Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable – 5/5/2008

The Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable has returned. After nearly a year’s hiatus, some of the best Pirate minds are again coming together to discuss the team’s most pressing issues. Many thanks to all who contributed, and please take the time to visit each of their sites. I would encourage everyone to join in the comments section below. This is meant to be a forum for discussion and debate, and that includes readers as well as the writers. Disagree with something you read? Make your voice heard. Now, on to today’s question.
Is Nate McLouth legit or just another one-hit wonder in center field for the Pirates? If he is legit, how does that affect the team’s future plans in center with Andrew McCutchen looking impressive in Indianapolis?
Brian McElhinny from Raise the Jolly Roger!
Clearly, McLouth is not in a position to continue playing at his current pace. However, I do think we have reason to believe he is pretty legit, unlike the parade of CF’s in the past (Redman, Duffy, etc.). Why? He gets on base, hits homers more than the typical leadoff man, and plays great defense. It’s still speculation, but I think it’s a good bet McLouth will reign PNC’s center field for years to come. As for the long term, I don’t think it creates a problem. There’s no reason why McCutchen can’t be a corner OF, and Nady is playing out of his mind (into a possible trade), and there have been rumors of Bay’s departure as well. If I had to guess, I’d say Nady will be shipped away, McLouth will still be in CF, and McCutchen will be in right after the deadline this season.
Mike from Hyzdu Headquarters
I most definitely think that McLouth is for legit. I think that he can be a good player for us in an everyday role. I am not expecting anything like the streak that he had to start the year, but I see him as a very steady player for us for the next few seasons. As far as with McCutchen, I don’t see any conflict. McLouth has played other spots in the outfield his entire career, just in Pittsburgh he is a centerfielder, due to Nady and Bay. I could easily see him moving over and allowing for McCutchen to play center, a move I think would make sense in the spacious PNC Park outfield as well. The real question is how much power can we expect from these two, at least in terms of home run power? No matter how many doubles they hit, we will need some thumper or two to hit balls over the fence. We will have to get that from other positions in the field, namely the infield. As the infield is constituted that way it is now, I wouldn’t hold my breath for much bop from them.
Jesse from Raise the Jolly Roger!
I believe that McLouth is not legit. Most Pirates fans feel otherwise, but I think we should trade him for a good shortstop or second base prospect. Why, you ask? Well, believe it or not, Jack Wilson will not be here much longer. We are looking to get rid of him, and he is not exactly young. Also, Bixler has been a let down.
Steeltown Mike from Steeltown Sports
Back in Spring Training when all the buzz was around the McClouth/Nyjer Morgan battle for centerfield, I found myself thinking that it didn’t really matter who won out, as that player was just a stopgap until McCutchen arrived. Now that McClouth not only won the job, but is in the top fifteen in many offensive categories, General Manager Neal Huntington needs to start exploring trade options now. He also needs to hope that, while he’s doing that, McClouth doesn’t regress too far back to the mean.
Now that I’ve managed to dodge the first question, I will answer it. I think McClouth is at the right age to be peaking. While I think he’ll fall back a bit statistically, there’s no doubt that he should be in the running for National League Player of the Month of April, and that he can be a starting centerfielder/leadoff man on at least half of the clubs in baseball.
Andy Smith from Bugs and Cranks
Oh, the one hit wonders in center field for the Pirates. Every second-half it seemed, there was some new phenom who came out of nowhere to set the league on fire and stake his claim as heir to Andy Van Slyke. Then come the following April, Adrian Brown, or Tike Redman or Chris Duffy would remember that they were, in fact, Adrian Brown or Tike Redman or Chris Duffy. By the time the weather turned, they were hitting .122 and regulated to pinch hitting duty; or AAA Indianapolis. Is Nate McLouth legit, though? That depends on your definition of legit. Is he going to hit 40 home runs and drive in 140 runs with an OPS over 1.000, as he’s on pace to do right now? Probably not. But I do think he’s good enough to start in the outfield for several major league teams, not just the one challenging the record for consecutive losing seasons. While McLouth didn’t exactly light up minor league pitching, he showed decent plate discipline and a consistent enough ability to get on base, both good indicators of sustained hitting success. The one area that seems out of place this year is his power. However, there are indicators that that too is here to stay. While McLouth never hit more than 12 home runs in the minors, he did drive in 73 runs in 2004 with Altoona in 2004. That, plus the 13 homers he hit in just 329 at-bats last year, seems to indicate that his doubles power is translating into more long balls as he matures, a natural progression for many players.
If my optimism in McLouth does in fact bear out, it should have zero effect on Andrew McCutchen. Neither of the Pirates two other starting outfielders, Jason Bay or Xavier Nady figure to be in Pittsburgh much longer, especially if they both continue to hit like they have been and can fetch a decent sum at the trade deadline. McLouth is not wedded to center field, as he as played all three outfield spots since arriving in the majors. In addition, left field at PNC Park is particularly demanding, so the athleticism of a player like McCutchen would not be wasted there, should the Pirates decide to let McLouth stay put. Anyway you look at it, the Pirates will do whatever they can to get two potentially explosive bats in their line-up.
Dave from Bucs Trade Winds
