In an article today, Tom Boswell suggested that the Nationals may unclog their outfield by sending Lastings Milledge back to Triple-A. He suggests that the move would send a message to Milledge that his attitude needs to change. I’d suggest that might be where he belongs anyway.
Yes, Milledge is young and toolsy – he just turned 24 years of age, and he’s been a highly regarded prospect for as long as people can remember. However, he’s been a fairly abysmal major league player so far in his career, and he’s not exactly showing improvement.
Last year, Milledge posted a .325 wOBA, which made him just slightly below average as a hitter. For a center fielder, that’s not bad. Of course, we have some evidence that Milledge isn’t actually a center fielder – his UZR last year in CF was -18.5, which goes along with reports of him running circuitous routes in the outfield. That kind of putrid defense canceled out almost all of his offensive value, so Milledge’s total contribution to the team in 2008 was 0.1 wins.
To begin 2009, he’s 4 for 26 with an ugly 10/1 K/BB ratio. He’s not showing any improved selectivity at the plate, and he doesn’t have the contact abilities to make up for a lousy approach. Toss in some more bad routes in the outfield, and Milledge is simply continuing his pattern of replacement level performance as a major leaguer.
His age and physical abilities will buy him a long leash, but the Nationals are 0-7 in a season where rebuilding credibility with the fan base is a priority. With too many outfielders on the roster, a trip back to the minors might be in everyone’s best interest. Milledge has some significant improving to do before he can lay claim to an everyday job, and the Nationals have better options on the roster. How much longer do they put up with replacement level performance from a kid who should be able to produce much more?
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