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No More Nate

December 3, 2011

Hugh Atkins

The Atlanta Braves chose not to exercise their option on outfielder Nate McLouth and, in so deciding, may be practicing addition by subtraction in their plans for next season.

I was among those who felt the Braves got a steal when they picked up McLouth from the Pittsburgh Pirates midway through the 2009 season for outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and pitchers Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton. McLouth was an All Star with the Pirates in 2008 when he hit .276 with 26 home runs, 94 runs batted in, and 113 runs scored; he also won a Gold Gove Award as a center fielder. McLouth was a base stealing threat in his time with the Pirates, having swiped 64 bases while being caught just five times over the first four and a half years of his career. McLouth was just 27 years old at the time of the trade and was under contract for two additional years with an option for a third season. The Braves seemed set in center field for at least three and a half seasons.

But McLouth never really panned out with the Braves. In 84 games with the Braves in 2009, he did a fairly good job. He hit 11 home runs, drove in 36 runs, and batted .257; he also stole 12 bases and played a decent defensive center field. But the wheels fell off McLouth’s wagon in 2010 and he never could quite lift the ox cart out of the ditch.

McLouth started out slow in 2010 and then things got worse. He was hitting .180 with three home runs and 14 RBIs on June 9 when he went 0-3, dropping his average to .176. But more importantly, he collided with right fielder Jason Heyward while chasing a flyball in the gap. McLouth did not return to the lineup until July 21. After going 1-15, his average dropped to .168 for the season and the Braves sent him to the minors in hopes that he could rehab his way back for the pennant drive in September. McLouth hit .234 with six homers and 18 RBIs at AAA Gwinnett Braves before returning to Atlanta on August 31.

After going 2-10 in his first five games back, McLouth hit .276 the rest of the way with three home runs and 10 RBIs; he finished the season at .190 with six homers and 24 RBIs. While that is nothing to write home about, it was enough for the Braves to factor McLouth into their plans for 2011.

But McLouth’s troubles continued this past season. He never could get into a groove and battled what was being called an oblique injury. McLouth did not play after July 28, played in only 81 games, and finished the season at .228 with four home runs and 16 RBIs. He eventually had surgery to repair a sports hernia, which was the real source of the abdominal pain that affected his ability to swing a bat.

In 250 games with Atlanta, McLouth batted .229 with 21 home runs, 76 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases. The Braves took a chance on an All-Star outfielder and had very little on the line as far as what it cost them to get him. I do not know why McLouth got off to such a slow start in 2010, but I do not believe he ever was the same after the collision with Heyward.

McLouth is still only 30 years old. I would not be surprised if he gets a fresh start with another team next season and returns to his pre-Braves form. I hope he does.

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