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July 14, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Braves Hurting For Outfield Help

by Marc Normandin

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The Braves have been mentioned as being in the market for a power-hitting outfielder, but the current National League East leaders may be content to just sit and let their injured players come back instead. Jason Heyward and Nate McLouth are both expected to return soon—Heyward could be back for the Braves next series, while McLouth is currently in Triple-A working his way back to the majors. Each of these players should matter to you in the second half.

Jason Heyward needs little introduction, given the hype that surrounded him before he even registered an at-bat in the majors, but his career in the big leagues does merit some explanation despite its brevity. Heyward exploded onto the scene, blasting a homer in his first plate appearance, and was on a torrid pace for weeks to open the season. From the start of the season through the end of May, Heyward put together a line of .292/.410/.578, and struck out 22 percent of his at-bats.

On May 14, Heyward slid into third base and jammed his thumb. The thumb eventually swelled up, but Heyward stayed in the lineup—this put a hurting on his production, with Heyward managing a line of just .181/.287/.245 for the month of June, with whiffs in 34 percent of his at-bats. This stretch dragged his overall line down to .251/.366/.455, which is impressive for a 20-year old in their rookie season, but isn't quite representative of his elite start or actual ability. When Heyward returns—and his thumb is pain-free as of now—he should be the player we saw for the first two months of the season, before his thumb became a problem. There is very little chance you can acquire Heyward without giving up something significant in any format, but if you can pick him up before he returns and starts hitting balls into the bleachers again, do so. He'll finish the year as one of the most productive right fielders, despite the poor June and the missed time.

Nate McLouth was projected by PECOTA to have a monster fantasy season, with a .277/.370/.479 line, 102 runs and 23 steals. McLouth got off to a poor start though: he was limited to just 54 at-bats in April, but played full-time in May, and collectively hit .176/.295/.282 with four thefts and just 20 runs. He ended up on the disabled list thanks to a concussion, and there's reason to be optimistic that his bat will be back alongside him when he returns to the majors.

The main negative for McLouth was that his strikeout rate jumped significantly from 2009's figure. After two straight seasons of punch out rates in the teens (though he just made that cut in 2009, at 19.5 percent) the center fielder whiffed in over 27 percent of his at-bats to open the season. Other than that though, we're looking at mostly small-sample flukes. His batting average on balls in play was just .221, well below the league average as well as McLouth's career rate of .279. His Isolated Power is down, but at least some of that is expected given the drop in batting average and BABIP, while the rest can be pointed at what is most likely a short-term pop-up problem. His HR/FB percentage dropped while he tacked on additional pop-ups with stable flyball, grounder and liner rates.

There's a very good chance that McLouth would have been able to change course even without the break that an extended DL stint afforded him, given the way he struggled and how much of a role BABIP played in it. He has just 11 at-bats in the minors, so you can't glean anything from the sample, but he has hit a homer and three singles thus far. If you've stuck with McLouth on your disabled list (most likely in a deep NL-only) then there's reason to be optimistic. If he's available on the wire, as he should be given his injured status and awful start, then keep an eye on his rehab performance as well as his timetable for coming back to the majors. He was a valuable outfielder heading into 2010 (especially in OBP leagues) and assuming he can work out the early season kinks, he'll be a valuable outfielder at the end of the season as well.

Related Content:  Nate McLouth

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