Before we deem McCutchen to be the next call up, we have to look at his performance and time at AAA. In the last week he has raised his average against right handed pitchers by over .040 to his current .276 average. This is his first full season at AAA, he really is not ready for the big jump just yet. If a call up happens this season due to injury or trade, I would not be shocked to see Kevin Thompson get a chance (if it is to fill in for McLouth or Morgan). Thompson, 28, is batting .347 with 4 taters and 6 SB’s.
Now on to McLouth. He is for real. I have been calling for him to have a shot at starting since I started BTW. Every chance he has had to play everyday he has shown he is ready. He has played solid defense and can hit for average with good patience at the plate. Unlike Duffy, who in the minors relied on being hit by pitches, McLouth works a count and has always had a good walk rate, especially for a leadoff hitter. He also knows how to run the bases, he has great instincts. His numbers in MLB and MiLB show when he steals, he succeeds.
For 2009 I predict McLouth in LF, McCutchen in CF and Nady in RF (Pearce will be playing 1B again at that point).
matskralc from Marooned on Federal Street
McLouth is, and always has been, a legitimate centerfielder. He posted a solid CF OPS throughout his stay in the minors, and none of that was because of being old for his level. He did it last year in the bigs (.810) at age 25. There is a ton of value in having a CF that can OPS .800-.900, which Nate is very capable of doing.
McLouth’s emergence presents us with a wonderful problem: what to do with him and our gifted centerfield prospect, Andrew McCutchen. It is dubious that either player has the power potential to play in the easily-replaceable corners. 20-30 doubles and 15-20 home runs is probably what we can expect from either player. McCutchen may have a slightly higher ceiling due to being younger (2008 is only his age 21 season).
McCutchen can spend the entire year in Indianapolis, perhaps being called up in September as a sort of pre-test. By the end of ’08, we’ll know if he’s ready to start in ’09. If he is, I think we have little choice but to trade McLouth for something we need (middle infield comes to mind). Neither player can match Jason Bay’s production in left field: replacing him with either is folly. Either player can probably match Xavier Nady’s production in right field, but we already have a guy who can exceed: Steve Pearce. Nady, despite the hot start, isn’t exactly a benchmark for starting RFs, either. Nate can fetch us a pretty good return: it’s not unreasonable to expect that we can get a SS or 2B that hits about as well as…well, Nate McLouth. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Adam Wagner from Be Like Tike
Nate McLouth is legitimate. Throughout his minor league career, he was statistically better than Chris Duffy, who the Pirates seemed to always hold in higher esteem. Now, when he finally has an everyday job, he is breaking out and proving that the comparisons to Eric Byrnes are actually very apt. His performance really shouldn’t change the team’s plans for the future of center field at all. Andrew McCutchen is the center fielder of the future, no questions asked. The imminent trade of Jason Bay, however, should open up the left field spot for McLouth to shift over. With his potential power, McLouth should consistently produce like a left fielder and, just as importantly, in PNC Park the left fielder needs to play like a center fielder. This means that an outfield of McLouth in left, McCutchen in center, and Xavier Nady/Steve Pearce in right actually makes a lot of sense for the Pirates and allows the organization to follow its current plans.
Cory Humes from Seamless Baseball
I think if we go back to 2007’s second half and consider Nate’s time spent in the everyday lineup, it’s safe to say he’s the most legitimate player in the string of center-field question marks. I fully expect Jason Bay and Xavier Nady to be traded prior to Opening Day 2009; in that scenario, Nate would shift to left field to make room for the more physically gifted McCutchen in center. Nate’s bat has just enough power in it to factor as a corner outfielder, and his defense would be a bonus given the home park’s dimensions.
It’s interesting to note (for me, at least) that Nate’s line as a left fielder between 2005-2007 is significantly better than that as a center or right fielder. Though the 44 at-bat sample is painfully small, he did mash to the tune of .295/.429/.614 when playing left. That’s a 1.043 OPS, which can be compared to .775 in 456 at-bats as a center fielder or .726 in 118 at-bats as a right fielder. Could it be that playing the least demanding defensive position allows Nate to focus more on his offensive game? (It’s a reach.)
A low-cost outfield featuring Nate, McCutchen and Steve Pearce from left to right would be acceptable through a rebuilding effort. To make that configuration work for the long term, more power would need to be supplied from the infield.
Matt Bandi from Pittsburgh Lumber Co.
Just last year, I was totally against the idea of moving a center fielder to left, regardless of the defensive implications at PNC Park. Nate McLouth’s .810 OPS last season was valuable out of center, but would be much more ordinary in left. In fact, that has always been the most common criticism of McLouth. His defense was not good enough for center, and he didn’t hit enough to play a corner. However, he is showing that he has the ability to produce enough to make the switch.
Obviously, McLouth will not sustain his torrid pace for the entire season. But his OPS is at .938 since Chris Duffy’s injury greatly increased his playing time last June. With 365 at-bats over that period, he has kept up the pace long enough to convince me. I am certain that McLouth will be able to maintain an OPS above .850 for at least a few years. That is well above average for a NL left fielder, making him a very capable starter for the Pirates as they rebuild. Andrew McCutchen’s hot start in Indy has resurrected his status as an elite prospect, and he is well on his way to taking over the Pirates’ starting job in center field. Jason Bay and Xavier Nady are becoming more expendable because of the performance of McLouth and McCutchen, making it very likely that they will be dealt by the trade deadline. Expect McLouth, McCutchen and Steve Pearce to hold down the team’s future outfield.

