How long should Braves stick with McLouth hitting second?

Nate McLouth already has struck out five times in four games. (AP photo)

The Braves' Nate McLouth already has struck out five times in four games batting second. (AP photo)

The first four games of a 162-game season doesn’t represent a scientific sampling. But this is the way things are tilting for the Braves regarding the team’s four biggest question marks heading into the year:

1. Chipper Jones (his health and swing): Thumbs up. He is hitting .353 (6 for 17) with two doubles and two RBI. His impressive spring was not an aberration.

2. Craig Kimbrel (replacing Billy Wagner as closer): Thumbs up. The 23-year-old has two saves in two appearances, striking out five of the six batters he has faced.

3. Defense (poor last year): Thumbs up. Only one error (on pitcher Tommy Hanson), two double plays and a majors-best .993 team fielding percentage in four games. Last season, the Braves’ 126 errors trailed only Pittsburgh and Washington (127 each) for the most in baseball.

4. Nate McLouth: Thumbs down.

So here’s the problem, if we can call it a problem after four games. McLouth had a solid spring and won the starting center field job over Jordan Schafer, who was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. The job is McLouth’s for the foreseeable future.

The question is where to bat McLouth in the order. Manager Fredi Gonzalez has started him in the No. 2 spot,  believing his speed would be an asset and his offensive problems were sufficiently straightened out.

But the reviews so far aren’t good. McLouth went 1 for 4 in Monday’s win over Milwaukee, which is fine. But he also struck out twice, which a No. 2 hitter can’t do. Success in that spot of the order is predicated on the batter making contact and advancing the runner. So far this season, McLouth is 3 for 16 (.188) with a team-high five strikeouts and one walk. He’s also 0 for 1 in stolen base attempts. (McLouth did score three times in an 11-2 win at Washington.)

The question is: How long will Gonzalez stick with McLouth? There’s an obvious viable option in Jason Heyward, who is batting sixth and is off to a good start (4 for 12) with a home run, two RBI, four walks and a team-best on-base percentage of .500.

Heyward has a better chance to drive in more runs hitting sixth. But he’ll get to the plate more often hitting second, which theoretically makes the Braves a bigger offensive threat.

Gonzalez isn’t likely to make any change soon. The question is how long does he stick with McLouth batting second?

Do you have any confidence McLouth will find a groove? Or should Gonzalez just go ahead and make the change now?

Plan for Tuesday: Driving to Augusta to cover Tiger Woods’ press conference.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

259 comments Add your comment

Mr. The Sky Is Falling

April 4th, 2011
10:05 pm

How about we give him more than 4 games?

jhughes

April 4th, 2011
10:06 pm

Jesse

April 4th, 2011
10:07 pm

Put him in the 4 hole. I think he likes the pressure.

dd

April 4th, 2011
10:07 pm

Reid Adair

April 4th, 2011
10:07 pm

People were fooled by Nate McLouth’s spring success. When the season started, he went right back to his old self.

smallmouth6

April 4th, 2011
10:07 pm

As much as I like your reporting, this isn’t a particularly good blog. Like you’re giving in to the angry blogheads on this site. Give the man a little time. I think he can potentially be a huge factor.

Waycross Jeff

April 4th, 2011
10:08 pm

First! Right now.

jhughes

April 4th, 2011
10:08 pm

you gotta give the man some time he hopefully will be fine… no way he is as bad as last year

Hoopster

April 4th, 2011
10:10 pm

Good grief Jeff. You are like a bad fantasy owner. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Perhaps you should give him more than 4 games.

GovClintonTyree

April 4th, 2011
10:15 pm

Well, his average isn’t high, but it’s four games. And he has scored four runs.

I read somewhere today that Nate is 11th all time in ratio of runs scored to plate appearances among those with 1000 PAs or more.

Let’s give him a little time. If he OBPs .350, he’ll score 110 runs.

Trainwreck

April 4th, 2011
10:20 pm

Since I actually read the part where you said “The first four games of a 162-game season doesn’t represent a scientific sampling” I’m just going to answer the question. I think as long as we are still winning and McClouth is still getting on base he will stick with it. Don’t know his OBP but sure its pretty decent. He does have 5 Ks but (and maybe I’m being biased) he seems to have been getting some unfavorable strike calls. I think he will be fine in the 2 hole and we will see him there for a while longer.

raindawg722

April 4th, 2011
10:21 pm

He’s already had a full season.

Jeff Schultz

April 4th, 2011
10:23 pm

Mr. The Is Falling — The sky hit me on the head.

Tommy

April 4th, 2011
10:23 pm

I agree with Hoopster, were only four games into the season! Yeah he probably is pressing a bit but I’d give him some more games.

Jeff Schultz

April 4th, 2011
10:24 pm

Hoopster — Hey, I didn’t say bench him today. Just asking the question how long should Fredi stick with him?

blazerdawg

April 4th, 2011
10:25 pm

Through April.

Jesse

April 4th, 2011
10:31 pm

If he is hitting under .220 a month into the season he’s gone. He’ll be at .270 though.

Najeh Davenpoop

April 4th, 2011
10:34 pm

I’d give Lil’ Nate a month to show what he can do. It’s still early. If he can handle the 2 spot, I’d rather see Heyward stay in a run producing spot in the order.

C. Tampa Ironworse

April 4th, 2011
10:36 pm

Can they bat him 10th?

The Grinch

April 4th, 2011
10:51 pm

It has only occurred to one of you posting so far that he also hit .191 in a full season last year. It isn’t just four games. For whatever reason, the guy can’t hit OR play defense in a Braves uniform. Prado 1st, Chipper 2nd, Heyward 3rd, Nate 7th or 8th until we make a trade midseason for a real CF. We’ll have the surplus pitching to do so.

TM923

April 4th, 2011
10:52 pm

This is exactly why SPRING TRAINING MEANS NOTHING!

I’ve seen people do nothing in spring training and tear it up in the season and vice versa.
Players are judged on regular season performance when deciding how they perform.
And Nate McLouth has struggled mightily… don’t give me any spring training BS.

UGABugKiller

April 4th, 2011
10:52 pm

Baseball may be a long season, but you CANNOT have a guy hitting second who is basically an at-bat black hole, who costs you runs.

THAT is what McClouth is. He’s a giant vortex of suck that kills rallies and if he’s not striking out, he’ll hit into the ill-timed DP. He’s gonna be a .240-.250 guy. He SHOULD be hitting 8th.

9th when Hudson pitches.

Nate Mclouth

April 4th, 2011
10:54 pm

I may not be swinging the bat but my hair sure looks good.

Bill in VA

April 4th, 2011
10:59 pm

Uggla on pace for 81 HR.

faux positive

April 4th, 2011
11:01 pm

Well I see the folks are saying the braves should wait longer until he is replaced. Others say he should go. I agree, he should bat 10th or have a designated hitter hit for him, if it were allowed. mclout hit crap last yr. and is continuing this season. FG don’t be like BC and play a guy thats useless, send him to either AAA or AA, before its too late.

Archie

April 4th, 2011
11:04 pm

The truth, the 2-spot is the worst spot in the lineup for a power hitter. Heyward simply is NOT the kind of hitter that needs to be in that spot, he’s not the small ball, move the runners over kind of hitter. He’s a long ball, move the runners IN kind of hitter. You don’t use guys like him to start rallies, you finish rallies with hitters like him. The proper place for him is anywhere from 3rd to 6th, but the other hitters like him on the roster are better, more consistent, and more experienced at this point (Chipper/McCann/Uggla).

If you want to move McLouth and put someone else in the 2-hole, swap him with Alex Gonzalez who is more of a situational, contact hitter.

TM923

April 4th, 2011
11:06 pm

Chipper is the choice to hit 2nd in the lineup.
He is contact guy, high OBP and doesn’t strike out often.

Leave 3-4-5 in the order to Heyward-Uggla-McCann (in any order)
and watch this offense take off.

Sorry, but i wouldn’t stay with McLouth very long. History tells us so.

mudcat

April 4th, 2011
11:12 pm

McOut? I’d bat him ninth.

Dayman

April 4th, 2011
11:12 pm

If he keeps batting .180 move him down after time, its four games. Since we are on the subject how long does Pujols bat third for St Louis? He is batting .154.

Mark (another one)

April 4th, 2011
11:12 pm

I think Fredi will go 20 or so games into the season and see how people are doing, Nate included. That’s going to give Nate 80-100 ABs, and the good luck, bad luck will even out. The team has a good start and Nate has not been bad, just not great. He’s 3 of 16 with a double and a walk. That’s too small a sample. I don’t like the 5 ks but he has also hit the ball solid but at people a couple of times. 5 of 16 was right there, and then this conversation wouldn’t even be held.

I see where some are discounting spring training, but I don’t. Nate played with and against the starters and did well. I do discount last year due to the injury but I don’t ignore it. 20 games is a short span as its 1/8th of a season.

If the Braves decide to put Young in center or call up Jordan, I would swap Prado back to two and let Young/Shafer hit one. Both have speed and Prado does well hitting second. But, I even prefer Nate at one with Prado at two, so who knows?

Take that Blondie

April 4th, 2011
11:14 pm

Mark (another one)

April 4th, 2011
11:15 pm

Pujols is over. He’s hitting below the Mendoza line and I hear St. Louis is letting him go after this year. They refused to sign him to an extension.

Josh

April 4th, 2011
11:16 pm

McClouth needs at least 20 games for us to make any crazy decisions.

