Smoke and mirrors: Nate McLouth

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2008 was a breakout season for Nate McLouth. Will 2009 be even better for him? (Icon/SMI)

Nate McLouth was a popular sleeper target coming into the 2008 season due to his power/speed combo, and the owners who drafted him wound up with an excellent player:

+------+-----+-----+-------+----+-----+-----+----+
| YEAR | AGE | AB  | BA    | HR | RBI | R   | SB |
+------+-----+-----+-------+----+-----+-----+----+
| 2008 |  26 | 597 | 0.276 | 26 |  94 | 113 | 23 |
+------+-----+-----+-------+----+-----+-----+----+

Was this season for real, though, or will he regress in 2009?

Power

If you’re new to THT Fantasy Focus and are unfamiliar with True Home Runs (tHR) or any of the other stats I’m using, check out our quick reference guide. These stats provide a much clearer picture of a player’s talent, so it’s well worth taking a couple of minutes to learn them.

+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+--------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM    | AB  | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | OF FB% |
+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+--------+
| 2006 |  24 | Pirates | 270 |  7 |   9 |    10 |     13 |     15 |     33 |
| 2007 |  25 | Pirates | 329 | 13 |  15 |    11 |     13 |     13 |     46 |
| 2008 |  26 | Pirates | 597 | 26 |  32 |    12 |     15 |     16 |     41 |
+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+--------+

As you can see, McLouth’s power does indeed appear to be for real. True Home Runs expected a 13 percent HR/FB in 2007, and he posted a 12 percent HR/FB in 2008. Now, tHR thinks that further growth could be in order, up to a 15 percent HR/FB.

In addition, McLouth hits a lot of outfield flies. His 46 percent rate was fifth in baseball in 2007 behind notable power threats like Jason Giambi, Frank Thomas, and Jonny Gomes, and while it regressed in 2008, it was still well above league average (roughly 33 percent). This mix of fly balls and raw power (HR/FB) bodes very well for sustained power numbers, even if McLouth doesn’t exactly look like a masher.

Entering his 27-year-old season, (assuming he gets 600 at-bats) McLouth’s home run total should be in the high 20s and could eclipse 30.

Contact

+------+-----+---------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+---------+-----+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM    | AB  | BA    | tBA   | CT% | BABIP | xBABIP* | LD% |
+------+-----+---------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+---------+-----+
| 2006 |  24 | Pirates | 270 | 0.233 | 0.255 |  78 | 0.275 |   0.293 |  25 |
| 2007 |  25 | Pirates | 329 | 0.258 | 0.265 |  77 | 0.301 |   0.302 |  16 |
| 2008 |  26 | Pirates | 597 | 0.276 | 0.284 |  84 | 0.291 |   0.288 |  19 |
+------+-----+---------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+---------+-----+

*Marcels BABIP is used in 2006 as xBABIP is unavailable
While McLouth was expected to provide power and speed to his owners, the .276 batting average was a nice perk—nearly 20 points higher than 2007. This spike was predominantly driven by a seven-point gain in contact rate. We can see the reason for this in his plate discipline numbers:

+------+-----+---------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM    | AB  | CT% | JUDGMENT X | A/P  | BAT CONTROL | BAD BALL |
+------+-----+---------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| 2006 |  24 | Pirates | 270 |  78 |         87 | 0.18 |          93 |       64 |
| 2007 |  25 | Pirates | 329 |  77 |         99 | 0.13 |          90 |       66 |
| 2008 |  26 | Pirates | 597 |  84 |        109 | 0.10 |          93 |       77 |
+------+-----+---------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+

McLouth’s contact rate gains were driven by a combination of improved Judgment, Bat Control, and Bad Ball Hitting. All were above average in 2008, so the 84 percent contact rate was perfectly justified (league average is roughly 81 percent). While some of these may regress, I think that the simultaneous gains could indicate maturation as a hitter, and they serve to hedge against too much contact rate regression if any one of them should fall a little in 2009.

Overall, McLouth avoided being a batting average hindrance in 2008, and True Batting Average indicates that there is even more upside. The .284 figure this past season was largely due to the expected power jump as McLouth’s BABIP has been nearly identical to his xBABIP for the past two seasons.

We must account for some regression, though, which means the most likely scenario may be a repeat of 2008. If we plug in an 82 percent contact rate, .293 BABIP, 42 percent fly ball rate, and 14.5 HR/FB, McLouth would hit his .276 average on the nose. If he maintains the 84 percent contact rate, though, he would hit .282.

