The Pirates Years: 2005-2009
McLouth was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 25th round of the June 2000 draft. After advancing through the minors, he was called up to the bigs to replace inured center fielder Chris Duffy on June 29, 2005. He played in 41 games (120 PAs) that season and compiled an above-average wOBA of .326 with 5 home runs, .450 SLG, and an OBP of .305. At the time, he was 23.
It was good, but not good enough to crack the starting lineup. As a backup center fielder from 2006-2007, he completed a full season's worth of work. In that role he was solid, posting a .325 OBP and hitting 20 home runs. Not stellar, but having a backup outfielder who can give you 10 home runs a year is not the worst thing in the world.
McLouth broke out the next year (2008) when he was handed the everyday center fielder role. He raised his OBP to .356 and slugged .497, bashing 26 home runs and stealing 23 bases for a 20/20 season. His wOBA was .364, easily the best of his career. He represented the Pirates in the All-Star Game that year and won a Gold Glove. It seemed that McLouth had arrived.
The Pirates rewarded him with a three-year contract for $15.75 million that carried a fourth-year club option. McLouth made them happy at the beginning of 2009; in 45 games with the Pirates, he had an OBP of .349 and hit nine home runs. At the age of 27 and coming off his impressive 2008 campaign, he seemed poised for a breakout year. However, the Pirates had this guy named Andrew McCutchen whom they wanted to promote. To clear a spot for him, they traded McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for prospects Gorkys Hernandez, Charlie Morton, and Jeff Locke.
The Braves Years: 2009-2011
In 84 games with the Braves that year, McLouth had an OBP of .354 and hit 11 more home runs for a total of 20. It was a slight downward trend from his 2008 campaign, but he was only 28. He was no longer a prospect, but he'd shown some real skill and ability at the major league level. He still had promise.
McLouth started out 2010 in a big slump. Through his first 62 games, he hit only .168. Then in July, he crashed into Jason Heyward in the outfield; afterwards, McLouth started experiencing concussion-like symptoms and was put on the DL. When he scuffled in his return to action, he was demoted to Triple-A Gwinnett to, in then-manager Bobby Cox's words, "get consistent at-bats and get in a groove." After struggling in another call up, he was left off the postseason roster as the Braves advanced to the NLDS as the wild-card team. He finished the year with a lowly .298 OBP and only six home runs.
2011 was a lost year for McLouth; he struggled with injuries and wasn't effective even when he was playing. The good news is that his OBP was back on track (.344) in half a season; the bad news is that his power declined significantly (four home runs, .333 SLG). When his contract expired at the end of the year, the Braves declined to pick up their option. They went with Michael Bourn in center, and McLouth became a free agent.
Back to the Pirates: 2012
Pittsburgh brought McLouth back on a one-year, $1.75 million contract, but his comeback lasted all of 62 plate appearances; on May 25th he was DFA'd while struggling with a .210 OBP, striking out 29% of the time, and having hit zero home runs.
The Orioles Years: 2012-present
When a high-OBP player with a need to prove himself and no celebrity to speak of gets DFA'd, a little chime sounds in Dan Duquette's office. He signed McLouth off the scrap heap to a minor league contract and sent McLouth to Norfolk. It was a move Duquette would make with many other players, perhaps hoping that by throwing so many darts he was bound to get at least one bullseye.
It's safe to say that with McLouth, Duquette achieved his goal. After 47 games, he was called up to the Orioles where he contributed to our big last third of the season by hitting seven home runs and 12 doubles, slugging .435, and returning to an above-average OBP of .342. Through a full season, that OBP would've ranked third on the team. It seems McLouth just needed someone to believe in him, or maybe he responded well to the O's coaching, or maybe we are okay with him getting on base, hitting 15 home runs a year, and knocking some doubles. Players like that are useful if there is enough power elsewhere in the lineup.
In the 2012 offseason there was some uncertainty about whether he'd be back on the team, but in December McLouth accepted a one-year, $2 million contract for 2013. So far, he's been more than worth it. His 1.2 WAR ranks 3rd on the O's and 10th in the AL, even with the penalty for playing LF. Now, he does have a high BABIP, but even when he was playing at his true talent level last week, he was worth a lot. And as we've seen, he has a history of high OBP so can continue to be valuable to our lineup.
Here's to hoping for more speedy leadoff on-baseness from Nate McLouth!