Lastings Milledge, the Missing and Weak Link in 2010 Pittsburgh Pirates OF


Lastings Milledge is one of numerous what if players that must produce for the Pirates this season.   The Neal Huntington Cash Five ticket will be running out daily to LF for the Bucs with numbers that pale in comparision to his division counterparts. It must be a mental challenge for Milledge, whose hype we have heard for years,because the NL Central had the best collection of bashing left fielders in all of baseball.  Even if it was an off year for most of them.

You can hear the banter… “Heh, nice blast Ryan!”

“Holy shit Carlos you got all of that one!” 

“Matt, that was a bomb brother!”

“Fonz, how is that knee?”

As we dove into this post, this caught our eye. It’s an Aug 2009 article by David Lauriliawhere Milledge said the media drives him.   Our little blog isn’t officially media, but screw it let’s pretend.  Let’s get his motor running today.  

From the interview mentioned above:

DL: Has the media had much of an impact on your career thus far?

LM: Definitely. I think the media has kind of helped me… really helped me get more drive, because I always feel that I need to prove myself to somebody, no matter what. And I think that all around the league, everybody has to prove themselves, every year. When I have people doubting me, and doubting my talent, and stuff, it kind of gives me a little extra drive to want to do better. Not only prove them wrong, but to show everybody that I can be successful at the biggest level.

 

Maybe there have been too many soft stories on Milledge, so let’s dig a little bit on Thrilledge and see what we can uncover.  This much is face, based on 2009 performance, Milledge is the weak link in the Pirates projected outfield of Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones

Sure, Milledge is a highly likeable player.  He’s just flashy enough to not annoy most fans, he certainly catches your eye at the ballpark.  After a Pirate game, we find ourselves with more photos of Milledge than most any other Pirate. 

He makes you want to take his picture. 

He makes you want to cheer for him.  

His hype machine has been burning for a long time….he has all the potential in the world, and Milledge is free to take the lid off that barrel of potential anytime. 

How about 2010?  That would be a good time. 

It’s become evident that Pirate fans need more than the 53 singles, some fancy shoes and an outstanding flying hip bump to get this Pirate ship off the rocks.  For Milledge, the NL Central has a few left fielders he is looking up at in terms of offensive production.  Looking way up is a better phrase.   We took a quick look at these players:

The Cubs Alfonso Soriano played 116 games in LF in 2009 for the Cubs.  He provided 25 doubles, a triple, 20 HRs and 55 RBI.  241/303/423 was obviously a disaster season for the LF who was signed to an eight-year deal in 2006 worth $136 million dollars.  In 2009, Soriano reached base at a paltry .303 clip while suffering a knee injury.  He didn’t see many fastballs which is a trend he should get used to in 2010.  Even his terrible season was more production than Milledge provided.

The Reds Laynce Nix played 72 games in LF and had 309 at bats  hitting 26 doubles, a triple, 15 HR and 46 RBI.  The Reds LF position in 2010 will be won in Spring Training with as many as three players in the mix for the job it appears.   Nix has been signed to a minor league deal and we’ve heard the names Todd Frazier, Juan Francisco and Chris Heisey being thrown around for the corner spot. 

Lance Nix provided more free swinging production than Milledge.  Hell, allof  the LF in the Central Division did.  What indiciation is there that any of that will change in 2010?

The Astros Carlos Lee played 154 games in LF with 610 at bats slugging 35 doubles, a triple, 26 HR and 102 RBI.  300/343/489.   Could Lee’s numbers be trending downward as the bat apparently slows?  [Lee's knees were rumored to recently say:  "Ugh, Lord Carlos how much longer until we can go to the AL and DH?  This outfield shit is for the birds.]

The Brewers Ryan Braun played 158 games in LF with 635 at bats knocking 39 doubles, six triples, 32 HR and 114 RBI.  320/386/551.  Braun went over 200 hits last year while having a ‘poor’ power year, but jumped his runs scored (+11) and walks (+15).  [Mr. Braun meet Mr. Donnelly.  Mr. Donnelly meet Mr. Guillen, I mean Braun.  Donnelly's Mom is a what?  Ryan why would you say such a thing?]

The Cardinals Matt Holliday combined for 39 doubles, three triples, 24 HR and 109 RBI.  A 313/394/515 line for the season which was arguably saved when he left Oakland and broke out for the Cards.   [Sorry about your year Matt.  Can I borrow a grand?]

Here is Milledges’ extra base production as a Pirate for each month of 2009:  

October: 13 AB, One HR, One RBI, O Walks
Sept: 105 AB, Six 2B, One HR, Nine RBI, Six Walks
Aug: 98 AB, Five 2B, Two HR, Eight RBI, Six Walks
July: 4 AB, Two RBI

After doing the research for this article, it’s rather obvious No. 85 needed to show up at minicamp in fantastic condition.  He did that.  What that condition translates to, at the plate in terms of production, we will  find out soon enough.  He has presumably done everything asked of him since coming over last season from the Nats. 

Rehab the injury.  Check. 

Prove himself in the minors.  Check. 

Sport some sweet spikes.  Check. 

Increase average from .167 to 279.  Check.

Improve defense in the outfield.  Big check.

The offensive improvement must come in dramatic fashion beginning immediately.  Consistency has rarely been apparent in Milledge’s career.   Unless you want to discuss declining consistency.  His K%, OBP, Slugging, and OPS were worse in 2009 than 2008. 

He hit for isolated power (Slugging subtract Average) to the whopping tune of .134 when he had 523 at-bats with the Nats in 2008. 

That number somehow took a tumble for the worse this year, yeh, it’s possible to drop 30 points and come in with a .094 ISO while batting .279.  [compare the ISO to Laynce Nix who checked in at .236 while posting some of the more modest numbers in the NL Central.]

The good news is most everyone in Pittsburgh that has watched Milledge play believes they are seeing him get it together.  But other, more scientific projection services, don’t agree on that theory for Milledge in 2010. Bill James sees 146 hits of which 103 are singles, 30 doubles, a couple of triples and 11 HR with 60RBI.  CHONE projects 118 hits of which 82 are singles, 24 doubles, a couple of triples and 10 HR with 50RBI.

The Pirates need more production from Milledge.  He was acquired as a big upside player.  Seemingly, everything has been fixed that was discussed six months ago in terms of why he wouldn’t make a big impact immediately. 

As always a myriad of excuses have surrounded his production.  It’s been that way for a few years now hasn’t it? I never see Milledge making those excuses, it’s been the GM who defends him.   It is infuriating watching him at times.  Other times exhilirating. So it’s understandable when Frank Coonley and  Neil Huntington ooze with pride when discussing what Milledge could do on the field.

But we can’t even imagine how his results on the field have had an impact mentally on him. Milledge should be doing much, much more.  But all can be forgotten if 2010 is the year Lastings Milledge produces to the level of the expectations that have surrounded him forever.  We will be cheering  like only fans that have been loss whipped for nearly two decades can when it happens.  

And it needs to happen. 

Not for our sake.  But for Milledge’s.

Lastings, here is a quote you can tape in your locker, we doubt you can do it.

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Tags: Carlos Lee Frank Coonley Lastings Milledge Matt Holliday Neal Huntington Ryan Braun