How David Lough Can Improve at the Plate
At FanFest, David Lough was announced to the Orioles fans as one of the team’s newest members and possibly the new everyday left fielder. To replace McLouth, who went 40 miles south in free agency, the Orioles shipped utility infielder/platoon slugger Danny Valencia to Kansas City in exchange for
Joseph Gordon Levitt outfielder David Lough. Lough, a 27-year-old rookie in 2013, is lauded for his ability on defense. He’s rangey – Lough posted 12.2 defensive runs saved above average in limited play – with a decent arm in right. He didn’t play enough at left in 2013 to measure his runs saved above average at the position. He was worth 1.3 dWAR according to Baseball-Reference, and his ability in the field has never really been in question.
Discuss David Lough’s future with the Orioles here.
David Lough speaks to members of the media at Orioles FanFest (Patrick Dougherty 2014)
In just 96 games last season, Lough hit .286/.311/.413, a decent-if-unspectacular triple-slash. According to Royals Review, “[Lough] is a guy that never put up huge numbers in the minors but always seemed to do well enough to move up the ladder.” I tend to disagree with that statement: in the minors, Lough was always around .300 but with pretty significant variance. Some years, he’d be batting a cool .318 (2011, AAA), and others, he’d be stumbling along at .275 (2012, AAA). His career OBP in the minors was .349, weighted down by a single bad year in AAA at .317. It’s not hard to see the promise in David Lough, but he will need to be more consistent to hold a roster spot for a full season, and he knows that. When asked about his goals for the upcoming season, Lough (and I’m paraphrasing), said that he knew he was better with a bat in his hand than he had shown. Specifically, he made it a goal to improve his Major League OBP by “20 or 30 points.”
In order to do that, Lough will have to improve his approach at the plate. Surprisingly, Lough’s BB% is categorized as “below average” at best and “awful” at worst. Even in his best years for OBP in the minors, Lough was walking just 7.5% of the time.
He’s actually pretty good at avoiding strikeouts, never striking out more often than 15.5% of the time. Sometimes, this can be a bad omen for batting eye. After all, you can’t strike out if you put easy outs in play on pitches outside the zone.
He’s not due for negative regression in BABIP. After BABIP helped his average and OBP early in his career, Lough has had league-average to poor seasons in BABIP. If anything, we might see stretches of high average and on-base tendencies from Lough as his speed comes through and helps boost his BABIP.
Lough can improve his eye to add value to every at-bat. His O-Swing% is about 35% for his career, slightly above the league average of 30%. Lough makes contact on about 65% of pitches outside the zone, just below the 68% league average O-Contact%. Lough’s O-Swing% is a solid 10 points above that of Mike Trout and 15 points higher than Nate McLouth. In 2011 and 2012, Lough swung at 32% of fastballs he saw that were outside the zone. That’s a little troubling, since fastballs should be the easiest pitches to track.
He swings at slightly less than 63% of pitches in the zone (65% is league average) and makes contact on nearly 93% of those pitches (88% is league average). As with all batters, David Lough can benefit from cutting down on his swings outside the strike zone and swinging more on pitches inside the zone. Without much power, Lough will need to make each of his takes and swings count. Reaching league average in letting pitches outside the zone go by will go a long way toward helping his value at the plate.
Lough also has a career LD% hovering around 20%, which is league average. His 2013 LD% of 22.6% was a solid step up from 2012 (18.0%). Lough’s speed and on-base ability shown during the minors profile him as a leadoff hitter in a best-case scenario. It’d be nice to see Lough continue to improve his LD% as a way to get on base more consistently when putting the ball in play. This goes back to his plate discipline: he makes contact with most fastballs (8% swing and miss on hard pitches). If he can let the fastballs outside the zone go, he’ll be making great contact on manageable pitches that are easy to drive.
It’s easy enough to recommend that a player not swing at balls, but that’s not always the easiest plan to put in place. This article from FanGraphs remains relevant after 7 years. Nobody suddenly wakes up and recognizes their strike zone. It may be rough going for David Lough in trying to improve his discipline, especially when he’s really not that far from average. And honestly, his .307 OBP isn’t that far below average either. For someone without much in the way of power, it will have to be improved to remain relevant at the Major League level. Here a small sample size and my optimism works in Lough’s favor. Since he hasn’t seen that many pitches at the Major League level, his O-Swing% is subject to large swings in a single at-bat. I do think that a long-term opportunity can help him focus on the strike zone, as long as he stays away from Adam Jones.
The sample size is too small to really discuss here, but Lough has the ability to steal bases. He mentioned at FanFest that one of his goals for the season was to make stolen bases a larger part of his game. McLouth was the only player on the 2013 team that regularly attempted or successfully stole any bases, so it’s nice to see the team making an attempt to retain that ability. Jemile Weeks may also be a base thief, if he gets enough time to make a habit of it.
This is not David Lough, but you can’t tell at first glance.
I’m not used to having to deal with off-the-record statements, but an anonymous source within the organization indicated that the team is very high on David Lough and expects him to be a very important player in the next few seasons.
Lough may not be the star outfielder that many fans wanted in Baltimore, but I expect him to be a solid everyday left fielder. At the very least, he’ll be competitive for the position in 2014 and probably in line for the job next year. He’ll most likely be an upgrade over McLouth, who may only provide a few more years of league-average production before age catches up to him, at a much lower cost.
Royals Review labeled David Lough a late bloomer and ended discussion with a prediction that his immediate success in the Majors was to be short-lived. Let’s hope that Lough truly is the rare find that can be a productive member of the team for a long time despite a mid-career breakout.
Patrick was the co-founder of Observational Studies, a blog which focused on the analysis and economics of professional sports. The native of Carroll County graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Loyola University Maryland. Patrick works at a regional economic development and marketing firm in Baltimore, and in his free time plays lacrosse.