Well, maybe that's overstating it a bit, but at least it got your attention.
Anyway, there has been much discussion about Eric Milton and his potential for a bounceback season in 2006, so I thought I'd take a look at his performance over the past two seasons.
Let's take a look at Milton's 2005 season in comparison to his 2004 season. In 2004, Milton posted an ERA of 4.75. In 2005, Milton posted an ERA of 6.47. What accounts for this significant difference in performance?
To me, the three main determinants of successful pitching are Walk Rate, Strikeout Rate, and GB/FB ratio (or HR Rate). Successful pitching to me is about limiting baserunners (high strikeout rates and low walk rates) and limiting the damage done by those runners who manage to get on base (keep the ball in the yard). So, let's look at those three and see if we can determine what happened to Milton.
Milton in 2005 is a very interesting case. Comparing 2005 to 2004, Milton cut his walk rate (-.84 BB/9) and saw his strikeout rate decline (-1.27 K/9), while his HR/9 was EXACTLY the same. So, one of the determinants (Walk Rate) improved, one got worse (K Rate), and one stayed exactly the same (HR Rate).
Now, the declining strikeout rate should result in more hits, as more balls in play means more hits. But, you'd think that the increased number of batters who reached by the basehit would be offset to a certain degree by the reduced walk rate. More hits, but fewer walks, should result in a similar total number of baserunners allowed.
If we can conclude that his total baserunners allowed was very similar, why did he give up so many more runs? Why was his performance so much worse in 2005 (ERA: 6.47) than 2004 (ERA: 4.75)?
Well, simply put, he got pounded. His hit rate skyrocketed at an unexpected, illogical rate.
H/9 for Eric Milton
The question becomes, why did he give up so many more hits in 2005 than 2004?
Well, as mentioned above, with the decline in strikeouts, there are more balls put into play. With more balls put into play, there should be a corresponding increase in hits. But, while I would certainly expect more hits allowed, there shouldn't have been such a MASSIVE increase in hits allowed.
What are the possible reasons for the increase in hits allowed? Here are some possible reasons for the increase that I've come up with:
1. Park Effects: But, the ballpark change (from Citizen's to GABP) SHOULD NOT have had much of an effect, as both are extreme hitter's ballparks. In fact, it's possible that a change to GABP should have helped Milton, as Citizen's is a more offense friendly park than GABP. At the very least, it shouldn't have hurt him.
2. Team Defense: I haven't looked into it in depth, but the Reds 2005 defense was probably a bit worse than the 2004 Phillies defense, which could account for some additional hits, due to the decreased range. But, again, this shouldn't have resulted in a big difference.
3. Luck: And, finally, I suspect that the MAIN culprit is just luck. Milton was "hit lucky" in 2004 and very "hit unlucky" in 2005.
Batting Average on Balls in Play for Eric Milton
If you believe in the Voros McCracken theory, then the pitcher has no control over whether or not a ball put into play results in a hit. As such, it boils down to luck. If true, then Milton was lucky in 2004 and very unlucky in 2005.
To summarize, Milton's declining strikeout rate from 2004 to 2005 resulted in more balls being put into play. And, of those balls in play, a HIGHER percentage of them resulted in hits. He wasn't necessarily being hit harder, as his identical 2004/2005 HR rate indicates, rather more hits in general were just falling in.
The mass media lambasted this signing as terrible (due to Milton's flyball tendencies in a homer friendly ballpark) and point to his 2005 performance as evidence. However, in 2005 Milton gave up HRs at EXACTLY the same rate as in 2004, but his overall performance was much, much WORSE. Accordingly, he WAS NOT done in by his homers, as commonly believed, but rather by the illogical increase in hit rate.
Accordingly, Milton will likely have better luck in 2006, which should result in his performance regressing back towards his career mean.
As such, there is hope that Milton will be significantly better in 2006. In fact, I'd be very surprised if he isn't. Now, mind you, that doesn't mean that he'll be a GOOD pitcher, but he should return to his league average self next season. And, with the offensive talent in Cincy, consistent league average pitching is all the Reds really need. So, while he won't be the savior, he will be better in 2006.
And, a league average Milton is something devoutly to be wished.