Name: Nathan Richard McLouth
DOB: October 28, 1981
From: Muskegon, MI
Position: Bench Outfielder
Hand: Bats Left, but Throws Right
With the Nats Since: Signed as free agent with Nationals in 2014
Just Who is This Guy: Nate McLouth is new to the Washington Nationals, but not new to baseball. He played for the Baltimore Orioles the last year and a half, and was with Pittsburgh and Atlanta before that. All but written off a few years ago, McLouth has resurrected a career (detailed here in a wonderful piece by James Wagner details) many thought dead. He might have started for another team, but chose to come to Washington to play the important role of back-up outfielder on a contending team.
What Happened in 2013?: Let’s not belabor this, really, since he wasn’t on the Nationals. He hit .258/.329/.399, stole 30 bases (though 24 came in the first half of the year) and hit 12 home runs in basically a full season.
I’ve largely thought about this section in regards to “how does the player fit into the story of the 2013 Nats.” The answer is, he didn’t- nor did anyone else fit into the role of back-up outfielder. Not really, anyway. With Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper each missing tons of time, the Nats offensive production plummeted as the Nats try to get combinations of Roger Bernadina, Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore all to fit into the lineup. None of them did. Scott Hairston was the first guy to remotely stabilize the bench, and that was well after the Nats were deep in a hole.
What happend in 2013 is that Nate McLouth wasn’t there.
What’s expected for 2014: In short, to provide bench depth. He’s a left-handed hitter who was pretty miserable against lefties last year (.209/.283/.357). His .272/.342/.411 against righties though makes him a viable replacement on days against right-handed pitching (otherwise, he’s strictly a late game replacement). He was only slightly better than Adam LaRoche against lefties…so yeah, that’s a liability (but also why the team employs Scott Hairston).
He has the batting average of, basically, Steve Lombardozzi (.259/.278/.338) with the wonderful exceptions of actually being able to hit for power, and being a trained outfielder. If for some reason any of the three Nats starters go out for an extended period of time, the platoon of Hairston and McLouth are going to fair much better than any of the previous options at outfield on the bench in the last few years. He was a 2.5 fWAR player last year, or roughly a solid starter. If he can make the adjustment to the bench, he should be an excellent replacement over the replacement-level players the Nats have used previously.
If it All Goes Right: Nate McLouth ends up making about 150 plate appearances (no more than, like, 30 against lefties) as a pinch hitter and “day off” kinda guy. He puts up similar batting average and slugging numbers even though he’s not playing every day. That means his raw HR and hit totals will drop-but that’s okay, he’s not there to get all the hits, just to get the ones on days when Jayson Werth needs a day off. The Nationals don’t sustain injuries, and so they don’t rely on him the way that they did others last year-though if they do sustain injuries, watching McLouth actually be a good fill in will be huge.
If it All Goes Wrong: Well, there is always the idea that last year was a mirage or that McLouth, now turning 33, might not actually have resurrected his career. The other thing that might affect him is not playing regularly. My understanding is that players thrive on routine, and it is not as common as you’d think to be able to adjust to a completely different type of role. Some starters can’t be relievers, and some position players can’t handle the rigors of the bench. If these things are true, the Nats are right where they were last year- a fairly thin bench with an outfield full of guys who’ve all missed big chunks of seasons in their careers. The Nats would be one of those injuries away from big offensive problems.