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Game Thread: September 3, 2006

Cleveland at Texas, 2:05 PM (WKYC 3)

Starting Pitchers:

Cleveland: Paul Byrd (9-6, 4.74 ERA)
Texas: Kevin Millwood (13-9, 4.64 ERA)

It's hard to control my enthusiasm for the miracle we witnessed last night.  The joy of it, the shock of the unexpected but often dreamt-of, the sense of giddyness, the realization of so many hopes and dreams that seemed like they'd never arrive.  Yes, it's still hard to believe it really happened, but Cliff Lee really did make it through seven innings last night.

In honor of today's matchup, let's take a moment to reassess one of the key questions of the past offseason, whether Paul Byrd could be nearly as valuable as Kevin Millwood.  The ERAs look similar, but Millwood has made two more starts, and Byrd has given up 16 unearned runs to Millwood's 6.  Millwood also leads in Quality Starts, 17 to 14.  Byrd famously has had massive Run Support from his lineup, leading Millwood 7.26 to 5.41, a difference of about 1.2 runs per start ? per start, think about that for a second.  This is tempered a bit by Millwood's vastly better Bullpen Support, which has been 5.91 runs better than Byrd's ? but that's piddling compared to Byrd's Run Support advantage, which works out to over 32 runs on the season.

Over at Baseball Prospectus, where support-neutrality is Job One, Millwood shows up with 11.0 "expected wins" to Byrd's 9.9.  Since presumably nobody thinks you pay $34 million for 1.1 wins, the Tribe is looking pretty good on that one.  The Hardball Times, on the other hand, gives Millwood a 21-run advantage in "Pitching Runs Created," 68 to 47, and Millwood also has the edge in "Fielding Independent Pitching," 3.87 to 4.69 -- Millwood turns out to be one of the league leaders in HMYDISY.

The bottom line, if there must be one, is that using the conventional stats, Millwood looks only marginally better than Byrd this season, but digging deeper, the difference is somewhat more profound.  Whether that difference is worth $5 million this season, let alone the $34 million difference in their guaranteed contracts, is a further question.  But as a rule, teams can expect to get the best single-season return on a free agent in the first year of his deal, due to injury risks over time and the fact that over 90 percent of free agents are in the decline phase of their careers.

What that means, in a nutshell, is that a big, multiyear contract is never likelier to look better than it does at the end of its first year.  Millwood looks like a nice but not momentous upgrade over Byrd at the moment.  But what will they look like in another year or two?