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Community Projection Review: Center Field

Next up in our review of our community projections is Nate McLouth.

Community: .276/.355/.480

ZiPS: .261/.342/.459

Actual (including time with the Braves): .256/.352/.436

Bonus: We predicted McLouth would get his first caught stealing on May 21; actually, he didn't get one until June 22, although he got six overall with the Braves, including four after returning in September from a hamstring injury.

ZiPS got us good here, although it's worth pointing out that McLouth hit .256/.349/.470 with the Bucs. The closest guesser was mocasdad, who had McLouth at .260/.340/.440.

The McLouth deal will, I think, turn out to be one of Neal Huntington's better ones, even if Gorkys Hernandez never pans out. Charlie Morton alone could make the trade a good one, and if Jeff Locke makes it, well, all the better. The Bucs got three interesting players for one they didn't really need that desperately.

McLouth was perfectly functional in 2009, but he still took a large step backward--he hit for less average and power, he was less healthy, and he stole bases less effectively. UZR says his defense did improve, but those things can fluctuate a lot from year to year, and my guess there is that he's still slightly below average overall. (The very low statistical ratings he got in 2008 were a little bit ridiculous, and so, probably, is the idea that he was above average this year.)

The McLouth trade probably wasn't based primarily on a position crunch, but McLouth may have greased the wheels for a trade by balking, at least at first, at the idea of moving to a corner. This would have put the Pirates in the awkward situation of having two good centerfielders (Andrew McCutchen, who was banging on the door at AAA, and Nyjer Morgan) in the corners and a mediocre centerfielder actually in center. It's not entirely clear what McLouth's position on the matter was--Doug Mientkiewicz claimed at one point that McLouth wasn't willing to move, but then Dejan Kovacevic later wrote that McLouth might have been willing to move but didn't feel he should have to "automatically forfeit the position." Which begs the question of how exactly McLouth thought a determination should have been made--paper/rock/scissors, maybe? Anyway, McLouth has value as a sort of marginal centerfielder, but not so much to a team that has McCutchen, and as a corner outfielder, McLouth is fine but nothing special.

In any case, the Bucs immediately replaced McLouth with a much better player in McCutchen. McLouth and McCutchen actually have a fair amount in common: they're both high-percentage basestealers with a broad base of hitting skills. But McCutchen is much faster and thus has better range in center, and he also hit for better average and power than McLouth in 2009 and is likely to continue to improve. McCutchen was highly regarded before being promoted, but even so, his major-league debut was surprisingly good. Here's his community projection, which we did back in March:

Community: .264/.334/.392

ZiPS: .261/.337/.362

Actual: .286/.365/.471

Oops! I love it when we make these kinds of mistakes. Anyway, the closest guesser was Matt Bandi, who predicted McCutchen would go .280/.340/.400, so no one got terribly close. (UPDATE: Oops! Actually, Brakeman8 had McCutchen at .280/.340/.415. Sorry!)

The fact that McCutchen surpassed expectations to such a great degree (he even left his 90% PECOTA projection in the dust) might lead us to believe that he'll come back to earth next year. That certainly might happen to a degree, but I'm less worried about it than I might be in some cases. Most of McCutchen's surprising growth came from his power, which scouts have always thought he would add--it was just a matter of when. That he would suddenly add it at 22 is younger than I would have expected for a player with his body type, but the power is clearly legitimate: he belted the ball all year. And as I've written before--actually, I wrote it about McLouth back when he was a young player--well-rounded young hitters set themselves up for power breakouts by controlling the strike zone and having a broad base of skills from which to draw. The power breakouts don't always happen, but they happen enough that we shouldn't be too surprised when they do. Anything can happen, but there's really nothing to dislike about McCutchen going forward.