Andrew McCutchen Is He the Sixth Best Player in MLB?


Jun 25, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) in the dugout against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen finished sixth on MLB Network’s Top 100 Players Right Now! 2015 annual rankings. Was it fair?  Maybe.  But, let’s focus instead on what McCutchen will produce with a more experienced and highly talented lineup ahead and behind him in 2015.

The top twenty is listed below, with McCutchen finishing one spot ahead of the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera and one spot behind the Chicago White Sox’s Chris Sale.

The criteria for the top 100 players in MLB is rather interesting.  According to the press release received at RumBunter, the list is based on player performance over the past several seasons, with an emphasis on 2014.   Also considered this season was weighted projected 2015 performance, taking into account players returning from injury and young players expected to break out, as well as base-running and defensive value.

The entertaining video recap is here for you.  And the video is embeded below for you as well.

Looking at the players in front of McCutchen and the criteria used for the list, Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout are better players than Cutch.  Felix Hernandez hasn’t done enough for me to rank him at number three.  Giancarlo Stanton and Chris Sale might be better than McCutchen, but one could also point to the fact that they have not played in the postseason.  A monster 2014 season allowed Stanton to leap from number 20 a year ago, to number four on the list.  The 37 bombs Stanton hit certainly helped.  Sale had back to back dominant seasons.

An argument could be made for McCutchen at number four especially when considering a number of factors.  One could also argue he is a notch or two above where he deserves to be.  But more importantly, let’s consider how Cutch has performed as well as he has.  And let’s look ahead at where he could be next year in the top 100 list.

The weakness in McCutchen’s game is defense.  The arm scares few teams and, at times last season, teams took advantage of the Bucs center fielder. Another weakness that McCutchen couldn’t control is the lack of protection the Pirates put around Cutch in the Pirates lineup.  As McCutchen blossomed into a superstar, the team didn’t exactly put the best hitters around him. The Pirates were a young team and it’s mind blowing to consider just how much Cutch might have produced in a more talented lineup the past few years.

But as the Pirates offense caught fire last season, it wasn’t a challenge.  After Pedro Alvarez failed in the four spot, Neil Walker seemed to settle into the cleanup spot and had a breakout season.

McCutchen also was a target for the opposition.  The Bucco superstar got hit by pitches a few too many times in 2014. When the Pirates needed Cutch the most, he got his ribs busted up.  The 27 year old McCutchen’s rib was fractured on August 3rd. The image was not something any Pirates fan was happy to see.

Andrew McCutchen fractured his rib and is helped to the clubhouse by Pedro Alvarez.

When Cutch went out of the Bucs lineup he was actually ahead of the torrid pace he set in 2013 during his banner Most Valuable Player season. Cutch was hitting .311, but a .411 on-base, 17 bombs, and .536 slugging percentage were especially telling of the impact the NL MVP had on the Pirates offense as his 5.8 WAR and 68 walks were tops in the National League.

Most felt that the Face-of-the-Pirates would miss three to four weeks and it would be very unlikely that Cutch could possibly return anywhere close to the level of play when he was injured.  In an instant as fast as McCutchen’s lightning quick swing, the Pirates toss-up chance of a postseason berth seemed gone.

Sep 25, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) hits a two run single in the eighth inning of their game against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

However, the Pirates team responded by picking up their fallen leader.  The player who stood center stage was Starling Marte.  Marte thrived especially while playing center field for McCutchen.

Everyone knows Cutch can fly, but he returned faster than perhaps anyone expected.  I wondered if he could possibly have an impact.

Aug 3, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) hits an RBI sacrifice fly in the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

But what a return it was.  In 155 plate appearances, McCutchen had six doubles, a trip, trip, triple, eight homers and hit .323 with a .406 on-base percentage to go with the gaudy .564 slugging and 174 wRC+.

McCutchen was back.  And his team was back in the postseason, just missing the National League Central Division title.  Cutch battled for the NL batting title with Josh Harrison and Justin Morneau. while leading Major League Baseball in OBP, finishing third in OPS and tied for sixth in WAR at 6.5.

Despite missing time due to an injury that one would think would crush a slugger, McCutchen proved otherwise.  The 2013 MVP put together another outstanding season and trailed only Mike Trout in wRC+, and Miguel Cabrera in wOBA,

For the first and last time, we underestimated Andrew McCutchen.

Sep 25, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) celebrates his catch in the dugout after the fifth inning of their game against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Keeping McCutchen healthy is obviously a major focus for the Pirates in 2015.  The lineup is more experienced.  The team has more depth. Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco will play better defense in the vast PNC Park outfield.  Neil Walker needs to keep hitting in order to get the payday he desires.  The leadoff and two hole hitters for the Pirates are crucial in order for the Bucs to achieve their goal of winning the NL Central.

But one thing is certain, McCutchen’s teammates are reaching their peak performing years.  It’s an exciting season with high expectations.  The Pirates lineup will be the best Pirates fans have seen in quite some time.

There is no fixing McCutchen’s arm, but if one squints hard enough, it’s at least conceivable to think the Pirates outfield defense will be very good. The amount of ground that needs covered is vast, but Cutch has talent on both sides to assist.  The Pirates also now have the talent to give their franchise player an occasional rest.  Finally, the hitters before and after McCutchen in the lineup should not be a season long juggling act for Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle.

Add it all up and it’s not beyond the realm of projectability to see McCutchen jump into the top three on the list next season.  With some protection, rest, and a maturing lineup, McCutchen could be even higher on next years list especially should the team stay healthy and mature like Clint Hurdle thinks it will.

The MLB Network Top 100 Players Right Now!,
1. Clayton Kershaw, P, Los Angeles Dodgers

2. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

3. Felix Hernandez, P, Seattle Mariners

4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins

5. Chris Sale, P, Chicago White Sox

6. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates

7. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers

8. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants

9. Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox

10. Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners

11. Max Scherzer, P, Washington Nationals

12. Jose Bautista, RF, Toronto Blue Jays

13. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

14. Adam Wainwright, P, St. Louis Cardinals

15. Corey Kluber, P, Cleveland Indians

16. Johnny Cueto, P, Cincinnati Reds

17. Troy Tulowitzki SS, Colorado Rockies

18. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays

19. Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals

20. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers