Dude is 31 years old. Nate McLouth probably isn’t a new player. But there are reasons to believe in him, to believe in the changes he’s made.
Just look at his plate discipline stats and you might think there was an error. Some sort of reversal perhaps. His walk rate (15.7% this year) is where his strikeout rate should be (17.1% career). And his strikeout rate (9%) is where his walk rate should be (10.1% career). It’s a bit too early to believe in the walk rate, but it’s close enough to his peak numbers that it’s fine. He’s always been more of an asset in on-base percentage leagues anyway.
It’s the strikeout rate we’re asking about. It’s never been this low, and we’re twenty or so plate appearances past the reliability threshold for strikeout rate. And, at the basis of the strikeout rate are two things that are the first stats to become interesting:
Swing % (swings/pitches) – under 40 PA
Contact % (ball in play + foul / swings) – under 40 PA
Nate McLouth is swinging less than he ever has. He’s swinging at outside pitches less than he ever has. Once before, he swung at pitches in the zone at the rate he’s showing now, but yeah, that’s at a career-low too. And it’s working, as he’s making contact at a career-best rate. His 3.1% swinging strike rate is actually seventh-best in the majors, at home with such contact hitters as Martin Prado and Marco Scutaro.
Basically, McLouth has quit swinging at pitches that are down in the zone. These swing heat maps (thanks to BaseballHeatMaps.com) compare McLouth this year to his work in prior years. Blue means he swings less this year compared to years past, and it’s all over his work against lefties (left) and righties (right):
If this new contact approach is costing him power, we won’t know for a while. Power takes the longest to stabilize and all that. But even league average power, with speed, and this new contact rate, that could be an asset in any league even if he doesn’t hit 26 out ever again. And McLouth’s ISO has been just short of the league average in Baltimore.
It looks like we can believe McLouth’s new contact rate. It’s come in a large enough sample, and it’s backed by the heat maps. He’s well on his way to a career-best batting average. Then again, he could hit .265 the rest of the way and still beat his career high in the category (.276). So, be cautious, but consider Nate McLouth (against righties, anyway) a mixed-league relevant outfielder.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.