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"Agree To Disagree," 2012 Model: Tom Milone

As Tom Milone throws a fastball, three scouts put down their radar guns and get out a calendar instead.
As Tom Milone throws a fastball, three scouts put down their radar guns and get out a calendar instead.

As soon as the A's dealt Trevor Cahill, they set their sights on acquiring Tom Milone. Not because Milone will be a good pitcher, mind you, but rather because the A's always need to have at least one highly controversial figure on AN -- a polarizing player whose "true ability" no one can agree on -- and with Jack Cust already gone, and now Cahill gone, there was a void to fill. Enter Milone.

Here are some objective facts about Milone followed, after the jump, by some observations I will add to the analysis and overall conversation of "What should we expect? How good can this guy be? How good will this guy be?"

  • Milone was a 10th round draft pick.
  • Milone turns 25 on Thursday.
  • Milone's fastball, in his 2011 big league stint with Washington, averaged 87.8 MPH.
  • Milone's K/9IP rate at AAA last year was 9.4 and his K/BB ratio was 9.7.
  • Milone's K/9IP rate in his minor league career is 8.1 and his K/BB ratio is 5.5.
  • Milone's repertoire is a fastball, changeup, cutter and curve.

What does it all mean? I sure don't have all the answers, but I may have a few useful pieces to add to the puzzle.

If you're trying to figure out how Milone's minor league track record, and his repertoire, will play in the big leagues, here are some observations, and inferences, to consider:

  • Throughout the minor leagues, Milone gave up about a hit per inning (505 in 516.2 IP over 4 seasons, with little variation season to season). Meanwhile, he maintained high K-rates -- in fact better at each higher level. In other words, Milone appears to be better at avoiding contact than he is at getting soft contact. It's unlikely that his 88MPH fastball is responsible for this. What I infer (and I have yet to see him pitch) is that Milone's changeup, which is a big part of his arsenal, is a swing-and-miss pitch as much as it's a "get you out on the front foot" pitch. This would bode well for Milone.
  • In his scouting report, John Sickels notes that Milone's "delivery is deceptive," that hitters can't pick up the ball well against him. Milone may have an 88MPH fastball that hitters have difficulty picking up out of his hand until it's a few feet closer to the plate. If you had "rate x distance = time" pounded into your head in Math class, you know that the shorter amount of time a batter sees a pitch, the higher a velocity it is to the hitter (not to the radar gun). Perhaps Milone's deceptive delivery gives him closer to a 90MPH as far as the hitters are concerned. This would certainly be more consistent with Milone's component stats, and would also bode well.

Some of the questions we are left to ponder include, "Are Milone's minor league K-rates, or is his 88MPH fastball, a better predictor of how many big league hitters he will be able to strike out?" Certainly, major league hitters are far different beasties than are minor league hitters, but then again you can either miss bats or you can't.

If you put Milone's velocity, his pinpoint control, and his secondary pitches into a cauldron, you stir it, and what you get is a lot of strikeouts and very few walks, then what you have is a lot of strikeouts and very few walks. Milone won't strike out a batter/inning in the big leagues, but he might do what pitchers who strike out a batter/inning throughout the minor leagues often do: Translate their minor league success to the big leagues. The same can be said of miniscule walk rates.

Minor league hitters are simply, as a group, less disciplined and less skilled, than major league hitters. What does it take to consistently get major league hitters out? Well, an electric, high octane fastball sure doesn't hurt and this Milone doesn't have. However, also key are the abilities to throw strikes and to throw pitches where you want them, and here Milone shines. Deception -- the ability to keep hitters off-balance and to disrupt their timing -- is a big plus and Milone may shine here too.

But is it enough? Is pinpoint control, command of both sides of the plate, and "swing-and-miss" offspeed stuff enough to overcome a pedestrian fastball when you're facing major league hitters? Justin Duchscherer says "Yes" and many baseball analysts say "No".

So I decided to check Milone against a few of the natural comps that came to my mind.

One was Kirk Rueter, a (very) "poor man's Tom Glavine" who nipped away at the corners and tried to expand the outer reaches of the outside corner as far as hitters and umps would let him, but who didn't walk a lot of guys. In Rueter's major league career, he posted a shiny W/L record of 130-92 and allowed just 2.73 BB/9IP, but his 4.27 ERA, all in the NL, helps tell the story of a pitcher who was decent but not really much more. He was your basic "adequate #3 starter": Quite useful in that he threw 1918 career innings and usually gave you a chance to win, but limited in that he gave up enough runs to give you a chance to lose. However, looking at Rueter's minor league career he posted a K/9IP rate of just 6.3 and a K/BB ratio of 3.47. Advantage: Milone. (Note: Rueter spent multiple seasons at AAA, so in some, but not all of his minor league seasons, he was younger for his league than Milone was.)

How about Duchscherer, a painter who used his brush better than his colleagues made use of radar guns? Obviously, Duchscherer's big league career has been highly informed by injury and depression, and his minor league career is also all over the map as he began as an 18 year old in rookie ball and at age 25 had still not yet seen the big leagues. Spanning 8 years and 3 organizations (BOS, TEX, OAK), Duchscherer's minor league K/9IP rate was 7.97 and his K/BB ratio was 3.7. For what it's worth, Duchscherer's best K-rates came in rookie ball and his worst came at AAA.

With near identical minor league K-rates overall and strikingly similar profiles (ordinary fastball, cutter, pinpoint control and command), perhaps Milone's upside is to be a "healthier and happier Duchscherer". I don't know too many A's fans who wouldn't take that in a heartbeat.

Mark Buehrle is a little hard to analyze in that he spent just two seasons in the minors, at A (age 20) and AA (age 21), before reaching the major leagues for keeps. In the minors, Buehrle logged 217.1 IP, walking just 33 (1.4 BB/9IP) and striking out 159. This gave him a K/9IP rate of 6.6 and a K/BB ratio of 4.8.

In the big leagues, Buehrle is about to throw his 2,500th inning with a career BB/9IP rate of exactly 2.0, a K/9IP rate of 5.1 and a career record of 161-119, with a 3.83 ERA. If that's Milone's fate, color me thrilled.

One of the best comps appears to be Kevin Slowey, whose minor league career was similarly notable for his ability to fan a batter/inning while putting up insanely low BB numbers. In Slowey's minor league career, over 417 IP he struck out 399 while walking just 58, a K/9IP rate of 8.6 and a K/BB ratio of 6.9. Not only that, Slowey also gave up very few hits (just 313 in those 417 IP), so he was pretty much a minor league stud.

In the big leagues, Slowey has continued to be stingy with BBs -- just 84 BBs in 532.2 IP -- while striking out 395 (6.67 K/9IP). This gives Slowey a pretty tasty 4.7 K/BB ratio. However, what stands out in Slowey's big league career so far is that he has also allowed 84 HRs, exactly matching the number of BBs. 1.4 BB/9IP works well, 1.4 HRs/9IP not so much. Oops. Stalled by injury, discarded by the Twins and picked up this off-season by the Indians, it remains to be seen how good or bad Slowey's overall career proves to be -- but so far you're looking at a guy with a career ERA of 4.66.

As a fan whose single favorite childhood baseball player to watch was Tom Burgmeier, perhaps I'm a bit biased. I have a good feeling about Milone and his chances to translate his minor league success to the big leagues, but let's face it: The list of starting pitchers who have truly excelled without ever cracking 90MPH on the radar gun is an exclusive club indeed. Here's hoping it's about to add one more member.