Don’t Be Fooled: Braves Have An All-Star Caliber Outfielder in Nate McLouth

By Jimmy Hascup

In this day and age where hype overshadows pragmatism, dented cars mean more than practicality and age tends to mean more than relative production, it’s no wonder that Atlanta Braves centerfielder Nate McLouth is being glossed over. In a fantasy era where steadiness means boringness, owners would much rather go with a player like B.J Upton or Andrew McCutchen than settle for the “sure-commodity.”

I’m not going to disagree with taking the two players ahead of McLouth, the point is we often become overly enamored by a player’s excitement instead of appeasing ourselves with a less risky alternative. Let’s take a look at McLouth’s 2009 season, which was split between the Pittsburgh Pirates (45 games) and the Braves (84 games):

507 At Bats
.256 Batting Average (133 Hits)
20 Home Runs
70 RBI
86 Runs
19 Stolen Bases
.352 On Base Percentage
.436 Slugging Percentage
.281 Batting Average on Balls in Play

Just because the Pittsburgh Pirates, a symbol of baseball futility over the past two decades, jettisoned McLouth doesn’t mean that fantasy owners should ignore the benefits of drafting someone like him, despite the drop-off in production.

Sure, McLouth has had his fair share of leg injuries throughout his career; 2009 was marred with some hamstring injuries, which definitely curtailed his impact. He also was fitted for contact lenses during the offseason, so there could be another source of his mild disappointment last year – he hit .239 in night games and .295 in day games.

Even with better vision, I’m not going to all of a sudden call him Pablo Sandoval at the plate. McLouth will not hit .300; an average around .270 is pretty much all you’ll get from the 28-year-old. He has a career .284 BABIP; last season’s finished at .281, so it’s really right on the mark. The highest BABIP McLouth has produced is a .299 mark in the 2007 season, though he batted just .258 then due to a 23.4% strikeout rate and an inflated flyball rate of 52.8%.

With that being said, McLouth’s core batted ball rates remained relatively constant last season. He hit groundballs 40.2% of the time, the highest in his career, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a faster player.  It leads me to believe that less of them squeaked through the infield for base hits. The line-drive rate dipped a bit to 16.3%, but it’s pretty much on par with his 18.6% career average. And most importantly for his power numbers, his flyball rate stayed in the low 40s, the lowest mark since 2006, but his HR/FB rate remained a strong 11.4%.

McLouth has always struggled more against lefties than righties, with a three-year average of .249/.322/.384 against left-handers and one of .271/.365/.498 against right-handers.  Last season his limited effectiveness against lefties vanished to a .230/.309/.379 level. Nonetheless, we can expect a slight improvement this season. 

Despite the injury concerns and a weaker batting average, McLouth has a skill-set that plays up to the level of other five-star potential sluggers, just don’t expect him to really provide a strong batting average. Besides that, it is all there for McLouth: moderate power, plus-speed and adequate on-base skills. He had 62 runs in 2007, 113 runs in 2008 and 86 runs in a less-stellar 2009.  Even after a down year, McLouth is a good bet for about 90 runs this season.

More of a late-bloomer, McLouth did not become fantasy-relevant until his 2007 season when he was 26. McLouth has played almost four complete seasons at the major league level and at age-28 is really about to hit his peak. It shouldn’t shock owners then – it’s entirely possible for McLouth to turn more of his doubles into homeruns. McLouth has had 20 or more doubles in the past three seasons, with 46 two seasons ago and 27 in 2009. His ability to hit for power, doubles and homeruns, allows him to be a rare run-producing leadoff/second-place hitter. In 2008 McLouth drove in 94 and last season he knocked in 70. I’d bank on a number in between that for this season.

McLouth may not offer the upside of some other outfielders in this year’s draft. He may not be the most exciting player to watch and he certainly won’t be the centerpiece on many of Atlanta’s billboards. If there’s one thing that owners can take comfort in, it is that McLouth is a pretty safe bet and a player you can draft for a decent price who will contribute in nearly every category. 

I’d peg McLouth with a .275 AVG, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 90 R, 20 SB and 30 doubles. There might not be a better bargain out there in 2010.

What are your thoughts on McLouth?  What type of performance are you expecting?  Is he someone you are targeting on draft day?

If you would like to see a free preview of the Rotoprofessor 2010 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide (available for just $5) now including a Top 50 Prospects for 2010 List, click here.

For more 2010 projections, click here.  Among those we’ve already covered include:


  1. E-Z says:

    I think McLouth might squeeze under the radar, but I have to say I’m not terribly encouraged by his spring training so far. I was hoping for signs that last season’s struggles were behind him. Normally spring games don’t overly bother me (except monitoring position battles or health) but 1 for 20 something doesn’t inspire confidence!

  2. Morat says:

    Care to update your opinion of this dude? He’s been horrendous. Do I hang on? The link regarding is contacts is defunct. Maybe he needs to see the eye-doc again.

  3. Rotoprofessor says:

    Jimmy wrote this one, but I’ll chime in with my thoughts.

    I know how bad he’s been, but it’s only one month. He’s had terrible luck (.220 BABIP) and has a huge strikeout rate (30%) which is bound to decrease. He’s still showing a good eye at the plate, walking over 15% of the time, and it’s only a matter of time before he turns things around.

    If you gave up now you’d be selling at an absolute low, which doesn’t make sense. Give him time and things should improve.

  4. Jimmy says:

    I think you need to give it one more month. McLouth has never been absolutely amazing against lefties, and Bobby Cox has been doing his best to sit him against them, and I believe it’s stunted his production or flow of the game this year. Prior to this series, the Braves had been struggling mightily, but I believe Cox will soon realize that McLouth is the way better option than Melky Cabrera is. I say you give it a month and then make your decision then, but McLouth can help out across the board (besides AVG), so you’d have to find someone with that ability to replace him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *