Starting next week, the Nationals’ rotation will have a distinctly different look than it has for the previous five months. Jordan Zimmermann is done, having provided the Nats with 26 top-class starts. His 3.5 WAR is a team-best for now, unfortunately he won’t have a chance to improve the mark. Instead, he hands the baton to Milone, rather than Brad Peacock, who may not join the rotation at all.
Milone, a 24-year-old product of USC, has risen methodically through the Nationals’ system, a level per year, though he hasn’t garnered much attention from prospect hounds. Baseball America ranked his control as the best of the Nationals’ minor leaguers, but left him off their top 10 list. That should be seen not as an indictment of Milone, but as a reminder of just how good the Nationals could be in the near future.
Milone had a strong season for Triple-A Syracuse, raising his K/9 while dropping both his H/9 and BB/9 compared with his 2010 year at Double-A Harrisburg. In 26 starts, he posted an ERA of 3.22 with a WHIP of 1.03 while striking out nearly a batter per inning. While it goes without saying that most pitchers do better when they keep hitters off base, for Milone, the difference is substantive. His K/9 falls from 10.3 to 7.8 and his WHIP rises from 0.96 to 1.17 when he has runners on, and while he does get some of those strikeouts back with runners in scoring position, his WHIP rises again, up to 1.25.
Given the choice between the two, I’d obviously rather grab the other addition to Nationals’ rotation — you may have heard of him, one Stephen Strasburg — and he’s actually more widely available than I would have guessed: 49 percent of Yahoo leagues and 42 percent of ESPN leagues. I’m interested in seeing if Milone’s control will hold up at this level, but I don’t see him having enough upside to make him worth the gamble in fantasy. A rising walk rate since the All-Star break is of particular concern, especially when paired with his struggles with runners on base.
With a month of the season left to go, Garcia has thrown almost exactly the same number of innings he threw last year with the exact same number of strikeouts in one fewer start. While that parallel is a nice bit of trivia, it also highlights the fact that Garcia has already passed his previous career high in innings pitched with potentially four scheduled starts left, even with his next turn through the rotation being skipped.
The Cardinals haven’t said anything about shutting Garcia down quite yet, but perhaps you ought to think about it. He’s showing serious signs of fatigue already: His strikeouts are down, both absolutely and in terms of K/9; his walks and hits are both up, giving him a WHIP of almost 2.00 this month; and he recorded an out in the sixth inning or later just once in August, making his rising ERA and WHIP all the more painful for head-to-head players. Even if he can keep himself from getting worse, we’re in the part of the fantasy season where one bad start can have unwanted consequences.
If you’re in a position where you are absolutely stuck with Garcia until the season’s dying breath, you can save yourself some heartache by at least benching Garcia on the road. At home, he holds a 2.72 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP, but Mr. Hyde comes out away from Busch Stadium as his ERA balloons to 4.68 and his WHIP jumps to 1.59.
With the Cards having all but fallen out of the race in the NL Central, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them use Garcia’s spot in the rotation to check out some a young pitcher or two, but even if he isn’t officially shut down, his ability to be a positive contributor to your playoff dreams is limited at this point.