The 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates season had more twists and turns than the Monaco Grand Prix and was about as dangerous. If you weren’t really careful, you just might have fallen in love with the Bucs again.
Here’s the first of many who made the 2011 season so exciting for us.
Andrew McCutchen came into the season with the Most Likely to Succeed label and despite some rough months, he more than lived up to it.
The 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates Rode the Shoulders of Star Centerfielder Andrew McCutchen
McCutchen looked like a possible MVP candidate at midseason when the Pirates were in first place. The posters were made a bit prematurely. We were very happy eating crow as this site said McCutchen wouldn’t have a monster year.
The Pirates were sitting at 50 wins in 93 games.
McCutchen was hitting .280/.381/.488.
The negatives in his game had improved. His fielding was better in the spacious PNC Park, perhaps due to the absence of the no triples defense.
McCutchens’ arm still looked erratic at times, accurate on occasion, but most importantly the flat out ease at which he was carrying the Bucs gave everyone in Pittsburgh reason to believe that the Pirates could snap the 18-year losing streak.
But from 94 games onward, the Bucs went in the tank when McCutchen didn’t continue the MVP-esque pace.
His batting average, on base percentage and slugging started to spiral downward from their lofty heights despite a collection of homeruns which allowed him to finish with a career high of 23.
In September, McCutchen’s offense plummeted with a trip slash line of .171/.316/.355. It was frustrating to watch. Almost as bad as watching first place Pittsburgh dive like a smart bomb falling from a B-1 bomber toward the lowly teams in Chicago and Houston.
So what concerns us most about the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012? The budding superstar sputtered when the team needed him the most.
No. Not even close. We think the struggles came from other incidents.
Each time McCutchen is injured he returned quickly. In 2011, McCutchen played in 158 games. Healthy or not, McCutchen was in uniform. Perhaps McCutchen felt that without him, his team would suffer?
McCutchen suffered a wrist injury in Spring Training which we felt led to his slow start in April. He shook the injury off and took a .219 average to go with five bombs into May and was able to put up some of the best numbers of his career by the All-Star break.
After Jerry Meals said it was safe in Atlanta, McCutchen was slugging .480. His slugging fell the rest of the season as the Bucs dropped game after game in an epic collapse. He would end the season slugging .456 thanks in large part to the eight homers he collected in August and September.
Just when it appeared he was finding his stroke again with eight hits in his last 23 August at-bats, injury struck. McCutchen was plunked in the hand by Ryan Dempster on September 2.
McCutchen reacted in obvious pain. He went about halfway up the first-base line before trainer Brad Henderson took a look at it. Cutch went to first base, but never came back out between innings.
Was McCutchen playing September in pain with an injury he failed to share? We have to believe it had an impact because he never performed as poorly as a major leaguer as he did in September.
The other thing we noticed during the 2011 season was the fact that McCutchen became a target at the plate.
And why wouldn’t opponents target the Pirates star?
The Pirates starters rarely pitched inside, so retailitation never came to the bad guys. (The dirty work was left for relievers like Daniel McCutchen. This obviously must change in 2012 if the Pirates are ever going to be considered legit.)
Being targeted wasn’t anything new for McCutchen. It happened in the infamous non-retaliation game in LA in 2010 and he was hit four other times in 2010 as the photo below demonstrates.
But in 2011, targeting the Bucs star became more of a trend. He was hit by nine pitches in 2011. He was near missed about nine more times.
Unfortunately, it seemed to work.
Like we said, the McCutchen slide is a bit alarming because it hadn’t happened in the past. In 2010, Cutch had a poor August, but bounced back with strong September production to the tune of .326/.422/.537.
Looking back at some statistics from 2010.
2010: He had the second best BB/K among center fielders (0.79) and he had a WAR of 4. His wRC (Runs Created based wOBA) was third highest among CF, (Hamilton and C. Gonazalez)
2011: His BB/K rate fell to .71 while his WAR jumped to 5.5 which was 8th best among position players. He had 414 putouts which ranked first among outfielders. His range was caculated into some metrics that showed him as being the best on Baseball Reference as well. His 89 walks were fifth in the NL.
Interesting fact on McCutchen: BR has Ellis Burks as most similar to Cutch by age.
So what do we make of the McCutchen late season slide? Nothing. We say McCutchen will bounce back, get healthy, and not suffer through Ellis Burks-like mid twenties pain.
McCutchen is once again our Most Likely to Succeed in 2012.
We think it’s simple, McCutchen needs to be stronger. He must learn from what opposition pitching did to him down the stretch. We say McCutchen will work his ass off this offseason and grow into more of what he already is…the true leader of this Pirates offense.
He better do this:
eat well, study tape, lift weights and buy another Superman cape because if 2011 is any indication, the Pittsburgh Pirates will only go as far as their hero leads them.
I hate being right about Cutch not having a monster year…
One of the coolest McCutchen stories I ever heard….
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