Nate McLouth Striking Out in Atlanta

The Braves, it appears, perpetually seek outfield help. Last year they struck early to address the issue, trading for Nate McLouth in early June. It seemed like a fairly safe bet. McLouth had produced a .364 wOBA in 2007, which he followed with a .369 mark, including an uptick in power, during his 2008 breakout season. In 2009 he had produced a .365 wOBA prior to the trade, so the Braves were fairly confident of his ability to maintain his output. Even if he dipped a little he’d provide an upgrade over the hodgepodge of washed-up and never-were outfielders.

The transition from Pittsburgh to Atlanta didn’t exactly go smoothly for McLouth, but it didn’t go poorly either. He produces a .342 wOBA for the Braves in his 396 PA, though his power fell off a bit. His strikeout rate rose a bit, but that wasn’t too much a surprise. It was really in 2008 that his strikeout rate fell, so perhaps that was the anomaly. But, all considered it wasn’t bad at all, especially considering his $2 million salary. The Braves didn’t make much noise, though they did go from .500 upon McLouth’s arrival to 10 above .500 by season’s end. Plus, they had Nate for two more seasons at a reasonable rate, plus a $10.65 million option for 2012.

Yet in 2010 the Braves haven’t realized any of McLouth’s potential value. He has been a net negative in every sense this year — except, maybe, that his walk rate has remained consistent with last year. His AVG is down to .168, and no matter how little you regard batting average that is not a number befitting an MLB starter. His power is way down, too, a .097 ISO that comprises a paltry dozen extra base hits in 220 PA. To date he has produced -1.3 WAR, which nearly offsets the value he provided the Braves last year.

These numbers obviously fall a long way from what the projection engines had in mind. CHONE pegged McLouth for a .355 wOBA, Marcel for .358, and ZiPS had him highest of all at .364. The best part about ZiPS is that it is a self-correcting machine. It has already placed lower expectations on the remainder of McLouth’s season, projecting a .339 wOBA the rest of the way, knocking his ISO down nearly 20 points from his preseason projection. Even that seems a bit optimistic. It would take a drastic and immediate turnaround for McLouth to realize anything close to his previous value.

A little more than a year after acquiring McLouth to help fill a void in the outfield, the Braves could be seeking more help. This time, however, it would be to replace McLouth. While they have solutions at the corners with Jason Heyward and an Eric HinskeMatt Diaz platoon, center field remains an issue. Melky Cabrera and Gregor Blanco filled in while McLouth sat for a month and a half with a concussion, but neither is an ideal season-long solution. The Braves’ outfielders rank 13th in the NL in wOBA (.319) and are slightly below average, per UZR, defensively. They could certainly use an upgrade in center, especially it’s a rental. They do, after all, have McLouth under contract for one more year.

Despite the optimistic ZiPS rest of season forecast, we’re essentially at the point where we can write off McLouth’s 2010 as a lost cause. Though it’s never a positive for a player to miss that much time with a concussion, there was a chance that the break from baseball would help McLouth clear up anything that wasn’t working earlier in the season. Yet he’s collected just one hit in 15 PA since his return while grounding into two double plays and striking out twice. No, 15 PA doesn’t mean much when isolated, but considering McLouth’s failings earlier in the season it does not present a positive sign at all. I’m sure the Braves aren’t placing any expectations on him for the remainder of the season.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

10 Responses to “Nate McLouth Striking Out in Atlanta”

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  1. Phantom Stranger says:

    I cringe whenever I see him at the plate this season. He simply does not look like the same player he has been in the past. He got doubled up yesterday in a crucial at-bat, and was surprised Cox did not try to squeeze the go-ahead run with him given his speed.

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    • Nick says:

      Because Ross was at 3rd and it would be an easy force at home.

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    • ABravesFan says:

      To be fair, he did smoke a line drive to SS that turned into a double play.

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      • Nick says:

        When you’re hitting under .170, you can’t rely on “hard outs”. And it wasn’t even that hard; it was a one-hopper to SS. Hanley didn’t have to make a great play on it or anything. It was hard-hit, but not a rocket.

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  2. Anon21 says:

    The question is: does Frank Wren, who just tossed Yunel Escobar on the garbage heap for no good reason, see this? I mean, he must see it in some sense, but does he realize that this is a rather critical situation that cries out for redress in the form of an acquisition? I seriously hope so. The Phillies are getting bigger all the time in that rearview mirror, and I think standing pat is a very bad choice.

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  3. bucsfan says:

    I can’t help but giggle, not at the braves but at the bucs fanbase who absolutely hated to see mcclouth go. Thought he was a superstar when the real bucs fans realized he was nothing more than a platoon guy and is showing that he isn’t even that.

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    • Bronnt says:

      So you absolutely saw this coming? It’s hard to bear out in the data for a guy who had three straight seasons of .350+ wOBA would suddenly become completely useless (wRC+: 54). If you knew this in advance, the Pirates really ought to give you a job. I’m sure the Braves would hire you too for this kind of insight.

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  4. Fergie348 says:

    Well, there was no real reason to keep McClouth in Pittsburg, as they had Andrew McCutchen coming up and clearly ready to take over in CF. The Bucs don’t have the luxury of having several talented players at the same spot.

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  5. bucsfan says:

    no, I haven’t even really looked at his numbers..but I went to almost every home game before I joined the service and I can tell you it seemed like he rarely hit line drives. Kind of like milledge earlier in the year but with a few more HRs. Also no idea how he won a gold glove in center field. Took very poor routes to balls etc.

    Am I bitter because he blasted the bucs after he left? Sure I am, but I always thought mcclouth was overrated by yinzers. But then again, I used to think Randall Simon was going to the next vladdy.

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  6. KJ says:

    This article doesn’t even mention McLouth’s defensive decline. I’m not sure what happened to his arm but he is afraid to throw the ball in from CF. Melky has 6 outfield assists this year and has gun for an arm. Nate seems to have a noodle for an arm with zero outfield assists.

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