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Appreciating Kevin Millwood’s career

Feb 3, 2013, 11:07 PM EDT

Kevin Millwood

It’s a trivia question that would have stumped most: who is the active leader in strikeouts among right-handed pitchers?

Until this morning, the answer was Kevin Millwood, at 2,083. Now it’s Roy Halladay, just 17 behind at 2,066, after Millwood announced his retirement.

An 11th-round pick by the Braves in 1993, Millwood opened his career in outstanding fashion, going 17-8 and 18-7 in his first two full seasons. He may have won the 1998 NL Rookie of the Year award, except he threw 1 1/3 too many innings in 1997. In 1999, he made the All-Star team, finished second to Randy Johnson in the NL in ERA and led the league in WHIP.

As it turned out, that was Millwood’s only All-Star team. He was 40-20 after his first 2 1/3 seasons. Afterwards, he was 129-132.

Following a 2002 season in which he went 18-8 with a 3.24 ERA, Millwood was involved in a controversial trade. The Braves, looking to cut payroll, shipped him to Philadelphia for middling catcher Johnny Estrada.

The deal didn’t really work out as hoped for either team. Estrada missed most of the 2003 season and then came back and had one fine year for the Braves in 2004. Millwood went 23-18 with a 4.34 ERA while earning $20 million in his two years with the Phillies. The team had no interest in bringing him back for the 2005 season.

With his stock down, Millwood signed a one-year deal with the Indians in free agency and then went 9-11 with an AL-best 2.86 ERA in 2005. He parlayed that campaign into a five-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers.

Millwood was a modest disappointment in Texas. After going 16-12 in a solid first season, he went 19-24 with ERAs over 5.00 each of the following two years. He bounced back with a nice 2009, going 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA, but the Rangers paid the Orioles to take him that winter.

Doomed in Baltimore, Millwood went 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA in his lone year in the AL East. Even though his numbers outside Camden Yards weren’t bad, no one wanted him afterwards. He finally got another chance with the Rockies towards the end of 2011 and went 4-3 with a 3.98 ERA in nine starts. The Mariners signed him last year, and he went 6-12 with a 4.25 ERA in 28 starts last season.

It’s hardly fair to label Millwood’s career a disappointment, but more was expected after his big start. His teams were often disappointments, and he never went to the postseason again after the Braves traded him (he was 3-3 with a 3.92 ERA in seven starts and two relief appearances with Atlanta).

Still, while Millwood wasn’t often great after the big start, he was never bad. He ended up with a first, a second and an eighth place finish in ERA. He won at least 16 games a total of four times. He led the NL in shutouts in 2003. He even had a couple of nice highlights in his final season with the Mariners. On May 18, he became just the 10th visiting pitcher to throw a shutout at Coors Field, pitching a two-hitter against the Rockies. Just three weeks later on June 8, he was involved in one of the most unusual no-hitters in history, throwing six innings before leaving due to injury and then watching as five relievers finished it off for him.

So, no, Millwood won’t be getting any Hall of Fame votes when the time comes. But 169-152 isn’t bad. Millwood is 188th all-time in wins and 59th in strikeouts. And given that he made about $90 million over the course of his career, he should have a lot of fun in retirement.

  1. Old Gator - Feb 3, 2013 at 11:19 PM

    Very touching.

    And in other news, the Rawalpindi Mujaheddin announced that Muhammad Asif would not be pitching for them in the World Baseball Classic after he was blown to smithereens by an obese predator drone as he was being given a tour of the Tropicana Dump.

  2. gotmelk - Feb 3, 2013 at 11:28 PM

    *He was a left handed pitcher

    • frank433 - Feb 3, 2013 at 11:40 PM

      Who was?

      • robmoore - Feb 4, 2013 at 8:52 AM

        It’s really hard to get accurate scouting reports from Rawalpundi Mjaheddin.

  3. illuminatemyfate - Feb 4, 2013 at 12:18 AM

    Don’t forget about the no hitter he threw for the Phillies, and the one he started with the M’s.

    • purnellmeagrejr - Feb 4, 2013 at 7:28 AM

      Hwe is a first bllaot inducteee for the Halll of mediocrity. Every offf season I lived in fear he would end up on the Mets.

      • paperlions - Feb 4, 2013 at 7:34 AM

        Funny, every off season he lived in fear that the Mets would be his only option.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Feb 4, 2013 at 8:21 AM

      I just read the article twice to make sure the author didn’t mention the no-hitter he threw with the Phillies. Yet he mentioned a two-hit shutout with the Rockies and the no-hitter he shared with 5 other pitchers three weeks later. Weird.

  4. zzalapski - Feb 4, 2013 at 1:54 AM

    Thanks for the writeup. Many pitchers would not mind at all having Millwood’s career.

  5. baseballisboring - Feb 4, 2013 at 1:59 AM

    Nice post, but dear god do you reference pitcher wins a lot.

  6. humanexcrement - Feb 4, 2013 at 2:16 AM

    The trouble with Millwood was that he was always expected to fill a greater role than he was capable of–more than once it was suggested that if he had maintained better conditioning, he might have risen to the occasion–but he was always asked to be the ace on a second or third-rate team and carry a crappy rotation. Had he been used at a supporting arm, a 3rd or 4th starter for a contender(the role in which he excelled for the Braves) he might have at least been to a World Series or two after leaving Atlanta. Imagine for example, Millwood as the #4 guy for the 2005 Astros. Quite an intimidating rotation.

  7. frankenderek - Feb 4, 2013 at 10:34 AM

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who wondered why his Phillies no hitter was omitted.

  8. waltcoogan - Oct 26, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    Kevin Millwood actually constituted the Braves’ best pitcher the last time that they went to the World Series, better than Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz in 1999. He was the best right-handed pitcher in the National League that year, the hardest starting pitcher to hit and reach base against and the second-best at preventing runs, behind only the left-handed Randy Johnson.

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