1.98 BB/9 in 236 innings pitched last year; Player C has the best ERA of the bunch, but has an FIP and xFIP that's very close to Player B's; and Player D has a respectable ERA and FIP despite a fairly high xFIP.

Ready for the reveal?

Player A: Patrick Corbin* (He only pitched in 2012 and 2013)
Player B: Tommy Milone
Player C: Clay Buchholz
Player D: Jarrod Parker

In other words, three front of the rotation starters and a guy who barely made it as his team's fifth starter. What separates Corbin, Buchholz, and Parker from Milone, though? Here are a few ideas:

1) A nasty out pitch

Patrick Corbin's slider has been making hitters look silly since he started throwing it. In 2012, his whiff percentage for his slider—the percentage of swings and misses of all pitches thrown—was 23.60%. In 2013, it only got better, rising to 27.70%. Here's a GIF of his impressive slider in action:

Corbinr3

via cdn.fangraphs.com

Jarrod Parker, too, has a pitch that can baffle hitters on a regular basis. His changeup was named one of the most unhittable pitches in 2013, yielding whiff percentages of 25.52% and 24.58% in 2012 and 2013, respectively. And, here's his changeup in all of its glory:

Parkerch

via cdn.fangraphs.com

2) Playing in a bigger market

Clay Buchholz threw a no-hitter in his second Major League start in front of a packed Fenway Park. From there, it was never going to be hard for him to have the Fenway Faithful behind him, even though he's had a mostly up-and-down career.

Since Buchholz has been on the Red Sox, they have won two World Series and have only had one losing season. In fact, they've only had two seasons below 90 wins in that seven year span. When you pitch for a team that's constantly in the spotlight, it's easier to get noticed and stay remembered when you succeed.

3) Being a little different

Corbin's slider is a masterpiece, Buchholz has really high "highs" and does so with a big audience, and Parker walks out to the mound with a baseball in his mouth (or something pretty close in size) while having fairly electric stuff.

In other words, they all stand out. They pass the proverbial "eye test," the judgements that fans and coaches make to determine whether a particular player is worthy of being dubbed "good."

Milone, put simply, is a little bit boring. His pitches aren't noteworthy—although his new two seamer looked great in spring training—and he isn't as volatile, for better or for worse, as his peers. You usually know what you're going to get with Milone, and, to some, that makes him a boring player.

It's the reason why a quick YouTube search will pull up highlight videos for Corbin, Buchholz, and Parker but nothing of the sort for Milone. It's the reason why few baseball fans outside of Oakland know Tommy Milone, and why few baseball fans outside of Oakland care to.

But, if Milone has another "boring" season this year in line with how he's pitched so far in the big leagues, A's fans everywhere should be cheering.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and BrooksBaseball.

Evan Kendall is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score and co-founder of The Sports Post. He will also be contributing to Athletics Nation on a monthly basis. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_TSP.

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