Lastings Milledge is one of those players who always seemed destined for more than he could accomplish dating back to his days in the Mets’ system. After the 2007 season, the Mets traded him within the division to the Nationals, and last summer the Nationals traded him to the Pirates. At age 25, Milledge’s time in baseball was quickly becoming an artifact of his promise rather than a statement of his performance.
Milledge started 2010 as poorly as one can start a season. In April he hit .229/.281/.289. He kicked things up a notch in May by hitting .269/.360/.346. An improvement on a sober April, definitely, but ultimately a teaser for a hot June and volcanic July. His wOBA in June hit .394 thanks to nine extra base hits in 80 plate appearances; Milledge had 10 extra base hits in the previous 179. In his first 36 July plate appearances, he had four extra base hits – including two homers, doubling his season total.
A July wOBA over .400 pushed me to ask Pirates’ radio personality Rocco DeMaro for his thoughts on Milledge’s recent success. DeMaro tweeted in response that Milledge has been “Getting more backspin on his flyballs,” and that he “seems to be hitting fewer grounders.” DeMaro added that Milledge is showcasing a good line drive stroke as of late and has definitely made some adjustments. DeMaro, by the way, is a bright guy and he’s correct. Milledge was hitting more grounders in April and May than he has in June and July; his line drive rate is similarly up as well.
Offense is really the only area in which Milledge provides value. He’s a mundane fielder and a poor baserunner despite his short stature. Milledge is not much of a threat to steal bases – his career success rate is sub-70 – and he rarely takes an extra base. In fact, he has made more outs on the paths during his career (22) than extra bases taken (20), and that doesn’t include his caught stealing tallies, either.
The recent heat has balanced with the early frost to make Milledge’s overall numbers appear league average. A league average bat that doesn’t play defense too well nor run the bases isn’t overly valuable. As such, Milledge’s value really comes down to whether you believe his bat can play up or not. The expectation from those who believe in his tools is that this latest surge is the come up. The expectation for those who do not believe in his tools is that this latest surge is a front. In the end, ultimately Milledge’s bat is fit to play the part of the Sword of Veracity, thus illuminating the truth to all who seek it.
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