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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Milton shelled because he was left in too long

So today I was sitting at home watching the game via MLB Gameday, and I was surprised to see that Jerry Narron let Eric Milton start the 7th inning. On the surface it didn't seem like a bad move--Milton is a veteran pitcher, had only thrown 89 pitches, and aside from a few mistakes that turned into home runs, he had pitched a beautiful ballgame.

But most Reds fans by now are well aware of how quickly things can go south for the lefthander once the first half of the ballgame is over. So when Xavier Nady led off the inning with a single, I was pleading with my computer screen to get the bullpen up and throwing. At that point, I had to step away to take care of a crying baby. By the time I returned, Beltran had hit his slam, and the game was well out of hand.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to pull Milton's numbers on a per-inning basis to see if he really has consistently been as frightening in later innings as I was thinking he had. The numbers speak for themselves. Through tonight's game:

1st - 15.0 in, 10 h, 4 er, 1 hr, 5 bb, 11 k - 2.40 ERA, 0.6 hr/9, 3.0 bb/9, 6.6 k/9
2nd - 15.0 in, 12 h, 7 er, 4 hr, 1 bb, 8 k - 4.20 ERA, 2.4 hr/9, 0.6 bb/9, 4.8 k/9
3rd - 15.0 in, 9 h, 4 er, 1 hr, 1 bb, 10 k - 2.40 ERA, 0.6 hr/9, 0.5 bb/9, 6.0 k/9
4th - 15.0 in, 15 h, 10 er, 4 hr, 4 bb, 9 k - 6.00 ERA, 2.4 hr/9, 2.4 bb/9, 5.4 k/9
5th - 13.7 in, 16 h, 10 er, 3 hr, 5 bb, 5 k - 6.57 ERA, 2.9 hr/9, 3.3 bb/9, 3.3 k/9
6th - 11.3 in, 21 h, 13 er, 3 hr, 6 bb, 8 k - 10.35 ERA, 2.4 hr/9, 4.8 bb/9, 6.4 k/9
7th - 7.0 in, 9 h, 7 er, 2 hr, 2 bb, 3 k - 9.00 ERA, 2.6 hr/9, 2.6 bb/9, 3.9 k/9
8th - 1.7 in, 4 h, 2 er, 1 hr, 0 bb, 1 k - 10.59 ERA, 5.3 hr/9, 0.0 bb/9, 5.3 k/9

Note the steady (after the first inning) rise in his bb/9 from the 4th through 6th inning. His strikeouts also seem to drop off a little bit, although he has struck a fair number out in the 6th inning. Nevertheless, what it looks like to me is that Milton starts to lose his control about half way through his pitch count, and this steadily leads to more men on base as well as an increased likelihood of home runs. Once the 6th inning arrives, Reds fans should hit the deck. I'm almost inclined to recommend removing him after the 5th inning no matter what. :)

Another way to look at this is by the trips through the lineup. CBS Sportsline has these splits, although I haven't updated them to be through tonight's game (they'd be even more dramatic):

First 9 hitters - 33.7 in, 20 h, 8 er, 3 hr, 5 bb, 21 k - 2.14 ERA, 0.8 hr/9, 1.3 bb/9, 5.6 k/9
Second 9 hitters - 29.7 in, 32 h, 17 er, 6 hr, 6 bb, 19 k - 5.16 ERA, 1.8 hr/9, 1.8 bb/9, 5.8 k/9
Third 9 hitters - 23.3 in, 38 h, 25 er, 7 hr, 9 bb, 12 k - 9.64 ERA, 2.7 hr/9, 3.5 bb/9, 4.6 k/9

Wow, that's really telling. The first two times through the lineup, Milton seems to be fairly effective, although he has given up a few more home runs and quite a few more hits the second time through the order. Nevertheless, by the third time through the order, Milton is walking people left and right, not striking guys out very often, and is giving up an insane number of longballs. That's a recipe for disaster.

The cause of this is likely a combination of two things: Milton getting tired and opponents figuring him out. I tend to think it's more the former than the latter, as I haven't noticed a trend in which teams are hitting Milton better the second time they see him in the season compared to the first time. But the results seem very clear--by the time the batting order comes around for the third time, Jerry Narron needs to be ultra-paranoid about Eric Milton. My suggestion is that he should be yanked the moment anyone gets on base.


  1. Obviously, Jerry Narron is not a "Sabre" guy, or even a slightly statistically oriented manager: but do you think the Reds have guys looking at this stuff? I mean, common sense says that starters tend to weaken as the game wears on, but come on. Look at Milton's third trip through the lineup. Holy batting practice, Batman!

  2. An extremely bright front office might have recognized something like this and transferred Milton to a middle relief role and then used his best trading chips to acquire more reliable starting pitching. Just sayin'.

  3. The thing that bothers me the most about it is that this isn't even something that requires a sabrematrician! This is something that I think anyone who has watched Eric Milton this year would have noticed. All I did was look up the numbers to reinforce the point.

    As cg said, it does suggest that Milton might convert to a quality relief pitcher at this point in his career. I honestly can see him doing very well in a left-handed setup man role. Of course, we'd have to figure out who else would start--given that we're running Joe F. Mays out there this weekend, there must not be many viable options. Although I'd still like to see what Germano would do--I doubt he'd be any worse that Mays, and might even turn in an Elizardo Ramirez-type performance.

  4. JinAZ, you are absolutely right. Sabremetrics aren't required to tell you that last night's non-move was an absolutely horrible move. I'm still absolutely dumbfounded, and all of this "I was trying to follow my heart" nonsense makes it worse.
    And now Mays is pitching Sunday.
    ...I need a drink.

  5. Sorry, guys: I didn't mean to imply that one needed a sabre to cut open the Milton mess, just that Narron's "old school" play-the-game-it's-supposed-to-be-played style might exclude certain helpful statistical conclusions from his thought process.

    I'm with you guys. Put him in the pen or yank him after five innings (or 18 batters, whichever comes first).

  6. cg hudson makes an good point.

    although we are 5-1 since the Trade, so a lot of what we got was mental. i love it when the Reds play day games during the week so I can watch at work! Bronson is soooo due for a win, and to take 2-3 from the Mets would give me tremendous faith that this team could make it to October. Not that I don't have faith now, but that doubt is always nagging in the back of my mind...

  7. Here's Milton's updated ERA stats after the game, split by trips through the batting order:
    first 9: 2.23 ERA
    second 9: 5.06 ERA
    third 9: 10.66 ERA.

    If that doesn't smack you in the face, nothing will. Com'on Jerry, use some sense. Oh, and while you're at it, start Encarnacion every day. :)