Although the top of the Yankees rotation should be strong behind CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, their depth is a bit, well, shaky. And that may be a kind statement – behind those two, the Yankees will trot out A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova, and the victor of the desperate battle between Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Kevin Millwood won’t be able to start the season with the Yankees, as he will have to work out the kinks in extended spring training, but it’s easy to see why the Yankees were willing to drop some pocket change for his services and add him on an incentive-laden minor league contract.
Millwood was not a good pitcher last season, but tales of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. Although his ground ball rate took a dive last season, contributing partially to a spike in home runs allowed, the rest of his peripheral numbers were similar to his last few seasons: six strikeouts and three walks per nine innings. As unimpressive as the resulting 4.86 FIP and 4.66 xFIP may look, it’s not particularly easy for teams to find five guys that can do better – Millwood posted 1.3 Wins Above Replacement.
At this point, the kind of talented pitchers who could slot in and make a real impact for the Yankees are unavailable. Given the market, the Yankees found the next best thing: depth, and cheap depth at that. Millwood has shown an ability to “eat innings” on a yearly basis and do it better than the typical replacement player. ZiPS projects Millwood for a 4.87 ERA (90 ERA+), which would once again make him above replacement level. Ideally, the Yankees (or any team, really) don’t have to use a pitcher like Millwood, but the Yankees rotation is not in an ideal place right now.
Even with the rotation woes, the Yankees look to be a good bet (although not a lock) to the playoffs again this season. But with a position of clear weakness, a team in contention can always be served by adding cheap depth. That’s exactly what the Yankees did here. Millwood won’t impress anybody if he makes it back to the show with New York, but don’t be surprised if he manages to hold the fort together for a few innings in the fifth starter spot this season.