New Braves Blog: Ranking Players Values 1-25 : http://www.atlantainsight.com

cheshire

April 4th, 2011
11:18 pm

I think it’s amazing how the people saying “give him a chance!” are conveniently ignoring the fact that this guy hasn’t done ANYTHING since the summer of 2009. Is nearly 2 years not enough of a chance? I swear, I’ve never seen a guy be given more chances.

J Clay

April 4th, 2011
11:22 pm

He is still Nate McOUT…called this several weeks back….I’d get rid of him if there was a taker

Rufino Linares

April 4th, 2011
11:23 pm

Nate McOut needs to be sent down or outright released….unlike me, he cannot heet in eny leeg. Geev Logan Schafer a chance.

TM923

April 4th, 2011
11:25 pm

Mark (another one)- i sure hope you are not a stock broker cause you would be losing your clients a whole lot of coin my friend.
What do stocks and baseball have in common? they are both a results business, not excuses.

I do agree to give NM more time. Like 50-100 at bat’s. But if at that point he continues to struggle, you pull the trigger and don’t wait around like another manager did for years.

cheshire

April 4th, 2011
11:25 pm

Well here’s a serious question… do you EVER remember seeing a baseball player play this poorly for this long and continue to be rewarded with a starting job? I mean it’s unbelievable that we’re even having this discussion still, especially on a team that is this well run everywhere else. I mean I would get it if this were the Royals or something, but I literally can’t wrap my mind around it anymore.

Dubious

April 4th, 2011
11:25 pm

Can we get Heyward higher in the lineup please? Like now! With the Braves making the playoffs by the skin of their teeth last year, I think–or hope–we learned last year that every game matters. I think I saw on ESPN that every higher place in the order means more than 10 AB’s per season. So, Fredi, Frank, Bobby act now.

Daniel

April 4th, 2011
11:35 pm

When Nate cuts down on Ks and flyouts, he will help this team. Unfortunately, I dont see that happening any time soon. His swing is pretty bad. Someone should tell him to stop with the upper cut.

Get an editor

April 4th, 2011
11:46 pm

McClouth is a AAAA player who has no business playing in the Major Leagues at this point. But the Braves are stuck with him. I don’t understand why they can realize that Kawakami is a bust within 18 months, but they keep running the blond bombshell out into centerfield after two years even though he is obviously washed up. Just eat the money and go get someone who can play the position and provide some semblance of production. McClouth is the blond, non-Japanese Kawakami position player.

IceColdATLien

April 4th, 2011
11:48 pm

chesire,
I don’t agree with you just cuz McLousy is great defensively and has speed (remember Otis Nixon?). The problem is the Ks at the top of the lineup. I say hit him 7th or 8th, take the offensive pressure off right now until he gets his swing down, and enjoy his D in CF.

Hurt Kurbstreit

April 4th, 2011
11:50 pm

I’d give him at least 4 more games to see if his on base percentage goes up. If he doesn’t look any better then I would move him to 7 or 8 and put Heyward at 2. Fredi will probably stick with him for a couple of months before making a position change. But the best thing would be if McClouth starts producing at the plate like he did during spring training.

Thomas Pynchon

April 4th, 2011
11:54 pm

Jeff, you can stay at my house in Augusta. But sorry, we can’t have any strippers over. Tiger has already booked them all.

Gumby

April 4th, 2011
11:57 pm

Thumbs up for me on Nate. I think he will come around.

Warm Ice ATL

April 5th, 2011
12:04 am

Cold Ice, are you kidding me? Why do you think he plays good defense? EVERY DEFENSIVE MEASUREMENT HAS HIM AS A BELOW AVERAGE CENTER FIELDER.

Last year he was 1.3 wins BELOW a replacement player. Think about that. Any scrub that can be brought up from AAA was significantly better than him. They need a real centerfielder. ASAP. Before he starts costing the Braves games THIS YEAR.

dawgforlife

April 5th, 2011
12:11 am

excellent defensively?…did anyone else see that out he played into a triple?…he is horrible…trouble is, we have no other CF to replace him. But, that doesn’t mean he has to bat second. Have Chipper eat his ego and move into the 2 whole…bat Heyward third…heck bat Freddie second…at least then he’d see lots of fastballs…anything but the out machine known as Nate the swinging gate

Overspud

April 5th, 2011
12:18 am

Re-evaluate the McClouth situation at the end of April. If he’s hitting near the Mendoza line, you bat him 7 or 8 hole. If he’s batting anywhere in the .250 range or above with a decent OBP, keep him in the 2-hole so long as the Braves are winning.

godsmack69

April 5th, 2011
12:18 am

just release his sorry azz…he suxs like always

Oregon Brave

April 5th, 2011
12:21 am

I’m not much of a McClouth fan,but Jeff, we’re talking about 4 games. The team is 3-1. You can’t find gem in 3-1 to write about? Give the guy a fair shot before sitting or sending him down. Go Braves.