As every Chicago Cubs fan knows, Alec Mills shocked the baseball world and threw a no-hitter on Sunday. It was truly an unbelievable feat, as Mills has about as unconventional of a path to the big leagues as anybody in MLB history. Not only was he a college walk-on and 22nd round pick, but he’s also in the midst of his first full MLB season at the ripe age of 28. Stories like this are a rarity in cutthroat industries like professional sports, as second chances are almost never given. While it's shocking that he threw a no-hitter given his unprecedented path to the big leagues, it’s honestly not all that surprising if you look at his numbers in 2020 for the Cubs.
7 of Mills' 9 Starts Have Been Excellent
Let me be more clear: It’s not like an Alec Mills no-hitter was something Cubs fans should have expected. That’s not what I’m trying to say. Every no-hitter in and of itself is “shocking” given how hard it is to not allow a hit in nine consecutive innings pitched. But I imagine Mills, even right before his start on Sunday, would have been the last guess if you asked a Chicago Cubs fan which pitcher would throw a no-hitter this season. And I’m here to tell you that those fans would be entirely off base, as Alec Mills has quietly dominated in 2020 and has received very little recognition for it.
Now, I’m sure if you just pulled up Mills’ 2020 stats, you’re a little confused by that statement, as his 3.93 ERA in 52.2 IP does not scream “dominant” by any measure. However, looking at his season-long stats in totality is a rather lazy way of evaluating Mills’ effectiveness on the mound. It doesn’t serve much purpose in projecting his future in the Chicago Cubs’ rotation, either. Because if you throw out his two blow-up starts on August 19th and 29th, Mills has a 2.54 ERA in 46 innings pitched. That ERA would be good for 15th-best in baseball. Now do you see what I mean when I say he’s quietly dominated for the Cubs this season?
Dominant Career Cubs Numbers
I understand that many naysayers may point to his 46 IP this season and scream “sample size!!” My rebuttal to that sentiment: Alec Mills has pitched in 106.2 big league innings for the Chicago Cubs. In that stretch, he holds a 3.54 ERA and an ERA- of 81. This means Mills has been 19% better than league average in over 100 innings pitched during his time with the Cubs. How’s that for sample size? If you throw out those two blow-up starts, which featured ten earned runs in 6.2 IP and is clearly the anomaly given the career numbers outlined above, his career ERA on the Cubs shrinks to 2.88 in 100 IP.
Now that, my friends, is pure domination. It’s also not like Mills isn’t going deep into games, either. In those seven appearances where he’s racked up a 2.54 ERA in 46 IP, he’s averaged 6.2 innings in each start. That’s phenomenal longevity for a guy that doesn’t have “wipeout stuff,” a trait that is absurdly overvalued in today’s MLB. Mills doesn’t strike out very many hitters, but he keeps the opposition off balance by changing speeds and the eye level of the hitter. He does this because he commands every pitch in his arsenal. Sound familiar? It should. Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks also employs this strategy when he’s on the bump.
The Cubs Gave Mills a Chance and Scored
Don’t get me wrong, Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks deserve to get the ball in the first two games of the postseason. They have experience in big-game situations and are undoubtedly the frontline starters for this Cubs rotation. But with Mills’ no-hitter coupled with the career stats I mentioned above, how is he not the third starter in this Cubs rotation right now?
He’s done nothing but produce at a high level while on a big league mound. It shouldn’t matter that he throws only 91 and looks like he should be working at the nearest Chicago accounting firm. Baseball overlooked Mills for years due to these perceived “flaws” and he’s finally proven everybody wrong. Thank God the Chicago Cubs gave him a chance to do so.