It's June 1st and I have an alarming stat for Braves fans—this year's primary starting pitchers (Hanson, Hudson, Kawakami, Lowe and Medlen) are having a more successful year at the plate than the starting centerfielder, Nate McLouth. Through 51 games (nearly a third of the year!) the pitchers are hitting .184 and McClouth is hitting .179 with no signs of coming out of his slump. In fact, it's hard for me to even call what's happening with McLouth a slump at this point.
The Braves have straightened out most of their issues in the lineup—Yunel Escobar, Melky Cabrera and Chipper Jones have heated up while Jason Heyward, Martin Prado and Troy Glaus are still more than holding up their ends of the bargain. McLouth is the lone holdout and has seemed allergic to any kind of success at the plate, save the one dramatic walk-off home run earlier in the year.
So what is there to do? The Braves have five options in the outfield—Heyward, Cabrera, McLouth, Eric Hinske and Gregor Blanco—and I think they need to shift the hierarchy, which is something Bobby Cox has been notoriously slow to do in the past. But in order to really take advantage of what's possible for the team this year (a playoff berth and beyond) it is completely necessary and needs to happen sooner rather than later.
Right now Heyward and McLouth play every day in right field and center field, respectively, with a rotating cast in left field. Heyward is entrenched in right field, but it's time to see what Cabrera can do on a full-time basis.
I propose that Cox start an outfield of Heyward, Cabrera and Hinske as the primary lineup. Hinske has exactly the same number of hits as McLouth in almost half the at-bats and has proven himself as a quality ballplayer over the years.
On days when Hinske needs a rest or there's bad pitching matchup for him, put McLouth in center and shift Cabrera to left. It may seem drastic and crazy to use McLouth as a fourth outfield considering his salary, but something needs to happen. The Braves are playing well right now and Cox needs to strike while the iron is hot.
Two other options would be to use Blanco on a more regular basis (but he seems to have settled in as a pinch runner and late inning defensive replacement) or to bring up Jordan Schafer from triple-A. I happen to believe that the Cabrera/Hinske option is superior to this, but if you disagree please let me know in the comments.
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