|From Baseball Prospectus|
This is, of course, the age curve for a general population. What that means is that individuals are likely to adhere to something similar to this curve, but that many players will indeed deviate from this curve. Even with all of that uncertainty, it certainly helps predict player production and why age curves are included in any projection system you might use.
This brings us back to one of our favorite conversations in the past week: Nate McLouth. There seems to be some confusion about how people are viewing him. I decided to dive in the numbers (not very deep, though) to try to visualize the simple projection field for him. On one perceived side, you have folks who think McLouth's years where he suffered major injuries (2010 and 2011) should directly inform future predictions of talent. I don't think anyone has suggested something so extreme.
Likewise, there seems to be a misconception that Nate McClouth injury years as well as his go around with the Pirates in 2012, and maybe even his performance after the trade to the Braves in 2009 (because he was sad) should be ignored because he is now healthy and happy. I think that is the misconception. Otherwise, it is the point to which the argument is backed up against on the positive side.
Now, just looking at offense, what do these two perspectives show for McLouth?
The red series shows the optimistic view of McLouth. Gone are his 2009-2011 time with the Braves and his 2012 time with the Pirates. All that remains are his 2005-2009 Pirates years and his 55 games with the Orioles in 2012. The blue series includes all of McLouth's time. The green line is using his blue line data, but filling in any games missing up to 150 with an age regressed expectation based on his career year performance.
The three methods give the following three year projections:
To be honest, none of these projections would surprise me. I can see McLouth maintaining his skills well enough where he essentially performs the same in 2013 as his Oriole 2012 tenure with decrease performance thereafter. I can also see his batting fall part with a somewhat normal aging curve. Yes, I can also see him completely falling apart. The green series makes the most sense to me if we want to go strictly by numbers and how we understand player aging with McLouth going into his age 31-33 seasons. Regardless, this is clearly not someone you would want to give a multi-year deal.
wRC+ Hi Reg Lo 2013 106 92 70 2014 97 86 56 2015 83 75 38
How does this fit into baseball in general in terms of left field offensive production? The following graph was created using data from the Fangraphs team section, which has flaws. When I look specifically for left fielders, it actually compiles everyone who spent a "significant" time in left field with that compilation including batting numbers when they were not actually at that position, so these numbers may be a bit loose. However, I think it roughly gives us an idea of what a left fielder might be expected to do offensively.
What we see are a few things:
(1) The Orioles, over 2013, had bottom tier production from their left fielders. Endy Chavez, Xavier Avery, Steve Tolleson, etc. were not getting it done out there.Assuming these general patterns hold up, you can make the argument that Nate McLouth would be able to deliver average to above average offensive production with a possibility of providing near league worse production. Of course, what informs whether or not that league worse production comes into play is whether or not you think McLouth's high intensity play leads to higher risk of injury, particularly with a post-30 year old ball player. It may be noteworthy to mention that McLouth has only put up 400 plate appearances twice in his career. This is due to him not being asked to play much or being injured and unable to do so.
(2) The Orioles 87 wRC+ was well behind the league median (97, respresent by the Mets in Red).
(3) The Orioles were also way behind the threshold for first division left field offensive production (111 wRC+, represented by the Rockies in Green).
This leads us back around to Nate McLouth and whether the Orioles should sign him. I have the same opinion I had coming into this exercise. I think McLouth can be a league average or above average left fielder. He is not a first division left fielder. I also doubt he can stay injury free and see him as a risk for a major drop off in production. If he wants to come back for a position where he has to fight it out with other players for left field, then I would be happy to have him back. If the Orioles could rope in a legitimate first division starter and McLouth wants back, then great. McLouth is a solid option as a fourth outfielder who may sometimes get hot. He is not much of a centerfielder with his collapsing range and his arm is not going to make right field work, but, with a decent defensive fifth outfielder, McLouth could work out just fine.