Is Andrew McCutchen Back?

Jul 10, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) circles the bases on a solo home run against the Chicago Cubs during the third inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 10, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) circles the bases on a solo home run against the Chicago Cubs during the third inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2016 season has been a struggle for Andrew McCutchen. However, in recent weeks he has been showing signs of life. Is the baddest dude in the league back?

Ever since being promoted to the Major Leagues in June of 2009, very few players in Major League Baseball have been as good as Andrew McCutchen. However, the 2016 season has not been a good one for Andrew McCutchen. Even though no one could have foreseen this happening prior to the season starting, Andrew McCutchen has been the Pittsburgh Pirates’ worst everyday player in 2016.

Despite struggling through the first three and a half months of the 2016 season there is reason for optimism surrounding Andrew McCutchen. For about a month now McCutchen has looked more comfortable at the plate and has been putting better swings on the ball. And in recent weeks, the results have started to match this better approach.

A quick glance at Andrew McCutchen’s stats this season is both painful and unbelievable. The reason it is unbelievable is because no one could have ever fathomed Andrew McCutchen having a season this poor. Entering the All-Star Break Andrew McCutchen is a below league average hitter.

373 plate appearances into his 2016 campaign Andrew McCutchen owns a .247/.319/.426/.745 slash line. All of these numbers are career lows for McCutchen. Furthermore, his .317 wOBA and 99 wRC+ are both career lows and below league average. His 0.7 WAR is also a career worst.

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All of this is a far cry from the player Andrew McCutchen was during the first seven years of his Major League career. Entering the season Andrew McCutchen had a career slash line of .298/.388/.496/.884, to go along with a .382 wOBA and a wRC+ of 144. Also, his WAR of 40.3 since being promoted in June of 2009 was second highest in all of Major League Baseball behind just Miguel Cabrera. McCutchen is also in the top five in the National League in hits, doubles, and total bases since his Major League debut.

This season is the first time since 2010 that Andrew McCutchen was not a National League All-Star. Also, barring maybe the greatest second half in Major League history, McCutchen’s streak of four consecutive seasons as a finalist for league MVP will also end this season. This will also be the first time since 2011 that Andrew McCutchen fails to take home the Silver Slugger Award for National League centerfielders.

The fact Andrew McCutchen was one of the five best players in all of Major League Baseball the past seven seasons just adds to the frustration surrounding his 2016 season. Especially since a lot of McCutchen’s problems stem from swinging and missing too often, hence his career high 24.7 percent strikeout rate this season. The way Andrew McCutchen was struggling this season led a lot of people to wonder if he was starting to decline as a player.

Personally, I never once had this concern with McCutchen. First off, he is not even 30 years old yet and players typically do not begin to decline until after their age 30 season. Secondly, McCutchen has never had any major injuries in his career that could risk causing an early decline. Finally, Andrew McCutchen is simply too talented to not bounce back from his struggles.

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The past two and a half weeks Andrew McCutchen has finally shown signs of breaking out of his season long slump. Yes this has only been over a stretch of 65 plate appearances which is a small sample size. But, it is really the first time all season Andrew McCutchen has shown flashes of being himself.

Since June 24th Andrew McCutchen is slashing .288/.338/.542/.780 with a .360 wOBA and a wRC+ of 128. While these numbers are not as strong as his career norms, they are still the numbers of an above league average hitter. McCutchen’s power stroke has also began to return during this stretch as he has four home runs and three doubles.

Andrew McCutchen has also been hitting a lot of loud outs during this stretch. Cutch has done a better job of staying back on the ball, putting a good swing on the ball, and making solid contact in recent weeks. Finally, there are signs that he is breaking out of his season long slump. Most encouraging is that in recent weeks McCutchen’s contact rate is up and his strike out rate is down.

All season long the Pirates have had one of the most productive lineups in the National League, and that is with Andrew McCutchen struggling. If Andrew McCutchen can start to hit again then an already potent Pirate lineup becomes an even bigger force. Especially with the emergence of players such as Gregory Polanco, and the rebirths of David Freese and Matt Joyce.

The Pittsburgh Pirates enter the All-Star Break one and a half games behind the Miami Marlins and New York Mets for the National League’s final Wild Card spot. The Pirates competing in the postseason for a fourth consecutive season becomes much more likely if Andrew McCutchen begins to produce at the plate once again. The past 16 games McCutchen has done just that, now it needs to continue when the Pirates get to Washington D.C. on Friday.