McLouth’s early chill raises some questions for Braves

There's line somewhere about the bubble bursting on the season. But I won't go there yet.

There's a line somewhere about the bubble bursting on the Braves' season. But I won't go there yet.

It doesn’t make sense to panic only 31 at-bats into a regular season. So I suppose it doesn’t make sense to panic 31 at-bats into spring training. But is it too early to be concerned about Nate McLouth?

The Braves were not completely comfortable with McLouth as their leadoff hitter. We suspected that after he hit .256 last season, and it was confirmed when they pursued Johnny Damon in free agency, albeit belatedly. (Damon ultimately signed with Detroit for $8 million.)

After going 0-for-3 Thursday, McLouth is 1-for-31 in the spring. He has struck out 12 times. His batting average: .032. His on-base percentage: .114.

I emailed a question to Frank Wren, and his response was completely in line with that of any general manager’s in March: “There really isn’t concern. You only have to look at his career to know that he will get it going.  Players have 30 at-bat slumps all the time. It only takes a couple of two-hit games and it’s all forgotten. He’s too good a player to worry about a spring drought.”

I know. It’s spring. We’re not supposed to pay attention to statistics in spring. But it’s also clear McLouth is TRYING to hit, not just work out the kinks. And isn’t it somewhat significant that manager Bobby Cox dropped him to sixth in the order Thursday?

“I’m getting there,” McLouth told our David O’Brien. “It’s frustrating not to get hits, regardless of whether it’s spring training. But I’d rather it happen now than in the season.”

McLouth doesn’t have to be great. But if the Braves don’t have even a competent leadoff hitter this season, they’re in trouble.  Are you concerned yet?

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182 comments Add your comment

Thekingtata

March 19th, 2010
7:01 am

FIRST!!!! And start the Melkman!

Beau

March 19th, 2010
7:02 am

Michael Scharff

March 19th, 2010
7:02 am

First? Yes, they need a lead-off hitter badly to set the table for J-Hay and Chipper.

Mark

March 19th, 2010
7:03 am

McLouth is a professional hitter with good pop and in the prime of his career. He will work his way through the slump. He is not a protypical leadoff hitter and that concerns me. He is probably better suited at 6th in the order, so I can understand Bobby’s move. As far as leadoff goes, I would say that Yunel is probably the best option.

Herschel Talker

March 19th, 2010
7:21 am

Umm…if Wren isn’t concerned, then he’s confirming that he’s the fool we all think he is. Those numbers are scary.

lanier

March 19th, 2010
7:25 am

He was a weak link last season why expect him to change. In fact he may be one of our worst CF since 91

Shane Sikes

March 19th, 2010
7:26 am

Definitely!!!
Lead off hitter sets the table.
I do have confidence in McLouth though. He’ll come around.
Go Braves!

space monkey

March 19th, 2010
7:30 am

Use Melky. McClouth needs some time at AAA to straighten out his swing.

tom

March 19th, 2010
7:34 am

Coincides with his vision problem, needs time to adjust as did McCann. He can do it. Hope Bobby lets Melky start if Nate does not hit at all over the next 2-3 weeks. Melky can truly play the game. We can not however put up with CF play that JS gave us in the first half of 09′. LO/CF has to contribute from day one.

Yunel Asscobar

March 19th, 2010
7:40 am

Wren’s lack of concern is so reassuring. This is the same guy who thinks the Braves came out on the good end of the deal that sent Javy to NYY.

F-105 Thunderchief

March 19th, 2010
7:41 am

This is all a ploy to get fans to warm up to Milky Carrera and forget the fact they gave away Vazquez for this journeyman, another journeyman and a lottery ticket named Vizcaino.

Jimbo

March 19th, 2010
7:43 am

C’mon Jeff, give us a break. Spring training, pitchers always ahead of batters early on, cold FL weather. Crank up some meaningful controversy, not this one.

LivinInAL

March 19th, 2010
7:49 am

Move some of the balls he has hit over 4 feet and he has hits. Its Spring! Don’t worry be happy!

Tiger Woods

March 19th, 2010
8:16 am

I’m gonna spank you good when I get through pulling your hair, then ….sorry, wrong blog …

Clay

March 19th, 2010
8:23 am

So, if Heyward cools off and starts the season 1 for 31, are you nuts gonna trash him too? It happens in baseball. Anybody remember the streak Chipper got on the last 2 MONTHS last season? Like 2 for 50, with about 10 double plays? It’s spring training – the games and numbers don’t count until April!

Big Ben

March 19th, 2010
8:23 am

Hey, where’s your dorm room?

bugman

March 19th, 2010
8:25 am

Couldn’t resist! 8-)

McLouth is not LO mat. Booby’s gonna hafta juggle for the 1st Q till he can figger out whom to lean on. I’m not sure Melky is it…

greg

March 19th, 2010
8:30 am

Jeff… I am more concerned about the offense as a whole… I think we are looking at another season where they will not score enough runs… Where is the production going to come from? It is really tough to have a positive outlook on this season.

MLH

March 19th, 2010
8:32 am

The ignorance of some on this blog on the subject of baseball is comical

MLH

March 19th, 2010
8:35 am

Yes, it is really tough to have a positive outlook when you have one of the top rotations in baseball, and the number 1 prospect in baseball. Nothing at all positive about this team.

lin

March 19th, 2010
8:35 am

well i still say 3rd maybe 2nd place for braves. sorry something is going to go wrong as usual. what happen to js for center not heard much on him? they may give nm 4 wks to start but if nothing they best get js in there

JEZ

March 19th, 2010
8:40 am

Clay that was good! Thanks!

Jesse Stone

March 19th, 2010
8:41 am

Nate is not the player he is showing this Spring; neither is Melky.

tomahawkin down 75

March 19th, 2010
8:47 am

Cut your losses. Release or trade Nate. He’s had 31 AB’s to get it right…. that’s all we fans need to know. Maybe we can get a good prospect for him. Also, I heard Heyward laid off an 0-2 pitch right down the middle the other day too. Sounds like the guy is squeamish to take a cut at a good pitch for fear of getting out. Looks like it’s all downhill from here. Trade him now, before folks find out he’s a bust. Same deal with Tommy Hanson. He’s a one trick pony, and everyone in the show can hit the fastball. Deal him too, get what you can for him before his weaknesses are brought to bear. Face it folks, this whole team is falling apart 2 weeks before the beginning of the season. Holy crap the SKY IS FALLING THE SKY IS FALLING!!!!! <end sarcastic early morning coffee fueled rant on my mark…3…2…1…mark).

MLH

March 19th, 2010
8:49 am

Lin do you keep up with the braves at all? Jordan is still recovering from a broken wrist. He hasn’t even taken live batting practice yet

Brian

March 19th, 2010
8:51 am

“But if the Braves don’t have even a competent leadoff hitter this season, they’re in trouble”

With the hitters the Braves have at their disposal (McLouth, Prado, Escobar, Diaz vs. lefties) I think the chances of the Braves not having a competent leadoff hitter are slim. McLouth could be the worst hitter in the league, and the Braves would probably still contend.

DC Brave

March 19th, 2010
8:53 am

12 Ks in 31 at bats?! That is very concerning. Fair enough, guys go through 30 or 40 at bat slumps, especially in Spring. The ball just doesnt find open space. But one strike out every 2.58 at bats is not good at all. The first step to getting hits is putting the ball in play.

Im sure Nate will pick it up, but if the question is “Are you concerned?”, the answer is I am more concerned by the 12 Ks than I am the one hit.

curtis jones

March 19th, 2010
9:00 am

The Braves most effective leadoff man in ‘09 was Omar Infante. Then he got hurt. By then, the Braves had traded for McLouth, who never excelled in the role. Blame it on his vision, blame it on missing Pittsburgh, or blame it on Rio. It’s just a fact. The guy is at best, a 7-hole guy in the order who has decent range in the outfield, an average arm, and can steal a base now and then. He is in no way a championship-caliber CF or leadoff man. So the Braves are probably satisfied with him.

Jeff Schultz

March 19th, 2010
9:01 am

Interesting that we’re getting early support for Cabrera as leadoff hitter. (By the way, he hit leadoff Thursday when McLouth was dropped.)

Jeff Schultz

March 19th, 2010
9:02 am

Jimbo — breaking out the pitchers-ahead-of-the-hitters cliche? Everybody is not hitting 1-for-31.

Jeff Schultz

March 19th, 2010
9:02 am

Tiger Woods — Thank you for giving me my morning laugh.

Bob Davie

March 19th, 2010
9:03 am

This is a very , very interesting team the Braves are fielding. For sure, the most interesting in a decade to leave Dark Star for the Ted.
But, y’all are kidding yourselves if you think – on paper- this is a team that competes at the highest level in the NL. Since the game isn’t played on paper, the Braves have a shot. But , compared to the Philthies and the Rockies, this team can’t hold water and is probably in the same class as the Cubs, Cards, D-Bags, Dodgers , Giants, Mutts and Marlins.

The post-season is attainable, for sure….But this isn’t a team I’d bet your money on , let alone mine. McLouth had 1 good year in Pittsburgh. ONE. His numbers last year were pretty close to his career averages. I expect about the same from him this year; .250/20/70 with a bunch of KOs. A good 7-hole hitter for sure.

Sonny Clusters

March 19th, 2010
9:04 am

2 strikes? Take something off the swing and put the ball in play. We was telling somebody else this but they wouldn’t listen. McLouth has only been a Brave a short time but he is demonstrating he understands Bobby Ball very well. Trying to hit a three run homer batting leadoff.

Clay

March 19th, 2010
9:05 am

Mark (7:03), I’m with you on Nate. but not Escobar. You can’t lead off a guy who, if memory serves me, was the 2nd best in MLB in hitting (BA) with runners in scoring position. In other words, he is the second best clutch hitter in the game. 8 and 9 in the order won’t be on base for him at leadoff very often …

Jeff Schultz

March 19th, 2010
9:06 am

Greg — Offense obviously is the big question. To me it starts at leadoff.

Clay

March 19th, 2010
9:10 am

Hey Bob, I’ll take being in the “same class as St Louis and Dodgers and Giants.” Didn’t they all make the playoffs last year?

renegade#1

March 19th, 2010
9:12 am

It seems to me that after the first inning you have a different leadoff hitter every inning. Everybody could be considered a leadoff hitter at some point during the game and everybody should be perpared in their mind that they are a leadoff man. Hell I thought everybody was trying to get on base anyway; but have different levels of success.

Kashi

March 19th, 2010
9:12 am

DOB stop poking on Nate. You discourage fans and player before even season start. Your blog would suit better if today was a all-star game. Please go make some coffee.

Ron E.

March 19th, 2010
9:13 am

McLouth will hit his way out of it. It’s spring training. You don’t really worry about what veterans do there as long as they’re healthy. The Braves have a number of other options to lead off that get on base as much or better than McLouth (Matt Diaz for one). They might well be better off having Nate’s power in the middle of the line up anyway.

Brian

March 19th, 2010
9:15 am

Bob Davie, maybe I can understand the Phillies, but what in the world makes you think the Braves don’t stack up on paper to the Rockies? I think there are at least four teams better than the Rockies in the NL, and the Braves are one of them.

Darren in Nashville

March 19th, 2010
9:15 am

if, and thats if, McLouth continues to struggle this spring what would be the harm in starting him off in AAA…he could continue to work on his swing and once he gets hot he would provide a nice boost to the offense…Diaz, Cabrera (leadoff) and Heyward and Hinske could do the job until McLouth is ready…you must have a contingency plan if Nate stays at .032

PMC

March 19th, 2010
9:16 am

It’s not a big deal at all. It’s just a slump and it’s a preseason slump. We know what he can do. Until he breaks out of it walk, bunt, lean into a couple… do whatever to get on base and play great defense.

His OBP is pretty good and he runs bases well which is why the Braves like him at leadoff I guess. I’ve always thought he was better down in the order. The good news is that it’s not just all on him, they can use Diaz sometimes or Prado or even Escobar occasionally to set the table.

I’d be thrilled if he could simply have a high OBP, run the bases well, score runs and play a very good center field.

PMC

March 19th, 2010
9:19 am

I forgot about Infante and Melky too.

Omar is excellent in the first spot and you know he’s going to play quite a bit on this team considering the ancients we have on the corners.

Brian

March 19th, 2010
9:23 am

This whole McLouth thing is blown out of proportions for a couple reasons:

1. It’s not a Nate McLouth vs. Melky Cabrera thing. Cabrera will still start most games against right-handed pitching even if McLouth starts all the time. So more often than not, both will be in the lineup.
2. There’s not a huge difference between McLouth and the guys who would replace him. It’s not like Albert Pujols vs. Casey Kotchman. If McLouth can’t produce, Cabrera and Diaz, who wouldn’t be that much worse anyway, have the outfield covered. Prado, Cabrera, Diaz, and Escobar would all be leadoff options just as good as McLouth.
3. It’s spring training.

So, in summary, I think too big a deal is being made out of McLouth’s struggles. Most likely, it’s just a slump. But even if it’s not just a slump and he’s finished as a big league ball player, there’s really no reason to panic. I would rate McLouth around #11 on the list of most important Braves players in 2010. He’s just not that far above his “replacement level”.

timthebrave

March 19th, 2010
9:25 am

Not worried yet but I would think about hitting him further down the line to see if it takes some of the pressure off

Bobby Cox

March 19th, 2010
9:27 am

Frank is on the phone w/ Arizona, trying to bring back Kelly Johnson. That’ll solve all our problems. Can’t give up on Kelly !

Mr. Turnip-Green Jeans

March 19th, 2010
9:31 am

I think Nate is just trying to fill the void left by Norton’s exit…

Nick

March 19th, 2010
9:31 am

Then what do you suggest Jeff? Yunel has a lot of power that gets wasted at the top of the order. Just because the guy has a incredible OPS does not mean you waste RBI’s. Prado is the only other viable option in my opinion.

Nate will figure it out. I will be worried when the 2nd week of the season hits and he has not. Until then, this is why we have spring training…

McCann Fan

March 19th, 2010
9:35 am

McClouth will be fine. He is a very good player. However, he is not an ideal leadoff hitter, whether he is 1 for 31 in March or hitting .265 in July. He needs to be batting 7th or 8th.

The guy is valuable in many ways, but he is no leadoff hitter. Just look at his career averages by batting position. I’m pretty sure I saw a stat once where his best average was hitting 3rd and his worse was leadoff.

John

March 19th, 2010
9:40 am

I agree with Nick. Yunel is too important driving in runs at the 5 or 6 spot. I think the best option is probably Diaz or Cabrera even though they don’t have tons of speed. Prado is a decent option at 1 as well, but I see him as kind of the prototypical 2 guy. With all that being said, I think McLouth will turn it around.