Nate McLouth is getting too much attention from Braves media and fans. Even without McLouth improving drastically, the Braves will quite possibly be as good as they were last season. But as long as the rest of the team is relatively healthy and performs up to expectations, the Braves will be fine without much change from McLouth.
Look at what last season's center field options did for the Braves:
- McLouth: 69 OPS+ in 288 plate appearances
- Melky Cabrera: 83 OPS+ in 509 plate appearances
- Rick Ankiel: 78 OPS+ in 139 plate appearances
- Gregor Blanco: 108 OPS+ in 66 plate appearances
Braves center fielders had the fourth worst OPS in the National League, the fewest total bases and the third fewest home runs with only seven. Clearly, the Braves got little production out of center field, yet they still won 91 games with 93 Pythagorean wins.
The rest of the team was strongly effective, and we shouldn't expect a significant downgrade at any other position.
At catcher, Brian McCann had a season per usual. At 27, he should remain one of the best offensive catchers in the game in 2011.
Troy Glaus had some outstanding stretches of offensive performance during the 2010 season, but, on the whole, he was a league-average hitter.
Derek Lee was solid in his 151 plate appearances with the Braves (130 OPS+). Those plate appearances will go primarily to rookie Freddie Freeman this season.
Overall, first base will likely be a slight downgrade from 2010, but probably not a big one. Freeman handled Triple-A quite well as a 20-year-old in 2010. He should be reasonably close to a league-average hitter, probably slightly below.
Dan Uggla takes over at second with Martin Prado moving to left field. Essentially, Uggla is taking over the left field plate appearances that the Braves primarily gave to the likes of Melky Cabrera, Matt Diaz (who had one of his worst full seasons in the majors) and Eric Hinske. Uggla is a noticeable upgrade there.
Third base is sort of a question mark. Chipper Jones was again solid because of his great on-base abilities, but he suffered a career-threatening injury. When and if he plays, he'll continue to get on base and be productive offensively. He's expected to make some sort of recovery.
Prado will move to third if Chipper misses significant time and he may actually play there even if Chipper isn't out for a long stretch. The Braves should get—at the very least—equal offensive production out of third base.
If and when Chipper is out and Prado moves to third, Hinske and Mather will share most of the left field playing time. Offensively, Hinske and Mather shouldn't be a noticeable downgrade from Cabrera, Diaz and Hinske from 2010.
At short, Yunel Escobar was on his way to his worst offensive season when the Braves traded him to Toronto. Although Alex Gonzalez was a slight improvement, he's an everyday player because of his glove, not his bat. The Braves should get virtually equal production from shortstop as they got in 2010.
If Gonzalez gets hurt, Diory Hernandez or Ed Lucas will be downgrades offensively, but probably not as dramatically as you may think. Gonzalez just makes outs at too high a rate to be drastically better offensively than replacement-level shortstops.
In right field, 20-year-old Jason Heyward had one of the best seasons ever by a player his age. He just missed out on the Rookie of the Year. Given his plate discipline and command of the strike zone, he isn't a likely candidate for significant regression.
Back to center field and Nate McLouth. If he can make only a slight improvement, the Braves will be in fine shape. Mostly because of Dan Uggla, the Braves offense will almost certainly keep up last season's pace and could very likely improve. Obviously, two or three major injuries (to McCann, Prado, Heyward or Uggla) would change things. But McLouth is not one of the major factors in the Braves' quest to reach the postseason again.