Nate McLouth enjoyed his greatest success with the Pirates. Therefore, it only seems logical that he chose to return to Pittsburgh to try and rediscover his his lost game. The club and player agreed on a one year deal for $1.75 million, with $450K in incentives also available, in a low risk move for the Pirates. Can McLouth reward that faith, return to prominence with the Pirates, and once again be a solid outfield option in the fantasy game?
In 2008 McLouth was one of the surprise stories of the year on his way to being an elite outfield option in the fantasy game. Nate hit decent .267, but it was his other numbers that stood out. McLouth hit 26 homers and stole 23 bases to pull off the old 20/20 trick, and he also knocked in 94 runs and score 113 times. It was a stupendous fantasy effort.
For a follow up in 2009 Nate saw all his numbers drop, but he was still a solid fantasy contributor. Splitting the year between the Pirates and the Braves, McLouth hit .256, socked 20 homers, stole 19 bases, drove in 70 runs and scored 86 times. One steal from a 2nd straight 20/20, McLouth was the only outfielder in baseball to hit 20 homers, steal 15 bases, knock in 70 runs and score 85 times in both 2008 and 2009. I told you he was an impressive fantasy play.
Then things went horribly wrong. Seemingly never fully healthy in his two seasons in Atlanta, he even had a stretch in the minor leagues to try and find his lost game, McLouth appeared in only 166 games. In those 509 at-bats he hit a sickly .210 with 10 homers, 40 RBI, 66 runs and 11 steals. I told you it was awful didn’t I?
So what went wrong? First, and most obvious, is the fact that Nate struggled with injuries. There’s nothing you can do if you are hurt. Is this a trend that will continue moving forward for Nate? It’s possible especially when you factor in that he plays the game very hard, but he’s also only 30 years old and that isn’t exactly an age that sends up red flags.
Performance is another issue to consider. McLouth posted a some awful numbers the last two years including a BABIP in the .220′s both times. Given that he owns a .276 career mark, and never failed to post a mark of at least .271 over his five big league seasons, a batting average rebound seems likely in 2012. He also posted the best BB/K mark of his career, 0.85, in 2011. That’s another good sign. It also makes sense that a fella who owns a 10.1 HR/F ratio for his career would see a regression to the mean after posting marks of 7.5 and 5.3 percent the past two years. At the same time, it’s not like you can just ignore the past two seasons when his skills seemingly eroded.
Will McLouth get a chance to play everyday? That’s a good question. At this point the Pirates have burgeoning superstar Andrew McCutchen who will obviously be in the lineup every day, and the team is fully committed to giving Jose Tabata a chance to fulfill his potential. That being the case, McLouth will have to battle with Alex Presley for playing time in the outfield (Presley would seem to have the lead in the battle), and that situation could get even more crowded if the team brings back Derrek Lee or signs someone else to play first base which would likely force Garrett Jones into the outfield mix (as you can tell from looking over at Fleaflicker, there is no love right now for McLouth). If McLouth plays everyday I think he makes a solid buy low option late in a mixed league draft, but with the Pirates crowded outfield situation at the moment McLouth is looking like a depth option in the outfield in NL-only leagues until the playing time issues work themselves out.
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By Ray Flowers