This player preview was written by Erle Solesbee, who posts here as Rhyno18.
Nate McLouth's arrival in Atlanta on June 3, 2009 marked several things. It was the first big trade of the 2009 season. It signaled to the league that the Pirates annual fire-sale was starting early. And to Braves fans, at the time, it appeared the cavalry had arrived. While the 2009 season didn't work out quite the way we all wanted it to, this is 2010 and hope springs eternal in baseball. (Hey, I still hope every year that Ryan Klesko will attempt a comeback.)
In a preview of any player acquired via trade, I can't help but consider what the other guys involved in the trade could have done for us. I call it "Teixeira Syndrome." So let's get that out of the way first. Gorkys Hernandez is still in AA, and put up very mediocre numbers in Venezuelan winter ball. Charlie Morton had a decent 2009 season, but he was blocked in Atlanta. Baring a rash of injuries to our pitching staff that would ruin our 2010 season anyway, Charlie and his awesome '70's porn 'stache would be stuck in Gwinnett in 2010. Jeff Locke is still years away at best. None of the three guys we gave up to acquire Nate McLouth would have likely factored in to our 2010 season.
McLouth's numbers dropped off a bit from his breakout 2008 to 2009. Much of that decline can be attributed to injury. He suffered from a nagging hamstring injury in 2009 and ended up playing in only 129 games, and he was gimpy in quite a few of those 129. New information recently surfaced that Nate's eyesight had also begun to deteriorate and he hadn't realized it. That problem has hopefully been corrected with contacts. In my mind, one of the biggest factors for McLouth to have a successful 2010 season is his health. For Nate personally and the Braves as a whole to have a successful 2010, we need to see a healthy Nate in at least 140 games.
What can we expect from Nate offensively in 2010? Although he has the skills to hit in virtually any spot in the order, he will likely remain our leadoff hitter, and that's a good spot for him. His OBP has been above .350 in each of the last three seasons and when you combine that with the savvy base running he's known for, you have a pretty darn good table-setter for the rest of your lineup. When he gets on base he makes pitchers nervous, because they all know their catcher won't get him if he decides to go. That shouldn't be discounted in considering any player's value as a leadoff hitter. If his numbers over the last three seasons hold, he should steal 20 to 25 bases and homer 20 to 25 times. If his legs can stay healthy, he could add to those stolen base totals.
Defensively, 2009 was one of McLouth's best years according to both UZR and UZR/150. He's not a "glider" in the outfield, and has to rely on "hustle" and "grit" to get to some balls, but these days he rarely takes bad routes and seems to have come to terms with his limitations as a fielder. He has matured to the point he will take a ball on a hop and give up a single rather than dive, miss, and watch it roll to the wall. If he can be league average in center field defensively with the numbers he should put at the plate, Braves fans should be happy.
Contractually, Nate is due to earn $4.5mil in 2010, which is pretty reasonable for a player of his caliber. His salary increases to $6.5mil in 2011 and his contract has a $10.65mil team option with a $1.25mil buyout for 2012. With Schafer, Heyward and Diaz around he could potentially be a trade candidate if the Braves fall out of contention by the trade deadline, but I refuse to even think about that this early.
One big unanswered question as of this writing is what number will adorn McLouth's jersey in 2010. He wore #13 last year with Atlanta, and throughout most of his career in Pittsburgh, but he has apparently agreed to surrender that number to Billy Wagner this year.
Another great preview, this time by Erle. One day we'll get him to write a 9-part retrospective of Ryan Klesko.