Let’s take a quick look at one of the more decimated outfields in the big leagues. The Atlanta Braves haven’t had a good outfield in years, but going into this season, they had trade acquisition Nate McLouth manning center and two home-cooked products in Martin Prado and Jason Heyward on the corners. It looked like it could be a decent-to-strong group and a change of pace for the Braves.
This weekend, Heyward went on the DL with his rotator cuff inflammation and McLouth left a game early with an oblique problem. That’s a good way to test your depth. Unfortunately, the Braves are short on depth in the outfield. Let’s look at the winners in this outfield mess.
Eric Hinske (4% owned in Yahoo, 8.3% in ESPN)
Obviously this career .256 hitter won’t continue to hit .355, especially when he’s out there playing every day. Most worrisome is what will happen when he goes up against lefties — some of his success this year have some from being hid versus same-handed pitchers (69 of 81 PAs have come against righties). He has a .300 OBP and .385 SLG against lefties, career, and those numbers go up to .347 and .456 against righties. If you can sit him against lefties, he makes for a good short-term pickup in deeper leagues just because he will be playing regularly and has a little pop. One note about his BABIP — since he’s been hitting balls on the ground more often this year, he actually has a .339 xBABIP. Yes, his .442 BABIP will regress, but it might not regress to his career .301 BABIP. He will probably put in the best seasonal batting average of his career this year.
Joe Mather (0% owned in Yahoo, 0.3% owned in ESPN
Acquired from the Cardinals in the offseason for outfield depth, Mather is now on fire in a small sample size. As a right-hander, he’ll probably work as Hinske’s caddy versus lefties — he’s not a center fielder by trade. He played all over the diamond in Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate (1B, 3B, LF, RF), but never in center, and he’s been moved to the corner outfield gradually over his career. On the other hand, despite being better against lefties in the minor leagues, Mather has not shown great numbers against major league lefties to date. His current swinging strike percentage (13.5%), paired with his BABIP (.545), suggests the batting average is headed for a nose dive.
If McLouth hits the DL for an extended period of time for his oblique injury, a truer center fielder than Mather will be required. Diory Hernandez took over for McLouth in Sunday’s game, but the shortstop moved to third base, pushing Martin Prado back out to left fied and Mather in to center. Hernandez, however, hits like the defensive replacement he is. Could Jordan Schafer or Matt Young get the call? Both are better defensive center fielders, perhaps, than a career infielder. Neither is playing very well in Triple-A (.256/.309/.323 for Schafer and .255/.354/.306 for Young) but both are on the 40-man roster. Schafer is, however, showing the best strikeout rate of his career in the young season. If McLouth’s oblique is a problem, he might come up. If the new strikeout rate persists, he might be able to pair a decent batting average with some speed and a little bit of power (though, to be fair, the power has disappeared since 2009). Cautious interest, even in deeper leagues, is the best tactic here.