So today I was sitting at home watching the game via MLB Gameday, and I was surprised to see that Jerry Narron let Eric Milton start the 7th inning. On the surface it didn't seem like a bad move--Milton is a veteran pitcher, had only thrown 89 pitches, and aside from a few mistakes that turned into home runs, he had pitched a beautiful ballgame.
But most Reds fans by now are well aware of how quickly things can go south for the lefthander once the first half of the ballgame is over. So when Xavier Nady led off the inning with a single, I was pleading with my computer screen to get the bullpen up and throwing. At that point, I had to step away to take care of a crying baby. By the time I returned, Beltran had hit his slam, and the game was well out of hand.
Just out of curiosity, I decided to pull Milton's numbers on a per-inning basis to see if he really has consistently been as frightening in later innings as I was thinking he had. The numbers speak for themselves. Through tonight's game:
1st - 15.0 in, 10 h, 4 er, 1 hr, 5 bb, 11 k - 2.40 ERA, 0.6 hr/9, 3.0 bb/9, 6.6 k/9
2nd - 15.0 in, 12 h, 7 er, 4 hr, 1 bb, 8 k - 4.20 ERA, 2.4 hr/9, 0.6 bb/9, 4.8 k/9
3rd - 15.0 in, 9 h, 4 er, 1 hr, 1 bb, 10 k - 2.40 ERA, 0.6 hr/9, 0.5 bb/9, 6.0 k/9
4th - 15.0 in, 15 h, 10 er, 4 hr, 4 bb, 9 k - 6.00 ERA, 2.4 hr/9, 2.4 bb/9, 5.4 k/9
5th - 13.7 in, 16 h, 10 er, 3 hr, 5 bb, 5 k - 6.57 ERA, 2.9 hr/9, 3.3 bb/9, 3.3 k/9
6th - 11.3 in, 21 h, 13 er, 3 hr, 6 bb, 8 k - 10.35 ERA, 2.4 hr/9, 4.8 bb/9, 6.4 k/9
7th - 7.0 in, 9 h, 7 er, 2 hr, 2 bb, 3 k - 9.00 ERA, 2.6 hr/9, 2.6 bb/9, 3.9 k/9
8th - 1.7 in, 4 h, 2 er, 1 hr, 0 bb, 1 k - 10.59 ERA, 5.3 hr/9, 0.0 bb/9, 5.3 k/9
Note the steady (after the first inning) rise in his bb/9 from the 4th through 6th inning. His strikeouts also seem to drop off a little bit, although he has struck a fair number out in the 6th inning. Nevertheless, what it looks like to me is that Milton starts to lose his control about half way through his pitch count, and this steadily leads to more men on base as well as an increased likelihood of home runs. Once the 6th inning arrives, Reds fans should hit the deck. I'm almost inclined to recommend removing him after the 5th inning no matter what. :)
Another way to look at this is by the trips through the lineup. CBS Sportsline has these splits, although I haven't updated them to be through tonight's game (they'd be even more dramatic):
First 9 hitters - 33.7 in, 20 h, 8 er, 3 hr, 5 bb, 21 k - 2.14 ERA, 0.8 hr/9, 1.3 bb/9, 5.6 k/9
Second 9 hitters - 29.7 in, 32 h, 17 er, 6 hr, 6 bb, 19 k - 5.16 ERA, 1.8 hr/9, 1.8 bb/9, 5.8 k/9
Third 9 hitters - 23.3 in, 38 h, 25 er, 7 hr, 9 bb, 12 k - 9.64 ERA, 2.7 hr/9, 3.5 bb/9, 4.6 k/9
Wow, that's really telling. The first two times through the lineup, Milton seems to be fairly effective, although he has given up a few more home runs and quite a few more hits the second time through the order. Nevertheless, by the third time through the order, Milton is walking people left and right, not striking guys out very often, and is giving up an insane number of longballs. That's a recipe for disaster.
The cause of this is likely a combination of two things: Milton getting tired and opponents figuring him out. I tend to think it's more the former than the latter, as I haven't noticed a trend in which teams are hitting Milton better the second time they see him in the season compared to the first time. But the results seem very clear--by the time the batting order comes around for the third time, Jerry Narron needs to be ultra-paranoid about Eric Milton. My suggestion is that he should be yanked the moment anyone gets on base.