Speed

+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+-------------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM    | AB  | SB | SBA | SBO%  | SBA% | SB% | FAN SPEED | FAN BALLOTS |
+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+-------------+
| 2006 |  24 | Pirates | 270 | 10 |  11 | 0.205 |   18 |  91 |        72 |          16 |
| 2007 |  25 | Pirates | 329 | 22 |  23 | 0.246 |   24 |  96 |        68 |           9 |
| 2008 |  26 | Pirates | 597 | 23 |  26 | 0.226 |   17 |  88 |        75 |          10 |
+------+-----+---------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+-------------+

McLouth’s 23 steals in 2008 certainly helped owners, but it was a bit of a drop-off from his 2007 pace. He reached first less often, attempted in these situations less frequently, and was a little less successful on those attempts. Still, Tango’s Fan Scouting Report thought he got a little faster, and a recent BP interview (h/t: The Book Blog) provides some hope for more steals in 2009.

NM: … I’m going to steal more bases….

DL: Why are you going to steal more bases? I know that your success rate has been very high.

NM: That’s why. That tells me that if my percentage is that high, I need to run more. Whatever my percentage is, 90-some percent … let’s say, just for the sake of examples, that it’s 95 percent. If I can steal six or seven more bases in a year and be at 90 percent, I think that’s more effective.

We tend to hear a lot of this kind of stuff during Spring Training, but there’s a chance this is different. I don’t think it’s the same thing as some random player saying, “Yeah, I’d like to steal 30 bases this year.” McLouth gives real, logical reasons and even cites that it was management’s idea. Might turn out to be nothing, but it certainly doesn’t hurt his chances.

If McLouth gets the same number of plate appearances with the same SBO% and we plug in a 20 percent attempt rate and 85 percent success rate, he’d steal 26 bases. To get to 30, he’d only need a .235 SBO% and 22 percent SBA%. He topped both of those in 2007.

Believe it or not, it doesn’t look like McLouth is done growing. A 30/30 season in 2009 is a very distinct possibility.

Market value

CBS Sportsline: T-10th OF
The Hardball Times: 13th OF
ESPN: 17th OF
ESPN ADP: 17th OF (R4)
Mock Draft Central Expert Mock Draft #2: 17th OF (R4)
RotoAuthority: 17th OF
FOX Sports – Mike Harmon: 18th OF
Razzball: 18th OF
RotoSavants: 18th OF
FOX Sports – John Halpin: 19th OF
Mock Draft Central Expert Mock Draft #3: 19th OF (R5)
Mock Draft Central ADP: 21st OF (R4)
Yahoo! Big Board: 21st OF
Yahoo! ADP: 21st OF (R5)
Fantasy Baseball Express: 21st OF
Rotoworld: 22nd OF
Mock Draft Central Expert Mock Draft #4: 24th OF (R5)
Mock Draft Central Expert Mock Draft #1: 25th OF (R6)

There’s a pretty tight range for McLouth here. Aside from THT’s and CBS’ outlier rankings, everyone else is pretty clustered together—he’s somewhere between the 17th and 21st best outfielder and must be taken in the fourth or fifth round.

Concluding thoughts

While McLouth must be taken high, I feel that there is some definite profit potential here. If we assign him 600 at-bats, a .276 average, 28 home runs, 27 steals, 100 RBIs, and 85 runs, we’re looking at the fifth- or sixth-best outfielder, worth close to $26. Give him 30/30 and 90 runs and he becomes a $28 player.

I like taking consistent players with my first few picks, but in the fourth round, I think McLouth is talented enough to warrant selection if your team has a couple of anchors already. Take him any time after round four and he’s a steal.

Smoke and mirrors?: Absolutely not.

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Comments

  1. JW said...

    I’m drafting this weekend and expect I’m going to have to choose between McLouth, Haren, Halladay, and Furcal (if I didn’t get one of the big 3 SS). Any advice? If my pick ends up near the end of the 5th, I could nab a second when the order snakes back around in the 6th.

  2. Joe said...

    Derek,

    Thanks for doing the article on McLouth.  I’m originally from a town near his hometown in Michigan and they made a big deal out of his breakout season in the local papers.  When I was in high school I got to see him whip all over my high school team (just as a spectator though, not a player), but I’m glad to know he’s not a one-hit wonder!

    Great work as always!

  3. Derek Carty said...

    Thanks, Joe.

    JW, I’d take McLouth among those guys if you think they will be your top options.  If you get him at the end of the 5th round, you’ve got yourself a steal in a 12-team league.  Even in a 10-team league he’s good value there.  Haren could be considered if you’re looking to take pitching early, but you could take McLouth in Round 5 and then Josh Beckett in Round 6, who is also a very good pitcher, if that’s your plan.

  4. JW said...

    Thanks for the advice. Sorry I forgot to mention that it’s an 11 team standard Yahoo league, but private. I ended up with the last pick in the 5th round and chose McLouth and then Haren with the first pick in the 6th. Those were my two preferred options, so I was happy that both were available.

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