Throughout the 2008 season, the Pirates roster featured names such as Yoslan Herrera, Romulo Sanchez, Brian Bixler, Luis Cruz, Jason Michaels, etc. However, one of the only players to really shine that season was centerfielder Nate McLouth. He hit .276 with 26 HR and 94 RBI, as well as winning the Gold Glove and being named to the National League All-Star team.
The Pirates fanbase was shocked in early June of 2009 when McLouth was shipped to Atlanta for Charlie Morton, Gorkys Hernandez, and Jeff Locke. Nate’s career took a turn for the worse during his time with the Braves organization. In 250 games with Atlanta, McLouth hit just .229 with 21 HR and 76 RBI. Despite his struggles in ATL, the Pirates signed McLouth to a one-year deal this offseason to be the team’s fourth outfielder.
When trying to pinpoint possible reasons for McLouth’s tough times in Atlanta, it was difficult to think of what really went wrong. Nate was always a player of small stature who wasn’t expected to hit for much power. His 2008 season could’ve been a fluke, but it’s hard to believe that a guy with as much confidence as McLouth had would fall off so quickly. Nate faced a ton of pressure when he was traded to the Braves; he immediately went from a pretender to a contender. Still, it’s hard to understand what exactly went wrong.
One thing we noticed about his approach at the plate this season is that he seems to be standing farther from the plate. Although it may not seem like a big deal, every inch really does matter. Just an inch or two off the sweet spot of the bat can be the difference between a hit and an out. After going into the video vault on pirates.com, here are some screenshots of where McLouth is setting up in the box:
As you can see, McLouth is a decent distance off the white chalk line in 2012. Now, here are some screen shots from his successful 2008 season:
Although it is more difficult to see where he is setting up due to the contrast of the center field camera compared to the left-center camera, it does appear that Nate was a little closer to the plate. Next, we went to the Braves video center and got a screenshot from 2010, his first full season with Atlanta:
Going back to the center field camera, it is evident that McLouth was pretty close to the plate. His back foot is very close to the line, which gives him optimal plate coverage. However, Nate hit just .190 that season in 85 games. Here’s a screenshot from 2011:
Now you can see that McLouth has backed off the white chalk line considerably. The chalk is right about where Chris Carpenter’s head is, but you can still see how far off the plate he is. This could have been an adjustment that McLouth made during that offseason. He raised his batting average to .223 in 2011, but his power was still way down (4 HR, 16 RBI).
The white chalk line of the batter’s box surely has not moved in the last few years. Instead, it is McLouth’s feet and set up in the box that have shifted. Notice that all the pitchers in the above photos are right-handed, so it probably isn’t a “RHP vs. LHP” sort of thing. Unless it was a change by a hitting coach sometime in the last few years, it most likely has to do with his comfort levels at the plate. He needs to go with whatever is comfortable but it seems that he had more success while standing closer to the plate. Nate obviously isn’t a huge guy who can cover a lot of the plate. McLouth is hitting just .167 in 18 games so far for the Bucs this season. Hopefully he can figure some things out at the plate so that he can contribute when his number is called.