Back when Lastings Milledge was a darling in the New York Mets' system, it didn't seem far-fetched that one day he would sign a free agent deal that would send shockwaves through the baseball world. Milledge has a new team today, and his signing is creating international headlines. But it's not because he inked a nine-figure deal with the Yankees or Red Sox. Rather, the 26-year-old has agreed to terms with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on a one-year, $570,000 deal with incentives and an option for the 2013 season.
Heading to Japan gives Milledge more playing time, a bigger paycheck and a chance to re-establish his value to MLB clubs. But the reason Baseball America's number nine prospect heading into the 2006 season is going overseas to the Swallows is that big league breaking stuff has swallowed him up.
Since 2008 (the first year for Pitch F/X data), Milledge has managed a respectable .301 batting average, a .370 on-base percentage and a .426 slugging percentage against fastballs and sinkers. For comparison's sake, the averages for non-pitchers since '08 are .281 for batting average, .359 for OBP and .444 for slugging percentage.
Breaking balls are another story, though. Though Milledge once gained notoriety (infamy?) for appearing in a rap song called "Bend Ya Knees," it seems like curveballs and sliders buckle his knees. Milledge has a .228/.249/.338 line against breaking balls, while the average for non-pitchers is .224/.265/.350.
As is the case against most right-handed batters, Milledge sees lots of curves and sliders located low-and-away:
Milledge swung at more of those low-and-away breakers (42 percent) than the average batter (38 percent)...
...And he came up empty much more often (54 percent of the time) than most hitters (47 percent)...
Pitchers were well aware of Milledge's weakness against sliders and curves, throwing those pitches against him 31 percent of the time since 2008 (the average for hitters was 25 percent). He figures to get a bunch of breaking balls in Japan, too. Maybe Milledge will solve curves and sliders, or maybe he continues to flail. Either way, his progress (or lack thereof) against breaking stuff will determine whether Milledge ever makes headlines again.