What to Do in the Outfield?

Written by Caleb on June 17, 2011 – 11:26 am

The Braves outfield, in a word, is in disarray. With Jason Heyward returning on Wednesday, the outfield now has one opening-day starter roaming the Turner Field grass. For the most part, it seems the reserves have underperformed the starters, but how true is that statement? While answering that question, I’ll also provide an answer for the question that everyone seems to asking; who will be starting in center field once Nate McLouth returns?

The chart below will be used throughout the rest of the article. The following definitions are a quick refresh:

PA – Plate appearances
wOBA – Weighted on-base average
wRC+ – Weighted runs created
Bsr – Baserunning; Ultimate Base Running statistic used by Fangraphs
Spd – “…Stolen Base Percentage, Frequency of Stolen Base moonwalk bounce house Attempts, Percentage of Triples, and Runs Scored Percentage.” (Source)
fWAR – Fangraphs wins above replacement








Martin Prado







Eric Hinske







Jordan Schafer







Jason Heyward







Nate McLouth







Matt Young







Joe Mather







*Data used from Fangraphs and is through the game on June 15, 2011.

Let’s start with a positive. The left fielders in the Braves organization have done well this far into the season. The majority of the time in left field has been split between Prado and Hinske, with fWAR of 2.4, which ranks fourth in the MLB. However, right fielders and center fielders have a fWAR of 0.8 which ranks twenty-first and twenty-second, respectively in the MLB. The total of 3.3 fWAR for the entire outfield ranks seventeenth.

It is no surprise that the outfield has performed poorly. It was never going to be a strength of this Braves team. But what lineup would be the best of the current crop of players?

Left field is Prado’s once he returns from the disabled list (assuming he is not playing third base). He has played well and there is no reason to think that he would not when he returns. Eric Hinske has been the main reserve to replace Prado. Hinske has played adequately in left, but still quite a ways from Prado.

Right field has been barren ground for the Braves this year. Heyward has struggled through injuries, but one assumes he’ll return to form after a few games of being reacquainted with the diamond. Right field reserves have consisted mainly of Hinske and Mather. Hinske has played as a replacement-level player in right. He does not have the range or arm strength to be a significant contributor. Where does one being with Joe Mather, who is playing below a replacement-level player? I am still not entirely sure why he is still on the roster. If Heyward spends more significant time on the disabled list, someone else must be brought in to play right field.

Now onto the most perplexing situation. Who should play center field? Neither McLouth nor Schafer have played particularly well. Assuming Frank Wren does not make an acquisition of another outfielder, which one should Atlanta utilize?

I, falsely, hypothesized that the answer would be simple and straight-forward. The Braves have made their intentions public that they would like Schafer to spend an entire year in AAA, primarily to see how he develops through an (hopefully) injury-free year. With McLouth’s disabled-list stint, Schafer was brought in to fill the void. If you ask most casual Braves observers, they will, more than likely, praise Schafer on his speed, his defense and his new approach at the plate. Without a doubt, they will say he should still be roaming center field after McLouth’s rehab games are completed.

I do not believe this should be the case. Yes, Schafer has a higher fWAR (mainly because of his defensive prowess), but he is lower than McClouth in wRC+ and wOBA. The Braves’ defense is quite alright if we are deciding on whether we need more offensive output or defense output at the moment. Runs need to be scored.  Furthermore, I am wary of Schafer’s new approach at the plate. His low strikeout ratio and high walk ratio are not sustainable for the course of the season.

By default, I end up with the conclusion that Nate McLouth should continue to play center field. This allows for Schafer to continue to develop in AAA, which would hopefully aid in fielding a team for next season. McLouth’s positive will be creating more runs than Schafer for the Braves. I do not think the defensive differences are significant enough to voice support in having Schafer start over McLouth. Are the Braves going to send down another high-profile, highly-paid player to AAA?

Having McLouth in center field is not desirable or ideal, but it is the best option at the moment until Frank Wren decides he would like to add another person to the mix.

As a side note, I’d like to recommend a book this week, and maybe more books in weeks to come. I just finished re-reading Moneyball by Michael Lewis and it is a better book with every read. It’s a great look at the Oakland A’s and Billy Beane. Coincidentally enough, the trailer for the movie coming out in September hit the internet on Thursday. Check it out if you have not seen it already.

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3 Responses to “What to Do in the Outfield?”

  1. By fleming on Jun 19, 2011 | Reply

    the Braves outfield stinks , and for that purpose the whole Braves team. It's a matter of attitude, you don't hit intelligently to the opposite field you don't score runs, you don't have an assertive,aggresive,winners attitude toward the game,you seem afraid to take risks ,go out for it you don't have nothing to lose everything to win !

  2. By Caleb on Jun 23, 2011 | Reply

    It's important to note that the outfield is not terrible when it's healthy. Opposite field hitting is important, and I think once Heyward regains his form before his injury, we'll see more of those hits. As for being aggressive, the batters have been too aggressive swinging at large number of pitches that are balls.

  3. By bill on Jul 8, 2011 | Reply

    how can the braves continure to play nate mccloght when every time he is in the lineup the braves are playing 8 players against 9. He is the wosrst excuse for a major league player i have ever seen


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