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