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5 Responses to “Pittsburgh Pirates Roundtable – 5/5/2008”

  1. Jason Says:

    Let’s Trade Nady. Let’s Trade Bay. Move McClouth to left, Move him to right. Trade Him. Bring up McCutchen. Move him to left. Trade him. Steve Pearce, let’s just skip the song and dance and trade him.
    When will it end?
    We have a solid outfield, and a decent fourth outfielder . . . NOW. Why is it exactly that we couldn’t keep them? Is it because we’re small market? Is it because we need depth? Do we need to build the minor league system? Are we rebuilding, restructuring, revamping, reviewing????
    I’m so tired of this. The Pittsburgh Pirates are a major league club. They ought to act like one. They have three solid major league outfielders and a debatable, but passable, fourth outfielder on the bench. Here’s a novel idea, why don’t we keep them all? Why not keep them instead of trading them away for unproven prospects, and waiting for our supposed awesome minor leaguers to adjust and prove they’re good in the show too, all the while throwing away two or three more seasons? Why not?

  2. Eric J. Seidman Says:

    A few Pirates executives came to speak at Penn State a couple of months ago and, in so many words, basically said they are struggling to determine if their methods are bad with scouting or with developing players. They weren’t sure if they have poor coaching in the minor leagues or if they are really just going after the wrong players. While it was great to hear someone say this, I was shocked that it took until NOW for a major league team to realize this.

  3. Cory Humes Says:

    Jason,
    We don’t keep Jason Bay and Xavier Nady because they’ll be past their peaks when the Pirates are finally able to contend in the NL Central (let alone the National League or MLB). They’ll both turn 30 this fall. By 2010, they’ll be on the downside of their careers and certainly not worthy of big-money contract extensions.
    Trading players while they’re still valuable *would* be acting like a major-league club.

  4. Randy Linville Says:

    Wow, Eric. That is a crazy thing for a front office to admit. Can you imagine if you went to a car dealership and they said, “we don’t know if our cars are inferior because we buy terrible parts or if it is because we don’t engineer them well.”? If you had confidence in the car maker’s ability to turn the company around, you might come back in a couple of years. Otherwise, you’d never go back.
    Of course, like you, I’m stuck being a Pirates fan. They could continue to get bad parts and continue to engineer poorly and I’d still love them. Forever.

  5. Eric J. Seidman Says:

    Randy,
    Actually, I’m a Phillies fan from Philadelphia, but being at Penn State for four years, the Pirates became one of my adopted teams as Phillies had to be watched online whereas I got FSN in my room.
    They explained that not in an open forum but rather when a statistics professor asked them afterwards. Still, quite the thing to admit, and who knows, maybe the hiring of Baseball Prospectus’s Dan Fox will aid them in going after the right players.


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