When the Orioles traded for OF David Lough by sending 3B (now 2B) Danny Valencia to the KC Royals, some O’s fans pointed towards Nate McLouth as a comparison point for the new outfielder. At a glance, some similarities between two players include their size (both listed as 5’11’’, 180 lbs), seemingly not-so-threatening power, scrappiness, left-handed hitting, etc.
After emerging as a potentially useful OF for the O’s in 2012, McLouth served well as a contributing piece in 2013 - recording 2.5 fWAR for the year and hitting for a .141 isolated power while swiping 30 bases. Considering that his total 2013 line .258/.329/.399 is a noticeable downgrade from a solid .283/.353/.417 line on July 31, (he went a meager .205/.280/.363 for the last two months) you could say that at some point, he was an indispensable part of the powerful Orioles lineup. He is now a Washington National, acting as their 4th OF. The question is, how does the newly-acquired Lough project to replace McLouth’s role as a new OF regular?
In terms of offensive productions, they provide roughly the similar value - Lough, in his rookie 2013 season, provided a 96 wRC+ and McLouth, 100 wRC+. Lough has an advantage of being younger (turned 28 in January) and being in the usual prime age of a player’s career while McLouth is perhaps on the latter part of the prime years (turning 33 in October).
However, what the age can’t fix and what Lough doesn’t have is McLouth’s plate discipline. Nate’s 9.8 career BB% check in as an ML above average and Lough’s 3.0 BB% from last year is, well, quite low. In terms of seeing pitches and getting on bases, McLouth definitely fits more into that leadoff hitter bill. If there is a hope for progression in Lough’s eye, his minor league walk rate is 6.0%, which would register around ML average. Another stat to show, the O-swing % (measures the amount of swings on pitches outside of strikezone), Nate McLouth shows more patience by boasting a 21.8% (30% is considered to be the average) and Lough, again, swing more often with 34.8% in 2013.
If there a skill that Lough is better than the other, it is the ability to hit (not necessarily power) but not exceedingly so. Lough hits more grounders (42.0% GB) than McLouth 38.9% career avg) and that helps because grounders tend to result more as hits than fly balls. Lough also uses his speed by being able to bunt for hit: 46.2% of his bunt attempts in 2013 turned into hits. I assume that also helps to his .326 BABIP from 2013 (versus McLouth’s .288, which is actually bit higher than his career mark of .279). If you want to bank on Lough being a solid regular for the Orioles long-term, you better hope that his bat speed and speed don’t decline - if he continues the poor walk rate and the physical skills dwindle, he would be a burden. McLouth, even with the decline, has proven that he has the eye to get on bases better.
Here’s where Lough gets his dues - he was an above average defender in 2013. His 11.2 Defense rating would have fit him right in between Jacoby Ellsbury (12.0) and Gregor Blanco (10.3) in ML last year had he fulfilled qualified amount of at-bats. His defense contributed a good amount for the 2.4 fWAR despite having a negative offensive rating (-0.5) in 2013. McLouth, in the other hand, had a positive offensive rating (5.9) but showed below average defense (-2.2) and that has been a trend for him - he never had a season with positive fielding rating.
Lough is not exactly off to the good start of his O's career - so far he's logged a mere .105/.190/.211 (but hey, 9.5% walk rate!). However, I think Lough has more to prove for the team and he will get plenty of opportunities to contribute. Will he be a worthy replacement to McLouth? We shall see but he'll have to impress with his bat and speed to cover for McLouth's good eye that he doesn't seem to have.
Stats referenced are from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference