On arguably the greatest rotation ever, Kevin Millwood played the role of Ringo — or is it Billy Preston if we’re being more Beatles accurate given the ERA pecking order of the 1998 Braves?
He wasn’t Glavine, Maddux or Smoltz, but since World War II, Millwood ranks 11th among starter fWAR in a Braves uniform. Selected in the 11th-round in 1993, the right-hander spent six seasons in Atlanta, including his lone All-Star appearance.
Millwood was no Hall of Famer. However, he does make the cut as this Starting Nine series continues, because Kevin Millwood was a Very Good Brave.
1. October’s finest
One hit. Eight strikeouts. Based on Game Score, Millwood’s performance in Game 2 of the 1999 Division Series stands as the best of any Braves starter in the postseason. It’s also one of 14 instances ever in the playoffs with a pitcher facing 29 or fewer batters and completing nine innings. It’s happened just twice in the last 40 years, the other being Roy Halladay in his 2010 no-hitter in the NLDS. Ken Caminiti’s second-inning solo home run was the only damage the Astros could muster, as Millwood limited them to two baserunners, with Jeff Bagwell also reaching in the seventh on a Chipper Jones error. “It was probably the biggest game I have pitched in my career, so I would have to say it was my best performance ever,” Millwood said at the time. “Everything was working,” he said. “My fastball was good. My curveball was good. My slider was good.” Said manager Bobby Cox, who had a front-row seat for a generation of Braves greatness on the mound: “I’d rate it right up there with Glavine’s sixth game against Cleveland (in the 1995 World Series. It was right in that category.”
2. Home-grown impact
The Braves mined a gem when they took Millwood with the 320th pick in 1993. Darren Dreifort was the first pitcher off the board, signing a $1.3 million bonus with the Dodgers in going No. 2 overall, but he’d go on to produce a 12.6 fWAR. Among all the arms taken that year, none had a more productive career than Millwood and his 46.5 WAR, and the only three players in that entire draft that posted better WARs than Millwood were the Alex Rodriguez (first overall), Torii Hunter (20th) and Scott Rolen (46th). To put Millwood’s impact in context among Braves picks, Glavine (54.7) and Steve Avery (20.1) are the only starters ahead of Millwood (19.7) among fWAR during their time in Atlanta.
3. The season of Peak Millwood
While he’d go on to throw a no-hitter with the Phillies and won an ERA title in 2005 as an Indian, Millwood was never better than he was in 1999. An All-Star that season, he won a career-high 18 games with a 2.86 ERA — besting the Braves’ Big Three — was seventh in the majors with a 5.5 fWAR and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting behind Randy Johnson and Mike Hampton. He capped it with that NLDS gem, though the results weren’t nearly as dominant as the postseason continued. He gave up a combined seven earned runs over his last two starts, including Game 3 of the World Series, in which Millwood was pulled in the third inning after the Yankees got to him for four runs on eight hits.
4. Standing out in the 2,000-strikeout club
Wielding a cut fastball with a slider and occasional curve, Millwood averaged 7.5 strikeouts per nine during his Braves tenure, topped by 8.4 in both 1998 and ‘99. He’d go over the 2,000-strikeout plateau in 2012, fanning the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson in the fourth inning at Yankee Stadium while with the Mariners. Millwood needed 430 games to reach that mark. Only 37 players had more Ks through that point in their careers, a list that includes both Maddux and Smoltz. Also of note during that 2012 season, Millwood threw six innings of a combined no-hitter with Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen.
5. Cost-cutting casualty
The Braves were over budget in the winter of 2002, and as general manager John Schuerholz put it at the time: “The economics in baseball stink. The economics stink, and if this isn’t a clear enough signal to the doubters and naysayers, to be forced to trade an 18-game winner to your arch enemy ... The economics stink.” Maddux appeared to be headed for salary arbitration, but he and the club agreed to a $14.75 million salary, the largest one-year deal in baseball history. The Braves simply couldn’t afford to keep Millwood, who had made $3.9 million the previous year and was projected at $10 million via arbitration. The Braves couldn’t keep both, and Millwood was shipped to the Phillies for catcher Johnny Estrada, much to the right-hander’s surprise. “It’s a shock,” Millwood said. “But I’m excited to be going to a team that wants to win.” In the matter of two weeks, the Braves had lost Tom Glavine to the Mets on a three-year deal, and traded Millwood, losing two of their top three starters in fWAR. It technically worked out for both sides. Atlanta won the division by 10 games in 2003 and on April 27, Millwood no-hit the Giants, striking out 10.
6. Quick HOF ballot exit
Millwood didn’t receive a single vote in his only year on the Hall of Fame ballot, falling off in the same year in which former teammate Chipper Jones gained entry on his first try. On a crowded ballot, and with the 10-player limit on BBWAA voters, it’s not surprising Millwood didn’t reach the five percent minimum to roll into the next year ... but not a single vote? It ultimately means little. Millwood wasn’t going to stay on the ballot for 2019, but narrowing it down to players’ best seven seasons, Millwood’s 24.9 WAR was equal to that of Kerry Wood, who drew two votes. He was better than Hideki Matsui (21.9), who had four votes and Carlos Lee (23.3) who had one vote.
7. Take a trip to Kevin Millwood Park
Millwood’s native Bessemer City, N.C. — which bills itself as a “city with a heart! — has a population of just 5,340. Millwood was a three-sport athlete for the Yellow Jackets, scoring 1,394 points over his basketball career and helped his team reach the state title game as a sophomore center. The lasting impact is as Gaston County’s longest-tenured MLB player and can pay homage with a trip to Kevin Millwood Park, which — in line with his multi-sport lineage — includes three baseball fields and a basketball court.
8. For your viewing pleasure
Mining the depths of YouTube comes this gem. In 2010 when Millwood was with the Orioles, he hit the road with the Baltimore Police Department. It doesn’t exactly turn into an episode of COPS or The Wire, but he was part of high-speed run through the city streets while they pursued a vehicle that failed to stop and included a foot chase. Millwood also observed an arrest for an illegal handgun and a drug bust. “Shoot, man,” Millwood. “This is fun.”
9. Spotted on eBay ...
One of the perks of being an All-Star is some bling. While Millwood isn’t unloading his from the 1999 Midsummer Classic, you can get your hands on the index card Millwood signed to get his ring. If you were wondering, the righty is a size 13.