Starting Pitcher Tom Milone of the Oakland Athletics pitches during in the bottom half of the first inning the pre season game between Yomiuri Giants and Oakland Athletics at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)
I hope you will forgive me if I don't predict a Rookie of the Year Award.
Eight or nine years ago, we all just adored Kirk Saarloos.
The Astros' third-round pick in the 2001 amateur draft, Saarloos signed that summer, went to the Class-A South Atlantic League, and posted a 1.17 ERA in 31 innings. His 5.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- 12 strikeouts per nine innings, two walks -- was eye-popping.
The next winter, Baseball America speculated, "Saarloos could go to to Double-A as a reliever this year. If he gets a look as a starter, he'll return to low Class A."
Saarloos did go to Double-A, but as a starter. And he was phenomenal, again. In 13 starts, he went 10-1 with a 1.40 ERA. In June, he got called up by the Astros and joined the starting rotation, debuting almost exactly one year after getting drafted.
Saarloos got hammered in each of his first three starts, which earned him a demotion (or perhaps a stint on the Disabled List; I'm not sure). But he rejoined the big club's rotation after a month away, pitched effectively in his fourth start and threw a six-hit shutout in his fifth.
Saarloos finished 2002 with a 6.17 ERA in 17 starts. Baseball Prospectus opined, "There's a debate as to whether Saarloos can thrive with a fastball that's a few ticks south of average. Put us squarely down on the side that believes his minor league dominance portends success in the majors."
Ah, the fastball. From Baseball America, the previous winter:
Though Saarloos isn't the most physical pitcher -- he's 6 feet tall and throws 86-88 mph -- he gets outs. His fastball has plenty of sink, his slider is a plus pitch and his changeup is simply outstanding.
On the strength of that scouting report and his 31 innings as a first-year pro, Saarloos was listed as the No. 21 prospect in the Astros' organization.
He carved up the Triple-A International League to rank second with 155 strikeouts and first in walks per nine innings (1.0) and K-BB ratio (9.7). Those last two figures illustrate his greatest strength: superb control and command. Milone's below-average fastball ranges from 86-91 mph, but it plays up because of the deception in his herky-jerky delivery and his ability to spot it wherever he wants. His above-average changeup is his out pitch against lefties and righties alike ... Milone's ceiling is limited to that of a back-end big league starter ...
Of course Tomaso Milone isn't exactly the same as Kirk Saarloos. Milone's a left-hander, and he was two years older than Saarloos when he reached the majors. But their stuff seems similar, and both exhibited phenomenal control in the minors; not just limiting walks, but also racking up strikeouts.
Ten years ago, Saarloos was the poster boy for soft-throwing strike-throwers. Eight years ago, the Oakland Athletics traded for Saarloos. Nerds rejoiced. He spent much of that season (2004) on the DL with an elbow injury. He spent most of the next season in the A's rotation and went 10-9 with a 4.17 ERA (yay!) and a 0.98 strikeout-to-walk ratio (uh-oh).
Saarloos never rediscovered his strikeouts, whether in the majors or the minors. Quite probably because of the elbow injury. So Kirk Saarloos doesn't prove that command specialists with lousy fastballs can't win in the majors. He merely proves that command specialists with elbow injuries named Kirk Saarloos can't win in the majors.
Which doesn't tell us a great deal about Tom Milone.
But today Tom Milone might be the poster boy for soft-throwing strike-throwers. And once again, our strike-thrower has been traded to the A's. And once again we, the nerds, rejoice.
Last year in Triple-A, Milone struck out 9.4 batters per nine innings. Upon joining the Nationals' rotation, Milone pitched well while striking out 5.2 batters per nine innings. Monday night against the Royals, Milone struck out 0.0 batters per nine innings.
There is room in Major League Baseball for the Bob Tewksburys and Jamie Moyers of the world. But just a little. Just a very little.