December 6, 2013
Nationals, Nate McLouth Hide Each Other's Flaws
Signed OF-L Nate McLouth to a two-year, $10.75 million contract with an option for a third year. [12/6]
In late September, MLBTradeRumors’ Tim Dierkes predicted that McLouth would land a two-year, $10 million deal. MASN’s Roch Kubatko ran that projected total past someone in the Orioles’ organization, and that person predicted, “Well, he won’t be getting that from us.” Two correct predictions about baseball! Take that, John Sterling.
The Nationals had a productive outfield trio last season, but the offense went south whenever one of the starters was out. The Nats used seven players in center, eight in left, and nine in right, but beyond the big three, none of them hit. Washington finished four games out of the Wild Card, close enough that a good bench instead of an abominable one might have made the difference.
Determined not to find themselves in the same position next season, the Nationals did what Baltimore wouldn’t and showed McLouth the money. The 32-year-old can play all three outfield positions, though he’s only average in the corners and considerably worse than that in center. He’s selective at the plate, posting the ninth-lowest chase rate among hitters who saw at least 2000 pitches last season, smack-dab between Jose Bautista and Shin-Soo Choo. Along with his walks, he makes good contact and shows enough pop to be playable in a corner. None of his offensive skills stands out, but put them all together, and you get a slightly above-average hitter. He has value on the bases, too, with a career 85 percent stolen base success rate and 8.9 BRR from 2012-3.
What McLouth can’t do well is hit left-handers, against whom he has a .221/.301/.347 line. That’s where Washington’s other outfield bench bat, lefty-mashing Scott Hairston, comes in. Between the two of them, the Nats have a spare hitter for any occasion, though if anything happens to Denard Span—be it an injury or a trade—Matt Williams will have to consider moving Bryce Harper to center and platooning McLouth and Hairston in left. McLouth's salary may seem steep for a part-timer, but as Dierkes pointed out, there’s precedent, with similarly limited players like Jonny Gomes and David DeJesus also inked to two-year, $10 million deals. McLouth has his flaws, but his strengths should help the Nats hide one of their own weaknesses. —Ben Lindbergh
McLouth is probably best served as a part timer thanks to his massive platoon splits, so acquiring him as a fourth outfielder makes sense from Washington’s perspective. But for fantasy purposes, it would’ve been nice to see McLouth land an everyday job with a lesser club in order to give him the best chance at accumulating stats. As things stand with the Nationals right now, it’s hard to see McLouth coming even close to the 593 PA he received a year ago—he’s not going to play over Bryce Harper or Jayson Werth, and Denard Span is also a left-handed hitter. And should the Nats deal Span, or should McLouth find his way into the lineup every day due to injury, he’ll see his left-handed power somewhat suppressed by Nationals Park. McLouth finished as the 37th-most productive fantasy outfielder in baseball in 2013, but unless some more dominos fall here it’s tough to put him in the Top 50 for 2014. He should go undrafted in standard leagues. —Ben Carsley
Span doesn’t see a huge drop in value, as he should continue to see the bulk of the playing time in center field for the Nationals thanks to his strong defense. There’s still a good chance that McLouth leaches 150-200 PA away from Span, though, and that’s enough to put a serious dent in the modest stolen base total he posted in 2013. Span wasn’t an impact fantasy player before the deal, but he’s even less likely to be relevant in mixed leagues now. —Ben Carsley
Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @benlindbergh