Cutch Serves in the Two Hole


The game of baseball has shifted with respect to new ways of analyzing specific hitting statistics. In some ways, managers are finding new ways of implementing lineups to maximize run production. Obviously, the goal in baseball is to do just that, but it was not until the primal “Moneyball” days where bargain spending became a new “norm”, and finding players who can create runs with contact, speed, and by playing baseball in a smart manner may trump finding a player who can slug 30-40 home runs per season.
As technology and analytics develop, we are seeing creative and innovative ways of maximizing run production from managers. As an example, when Joe Maddon managed the Tampa Bay Rays and would play in a National League hosted game, he would sometimes bat his pitcher in the eight-hole to create the effect of a second leadoff hitter hitting ninth. We know Maddon as one of the wizard-esque managers who has been burned by or has greatly benefited by these changes, but what about Clint Hurdle?
Hurdle refers to his star player, Andrew McCutchen, as the “baddest guy in the league”, but the 2013 NL MVP has never hit 100 RBIs in a season. McCutchen has not hit outside of the third or fourth spot in the lineup since 2011, and even though he is scoring 100 runs per 162 games, he is only driving 87 runs in per 162 games, and Hurdle is embracing that, along with his career .298 average and 24 stolen bases per season. With all of this said, Hurdle has made the call in Spring Training to move Cutch into the two hole to get him accustomed to that spot, and it has paid off thus far. Cutch has hit .273/.333/1.015 with 3 HR in 22 Spring Training at-bats.
What could this mean for the Pirates, with the departure of Pedro Alvarez and with Michael Morse and John Jaso platooning at first base? It would simply mean more opportunities for the likes of Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, and Francisco Cervelli, along with Morse/Jaso, have more opportunities to drive runs in. Marte would be a prime candidate to hit behind Cutch in this order, given his career 5.4 runs created per game, 118 career OPS+, and his .353 career BABIP. Marte doesn’t hit a ridiculous amount of home runs, but his gap power and speed (39 steals per 162 games) behind Cutch could prove lethal for opposing pitching.
Moving Cutch into the two hole should provide even more flexibility for Clint Hurdle, but that would leave the likes of Marte and Cervelli, among others, to driving in Cutch and whoever may hit leadoff. Is it a risky play? I don’t like to think so, but the concept of Cutch not getting RBI chances in the middle of the order needs to change so he can be driven in by someone who won’t create as many runs as him anyway. In 2015, Cutch had the second-most at-bats with two outs and no runners on base. There were missed opportunities for the “baddest guy in the league” to prove that claim made by Hurdle. With Cutch in the two-hole, Pittsburgh is enabling themselves to get Cutch on the basepaths and to allow someone who can hit for gap power, such as Marte or Cervelli, to earn those RBI opportunities that Cutch rarely, if ever, had in the first place.
Corey Crisan is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Rum Bunter on the FanSided family of networks. Follow him on twitter @cdcrisan.