Thursday, May 8, 2008

Are McLouth, Nady and Doumit for real?

My guess is there's a great many of you out there who are in first place in your fantasy league at least in part because you have one of these three players on your roster: Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady and Ryan Doumit. Yes, the Pirates -- at least those three -- appear to be fantasy relevant this year, even as the team finds itself in its usual home near the bottom of the NL Central standings. Faced with the awesome numbers these guys have put up so far this year, most fantasy observers' gut reaction is going to be: It can't last. There's just no way it can last.

I'm here to tell you ... it could last. Not necessarily that it will. But that it could and that you should have hope that these three guys can keep performing at this level. Here's why:

Nate McLouth: The simple fact is we never knew Nate McLouth could be this good because the Pirates never bothered to wonder if Nate McLouth could be this good. Chris Duffy was supposed to be the team's center fielder of the future (at least until Andrew McCutchen became the next center fielder of the future), with McLouth serving as, at best, a major-league bench player. When Duffy was injured last year, the Pirates had nobody else to start but McLouth, who put up these impressive numbers after the All-Star break: .267 average, .366 OBP, .868 OPS, 12 homers, 44 runs, 30 RBI and 16 stolen bases in 217 at-bats.

That was a significant improvement over McLouth's '06 rookie stats and hinted that, assuming he got to play every day, he could post numbers similar to his solid minor-league output. (His best year was '04 in Double-A when he posted a .842 OPS with 93 runs and 73 RBI in 515 at-bats.) It even looked like McLouth had found a way to boost his power. (He only hit more than 10 home runs once in the minors, and that was in A ball.)

So, of course, this being the Pirates -- where nothing is ever simple -- they don't give Nate the job outright this spring. He had to beat out Nyjer Morgan for the position. I think it pissed Nate off. I think he came into this season bearing both a chip on his shoulders and the expectations of his teammates -- who, before the season started, voted him the player most likely to break out -- and I think those things served Nate well. And they could continue serving him well. McCutchen's tearing up Triple-A, and it's only a matter of time before somebody in that outfield is traded. (Likely Nady with McLouth shifting to right.) I think McLouth will want to show that he's better than McCutchen, just like he wanted to show that he's better than Morgan, just like he wanted to show that he's better than Duffy. This guy thrives on that challenge and the role he's been given. Also, word around the Pirates press box is that McLouth has a slump-proof swing. At this point, it's hard to dispute that.

Xavier Nady: The two knocks against Nady is that he can't hit right-handed pitching and that he's susceptible to injury. For his career, he's batting .261 against righties vs. .321 against lefties. However, it's clear that he's been slowly but surely figuring right-handers out. In 2005, he hit only .223 against righties. In 2006, it jumped to .263. In 2007, .274. And this year, he's actually hitting better against righties than lefties: .363 vs. 323. I bring up all these numbers just to show that his recent success against right-handers isn't some fluky thing. It's something he's been building toward for a while now, and there's no reason to think he'll regress back to his 2005 performance in that regard. In short: That problem has been solved.

As for his injury issues -- Nady did have Tommy John surgery in 2002, but since then it's just been freak minor things that have kept his at-bats under 500. A pulled hammy here, an appendectomy there. Hell, he was even (incorrectly) diagnosed with Crohn's disease last spring. I think it's fair to say that it's not luck keeping Nady healthy this season, but rather it's been bad luck keeping him out of the lineup regularly the last few years. Maybe a little less bad luck is all Nady needed to put together a monster season.

Ryan Doumit: Injuries are also what have kept Doumit from being fantasy viable over the last two years. Every time the Pirates would try to get him in the lineup, he'd go down with a hamstring injury or something that would indicate poor conditioning. There was also the matter of Doumit's substandard defensive play at catcher, which has had the Pirates trying (and often struggling) to get him playing time in right field or first base. Well, two things have changed all this. One, Doumit came into this spring supposedly in the best shape of his life and determined to stay healthy all year. So far, so good. Second, the Pirates figured out that Ronny Paulino is terrible at defense, too, so if they have to play a shitty catcher, they might as well start the one that can hit. There's nothing keeping Doumit from getting plenty of playing time now. I actually drafted him in two leagues this year guessing that he'd get at least 400 at-bats. Looks like I was right. Assuming he stays healthy, the guy should remain productive through all of them.


ben lea, staff blogger said...

Thanks, Bob. Particularly, I want to thank you for talking up Xavier Nady, since I'm trying to trade him... to another of our co-collaborators.

Ben Lea, staff blogger said...

Woohoo! Thanks, Bob... Got Alfonso Soriano for Nady (there was other stuff involved on both sides, but those were the principles) in my keeper league. Keep up the good work!

Would you now please tout Jonny Gomes? Or, at least, not berate me too much for having him in the first place?