Once upon a long, long ago, there was a young boy from Saugus, California. Just like many young boys across America, and just like you and me, this particular young boy dreamed of playing baseball.
During his senior year of high school, he went 23-4 as a pitcher and batted .507 as a first baseman, and was one of two players from his high school to be drafted that year — and one of 21 Saugus graduates to play in professional baseball overall. He still owns the single-season school record for RBI, and he’s tied for fifth-most hits, second-most home runs, and fourth-lowest ERA, and he tossed the only perfect game in school history.
The Nats drafted him in the 10th round, then traded him to Oakland in one of the many Gio Gonzalez trades, and he was pretty much fine in his first four full seasons in Oakland and then Minnesota: 619 innings, 3.97 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 98 ERA+, 2.9 K/BB, 1.2 HR/9. As John Sickels wrote after his rookie campaign:
Age 25, silenced the doubters by going 13-10, 3.74 in 31 starts with a 137/36 K/BB in 190 innings, allowed 207 hits. He’ll give up some hits and some homers, but he controls the damage by never walking anybody. Outstanding changeup.
But it wasn’t outstanding enough to give him any margin for error. Since that 2015 season, he has replacement-level or worse. In the last five seasons, he’s twirled just 294 2/3 innings, with a 5.80 ERA, 5.35 FIP, 75 ERA+, 3.70 K/BB, 2.1 HR/9. Those are the numbers of a man who doesn’t have enough to get by in the modern game.
It is not his fault, of course, that Alex Anthopoulos approached his starting rotation in the 2019 offseason like a blackjack player who stood pat on a 14, waiting for the dealer to bust. Nor is it his fault that in his first six starts in Baltimore’s COVID-delayed 2020 season, Milone pulled out some smoke and mirrors and posted a 3.99 ERA in 29 1/3 innings.
It is Anthopoulos’s fault that he saw a left-handed pitcher with no fastball and an ERA near six in the previous half-decade and viewed him as a solution in the starting rotation.
Milone pitched three games in a Braves uniform. On August 30, he got seven outs and yielded eight runs. On September 4, he got 12 outs and yielded one run. On September 9, he got 10 outs and yielded eight runs. It was good for a 14.90 ERA in 9 2/3 innings, a whopping 22 hits including four homers, and a wholly irrelevant 9-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
I don’t really want to dunk on Tommy Milone. He sucked as a pitcher but as far as I can tell he doesn’t suck as a person. He doesn’t appear to have been the kind of self-satisfied slob that we all love to hate. He just seems to have been the 2020 Braves’ answer to 2007 Mark Redman: a past-his-prime journeyman lefthander with less than nothing left in the tank.
His career to this point has been remarkable, really. Hell, he has a lower career ERA in the majors than he had at Southern Cal. He had the exact sort of career that, if not for injury, Chuck James might have enjoyed. But that career has come near to an end.
Of course, as a lefthander with an agent and a pulse, he’ll probably be able to draw a paycheck from some team in some league somewhere for about as long as he’d like, and several of those prospective employers may even be in the majors.
I just dearly hope that none of them are the Braves.