This coming Saturday, the Nationals will replace Jordan Zimmermann in their rotation with Tom Milone. I will be in Chicago during his debut, as I’m going to check out Wrigley Field for the first time. I’m excited about seeing this baseball shrine, but I’m a little disappointed in missing out on his first start. I have been excited about seeing him pitch for over two years, but at least I have DVR. So what’s so impressive about Milone?

Here’s what I wrote a few months ago:

He’s a 24 year old lefty starter who’s been very impressive the last few years. In 2009, he had a 2.91 ERA in high-A ball, at age 22. Last year, in AA at age 23, he had a 2.85 ERA; but in about 7 more IP than 2009, he had 49 more Ks and 13 fewer BBs. So his K/9 jumped from 6.3 to 8.8, and his K/BB went from 2.94 to 6.74.

This year in AAA, he has pitched about the same as least year. His ERA has gone up a bit to 3.22, while his K/9 went up to 9.4. He has walked so few batters that his K/BB sits at an incredible 9.69. All of this indicates an incredible strikeout pitcher with very good control, but it doesn’t hint at one very interesting part of Milone’s repertoire – his fastball doesn’t reach 90 mph.

That “fast”ball velocity would indicate that he relies heavily on secondary pitches and hitting his spots. And he probably is an incredible control pitcher. But his fastball isn’t unusable. According to John Sickels:

Despite the lack of velocity, the fastball is an effective pitch for him due to the contrast with his plus-quality changeup, a good cutter, and a solid-to-above-average curve. His command is obviously terrific, he has mound presence, and a consistent habit of exceeding the expectations of scouts.

He’s like very few other pitchers we’ve seen, and it’s hard to project how he’ll do in the majors. Kevin Goldstein recently wrote about him:

scouts are still confused as to his future. There’s no need to bring a radar gun to a Milone start as his fastball routinely sits at 85-90 mph, but obviously he puts the pitch exactly where he wants it.  He mixes in a solid curveball, a changeup that is clearly his best pitch, and keeps hitters off balance with a delivery that features multiple points of hesitation. He’s certainly a trick pitcher, but it’s yet to catch up to him in the minors, and the act is at least worth an audition in the big leagues.

While some are less confused and more certain. A recent tweet from Keith Law sums up his opinion.

Not even sure he’s a 5. RT @FigureFilbert: @keithlaw What are your thoughts on Tom Milone? 5th starter or better?

So what is Milone? Is it fair to call him a trick pitcher? And even if he is, does that matter? Probably not, if it can translate to effectiveness in the majors. Just ask the Diamondbacks. They have a “trick pitcher” in Josh Collmenter who has a 3.19 ERA for them this season, and over 19 starts he’s got a 3.44 ERA. I’m not saying Milone is the same pitcher as Collmenter, but the Diamondbacks starter has an unorthodox delivery and has maintained success in the majors after almost a full season.

Milone could be a bust in the majors, but all of the negative impressions seems to be based on the fact that people who can’t throw 90+ can’t succeed. I am not sure, but I’m reminded of the Moneyball idea that pitchers who strike people out and don’t walk anyone are going to be good, regardless of how they look or how hard they throw. I am optimistic that Milone will be able to translate his minor league success into something more than a fringe starter in the majors.

By Charlie