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Kevin Millwood was one of those players the Braves pulled from their nether regions. His minor league stats indicated he was someone to keep an eye on, maybe a top prospect in a thin organization, but nothing to indicate he'd be an ace at the age of 24. The Braves kind of make me sick. They traded Millwood for Johnny Estrada, who also came out of nowhere to help the Braves win a division title. Estrada will eventually be traded for a 25-year old knuckleballer playing for another organization's high-A affiliate, and the knuckleballer will end up saving 49 games for the 2007 Braves with an ERA of 1.20. The Braves kind of make me sick.

Millwood's career has been all over the place. He has had three superb, ace-caliber seasons. He has had about three above-average, glad-you-had-him seasons. He has had two Tomkonian efforts, with the ERA coming a bit too close to 5.00. His recent history is not illuminating. He was below-average in 2004, and one of the top pitchers in 2005. And now he's a gonna be filthy rich.

Ray Ratto has thrown his mustache in the ring for Millwood, saying the Giants need to overpay a pitcher of his caliber to compete. I don't not undisagree. Like all of the guys who will nab a four-year deal this offseason, you can see the short-term payoff. You can touch the short-term payoff. You can imagine how it feels to slap liquid short-term payoff about your face like cologne.

However, it's hard to ignore the back end of the deal. Heck, it's hard to ignore the first and second years of the deal. It isn't like Millwood is the bastion of consistency. There's enough to worry about with his overall performance when he's healthy, much less his dodgy injury history and advancing age. To underscore this point, here are the retired pitchers listed by Baseball Reference as most similar to Kevin Millwood, and the age at which they retired.

  1. Alex Fernandez, 30
  2. Steve Blass, 32, also has a disease named after him
  3. Pete Vuckovich, 33
  4. Teddy Higuera, 35, but ceased being effective well before that
  5. Moose Haas, 31
  6. Gary Nolan, 29
  7. Tex Carleton, 33
That's a pretty damning list. It's a bunch of promise, and a bunch of broken hearts. It's also a rigged list. The reason they pop up as having careers similar to Millwood is because their career totals ended up close to what Millwood currently has under his belt. By definition, this list has to include players who were effective until they retired in their early-30s or so, or else they wouldn't compare to the still-active career of Millwood.

Here's another list (link goes to the same page as above) of similar pitchers to Millwood from Baseball Reference, but this time it's of pitchers similar only through the age of 30. It does not take into account what the pitchers did after they were Millwood's age:

  1. Alex Fernandez
  2. Jim Bunning
  3. Jack McDowell
  4. Pat Hentgen
  5. Kevin Appier
  6. Mike Flanagan
  7. John Smiley
  8. Freddy Garcia
  9. Ron Darling
  10. Bartolo Colon
This list seemed to be more encouraging. At least, I thought so on first glance. But of the above list, and ignoring the two active pitchers, only Jim Bunning would have been worth the contract Millwood is going to receive. Kevin Appier interspersed injury and quality, and he would have earned at least some of the money. The other six would have been disasters.

Similarity scores aren't meant to be perfect. They're incredibly helpful in putting players in historical perspective, but they aren't a definitive statistical hammer to end any debate. They aren't magic numbers that pop up, telling us Kevin Millwood has only a one-in-eight chance of helping the team that acquires him.

I do know this much for sure, however: Kevin Millwood has only a one-in-eight chance of helping the team that acquires him. Just like the other pitchers, I would look forward to watching him pitch in a San Francisco uniform, but would only do it with both hands over my eyes. Pass.