|Born: October 28, 1981
Drafted: 25th Round, 749th Overall, 2000
How Acquired: Free Agent
High School: Whitehall, MI
Agent: Mike Nicotera
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|McLouth’s return to the Pirates is a strong piece of irony. He was their regular centerfielder from 2008 through mid-2009, when the team sent him to Atlanta for Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke and Gorkys Hernandez, despite having recently signed him to a contract extension. The trade was wildly unpopular and continues to be harshly criticized by many Pirate fans even though the Pirates clearly got the better of the deal. McLouth collapsed with the Braves, struggling badly in 2010-11. He also had injury problems and was optioned to the minors for a while. The Braves ultimately declined his 2012 option and the Pirates signed him to a one-year deal for $1.75M.
McLouth has always played above his tools, at least until 2010. He has a good eye at the plate and generally had good doubles power in the minors. In late 2007, he began hitting HRs and the power surge continued through 2009. He has good, not great speed, but has been a highly proficient base stealer. He has a very strong platoon split, with an .800 career OPS against RHPs and .657 against LHPs, and if anything it’s gotten more pronounced over time. He didn’t hit LHPs at all in Atlanta, with an OPS against them of .378 in 2010 and .531 in 2011. In Pittsburgh he was a dead pull hitter; sometimes slumped when pitchers kept the ball away from him and he continued trying to pull it.
Defense has been a controversial issue with McLouth. He won a Gold Glove in 2008, but the award has been widely ridiculed. All of the defensive metrics show him to be far below average in center. He seems to come in on balls well enough, but too many go over his head for extra base hits. There have been issues with the Pirates’ outfield positioning over the years, but McLouth probably didn’t improved in Atlanta; UZR actually thinks he got worse, although the Fielding Bible +/- ratings show him to improved while remaining below average. He doesn’t have a strong arm but makes accurate throws and seldom makes mistakes.
McLouth didn’t sign with the Pirates until the fall of 2000; he was drafted before the signing deadline was moved to August (and then later July). He fell to the 25th round because of his commitment to Michigan, but he made a strong showing in summer ball and the Pirates shelled out roughly second round money to sign him. He was a secondbaseman in school but the Pirates immediately moved him to the outfield. He opened 2001 in extended spring training, but the Pirates sent him to full season ball at Hickory in May. Despite being a HS draftee completely skipping over the short season leagues, McLouth started hitting right away. He showed a good eye, surprising power for his size, and excellent base stealing skills. He did, however, go into a slump late in the season as pitchers started giving him a steady diet of offspeed stuff that he couldn’t lay off.
McLouth moved up to high A and struggled. He continued to post very good walk and K rates, but didn’t hit the ball with any authority. He moved from center to right in deference to Chris Duffy.
The Pirates returned McLouth to Lynchburg, where he played center and batted leadoff. He had a much stronger season, with great SB numbers.
At Altoona, McLouth had a breakout season, hitting for a high average with a lot of doubles that potentially foreshadowed a power increase.
McLouth dropped off a little in AAA, but got called up in June. He stayed only briefly, but returned for good in August. Lloyd McClendon, in keeping with his dislike of rookies, didn’t play McLouth much, but after McClendon was fired Pete Mackanin played McLouth regularly in center, due to Duffy being hurt. In September, McLouth hit 290/359/478.
McLouth spent the season in the majors, but didn’t hit well and had an uncharacteristically high K rate. He probably wasn’t helped when manager Jim Tracy embarked on a bizarre platoon of his two left-handed hitting centerfielders, with McLouth starting against LHPs and Chris Duffy against RHPs. McLouth ended up playing center regularly when the struggling Duffy decided to give up baseball for a while, then spent time in right in place of a washed-up Jeromy Burnitz. His season ended in August with an ankle injury.
McLouth opened the season as a reserve and played very little. By the end of June he was hitting 205/279/333 with one HR. When Duffy went out with a sprained ankle at the end of June, however, McLouth took over most of the time in CF and finally adjusted to major league pitching. He hit somewhat better in July, then batted 270/356/522 in August and 315/457/574 in September. Especially surprising was the power outburst, as he hit seven HRs in August. McLouth’s hitting style was well suited for PNC Park, with its short right field; he slugged .489 there in 2007 and .405 on the road. Despite his outburst, though, Tracy benched McLouth in September so he could play Nyjer Morgan. McLouth eventually got a fair amount of playing time only because of injuries to Jason Bay and Xavier Nady.
McLouth enjoyed a breakout season, gaining a place on the All-Star team and winning the afore-mentioned Gold Glove. Much of the increased power came in April and May, when he had an OPS of 1.083 and .920, respectively, although he had a decent second half. He finished with 94 RBIs and 113 runs. No Pirates has topped either total since, and none has scored that many runs since Brian Giles scored 116 in 2001.
During spring training, the Pirates signed McLouth to an extension through 2011, with a team option for 2012. He was off to a good start, not far from his overall 2008 numbers, when the team traded him to Atlanta at the beginning of June. His power numbers dropped off after the trade, maybe in part due to the switch from PNC to Turner Field. That year he had a .902 OPS at the former, .665 at the latter.
McLouth added to the trade controversy in Pittsburgh by publicly criticizing the Pirates’ medical staff after his doctor prescribed contacts. He stated that the contacts allowed him to see the ball much better. Ironically, he fell off a cliff during the season. By mid-June, when he went on the disabled list with concussion symptons, he had a .577 OPS. He returned in late July, but after a few days the Braves optioned him to AAA. He came back up in September, but his hitting didn’t pick up much. On the season his plate discipline worsened from prior years, although according to the data at Fangraphs it wasn’t because he started swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone. The data does show that pitchers largely stopped throwing him fastballs. He saw them just 35.7% of the time, compared to 52.5% the previous year.
McLouth bounced back a little in 2011, mainly in the form of a return of his old plate discipline, but overall he continued to struggle and his power didn’t return. He continued to see offspeed stuff most of the time and hit a lot more groundballs and infield popups than in the past. He also didn’t run much, which raises the possibility that he’s lost a step. The Braves continued to play him in center due to their inability to find a replacement, which in turn resulted from the flop of prospect Jordan Schaefer. McLouth also had a couple DL stints due to oblique and abdominal strains. He eventually lost the CF job for good when the Braves acquired Michael Bourn.
McLouth figures to be the Pirates’ fourth outfielder in 2012. Barring injury to Andrew McCutchen, he’s unlikely to see much time in center. The team’s main concern in signing him was the health of projected starters Alex Presley and Jose Tabata, both of whom have had some injury problems, especially Tabata. It’s hard to imagine that he’s really no better than he’s shown the last two years and the move back to PNC should help some, so he may be a good candidate for at least a partial rebound. It’ll also help if the Pirates keep him away from LHPs.
UPDATE: As it turned out, McLouth managed to collapse even further at the plate, hitting 140/210/175 through late May. The Pirates designated him for assignment. It’d be surprising if any team had any interest in him, so there’s at least some remote chance he could end up at Indianapolis.
|Signing Bonus: $500,00
MiLB Debut: 2001
MLB Debut: 6/29/2005
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2012
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: November 21, 2004
Options Remaining: 1 (USED: 2005, 2010)
MLB Service Time: 6.033
|June 5, 2000: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 25th round, 749th overall pick; signed on August 29.
November 21, 2004: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
June 3, 2009: Traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Atlanta Braves for Gorkys Hernandez, Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke.
October 31, 2011: Became a free agent.
December 6, 2011: Signed as a free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates.