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Joe Sheehan: Nate McLouth Could Break Out in 2008

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Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus, in a list of 2008 breakout candidates:

It's not clear whether McLouth can make enough contact to warrant being called a breakout candidate. However, in his career he's 34-for-36 stealing bases, including 22-for-23 in 2007, and that's a key skill for any speed player. Moreover, he nearly doubled his walk rate in '07 and hit for more power. That makes the strikeout rate (more than one every five PA) palatable, if just barely. McLouth's steady improvement over the past two years indicates that he is a good enough player to be an asset as a center fielder and leadoff hitter at his peak. One key split is that McLouth was much better after moving into a semi-regular role on June 17 (.268/.365/.502) than he was as a bench player prior to that (.221/.293/.294).

I'm not sure how much to make of McLouth's OPS as a starter last year, but it is interesting, and he's been a complete waste of time as a pinch hitter throughout his career after accumulating about an eighth of his career plate appearances there. Stick him in the field, and he's fine.

Another 2007 McLouth split that's interesting:

Facing a pitcher for the first time in a game: .222/.318/.353
Facing a pitcher for the second time in a game: .323/.425/.613
Facing a pitcher for the third time in a game: .388/.455/.816

McLouth's career splits in these areas are similar, though less dramatic.

Of course it makes sense that a hitter would improve the second and third time he faced a pitcher. But McLouth's splits in this area are especially extreme - more extreme than any other Pirate regular's. If these numbers mean anything, they suggest McLouth would strongly benefit from having a starting role.