Andrew McCutchen: A Decline or Jason Bay Down Year?

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

A lot has been made on Andrew McCutchen’s 2016 season, which has ultimately led to trade rumors.  McCutchen’s down season was  uncommon given his age and previous year. But is it a decline, or similar to a former Pirate outfielder? Let’s analyze Andrew McCutchen and a similar scenario.

Jason Bay won the first Pirates Rookie of the Year award in 2004, his first full season of the Pirates.  Bay was the man in Pittsburgh, going to the All Star game in both 2005 and 2006, with the 2006 Mid Summer Classic occurring in Pittsburgh.  His end finally occurred during the rebuild, in Neal Huntington’s first season at the helm, when he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox in a three-way deal. He was the best player the Bucs had before Andrew McCutchen.

Bay’s Bucco History

What Jason Bay did in his time in Pittsburgh really seems to be forgotten.  In his Pirates career, Jason Bay played in 719 games, having 3038 plate appearances, slashing .281/.375/.515 with a .380 wOBA and a 130 wRC+.  Bay also amassed a fWAR of 14.4.  It was his defense that really limited his worth, having -32 runs saved.  His bat, however, was solid, and masked his defensive shortcomings.

But it is what he did from 2004-2006 that really stands out.  In this three-year period, Bay slashed .292/.389/.547 with a wOBA of .395 (remember this number), and a wRC+ of 140.  Bay’s bat, among the 243 players to have 1000 plate appearances, ranked 16th in wRC+, 17th in wOBA, and his 93 home runs ranked 18th.  While his bat played, his glove did not.  Bay’s -11 runs saved in these three years ranks 109th among 138 outfielders with at least 1000 innings.  Solid offense and way below average defense, sound familiar?

Andrew McCutchens Career

Pittsburgh Pirates
Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Andrew McCutchen has been the face of the Pirates.  He brought the Pirates back to relevancy, with his success brought five straight All-Star appearances from 2011-2015, four straight silver sluggers from 2012-2015, a National League Most Valuable Player in 2013.

For his career, the Pirates center fielder has hit .292/.381/.487 with a .375 wOBA and a 139 wRC+, rather similar numbers in wOBA to Jason Bay’s numbers as a Pirate.  McCutchen’s defense has long been a negative, posting -54 runs saved in his career, and not being even or positive since 2013, when he had 0 runs saved.

McCutchen was on of the best bats in the game over the last five years, but from 2013-2015, Cutch was really special, his best season being in 2014.  In this three-year stretch, McCutchen slashed .308/.405/.512 with a .395 wOBA (see Jason Bay) and 157 wRC+.  His wOBA and wRC+ both ranking sixth.  Once again, like Bay, Cutch’s defense was problematic.  Among the 140 outfielders with 1000 innings, McCutchen ranked 122nd with -16 runs saved.

For comparisons sake, let’s look at Bay and McCutchen’s individual years in the three-year period before the down season:

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Jason Bay year one (2004) posted a .382 wOBA in 472 plate appearances.  Andrew McCutchen year one (2013) posted a .392 wOBA in 674 plate appearances.  Year two, Bay posted a .407 wOBA in 707 plate appearances to McCutchen’s .412 in 648 plate appearances.  The final year of the period, Bay had a .392 wOBA compared to McCutchen’s .380 in 689 and 684 plate appearances respectively.  Over that span of three years, they had the exact same wOBA (0.395) in 1868 plate appearances by Bay and 2007 by McCutchen.

After posting a .395 weighted on-base average for a three-year stretch, both players faced a down year.  In 2007, Jason Bay hit just .247/.327/.418 with a .326 wOBA and 93 wRC+ in 614 plate appearances.  Bay also had his least amount of defensive runs saved, -11, in his Pirates career.  A terrible down season after being so good the previous three.

Andrew McCutchen also faced a down season.  This past season, McCutchen slashed .256/.336/.430 with a .329 wOBA and 106 wRC+.  McCutchen, like Bay, also posted his least amount of runs saved as a Pirates, -28.  Both with the glove and bat, McCutchen was horrendous for most of the season, the last two months of 2016 put him above league average for the season.  But once again, McCutchen and Bay had similar wOBA’s.

Jason Bay followed up his 2007 season with a strong 2008 season, hitting .286/.373/.522 with a .384 wOBA and 133 wRC+ between Pittsburgh and Boston.  Bay was one year younger than McCutchen is now in this bounce back season, but there should still be hope for McCutchen returning to an offensive threat, and even improving defensively if he moves out of center field.

Next: Pirates 2017 Outlook

In Conclusion

In 2017, Steamer projects McCutchen to hit .283/.378/.470 with a .363 wOBA and 129 wRC+.  McCutchen is coming off of knee problems in 2015 and a thumb injury in 2016. However, Jason Bay also faced his injury concerns in his down year of 2007.  Jason Bay was able to rebound the following year after his down year, McCutchen and Bay have similar weighted on-base averages, and the projections show Andrew McCutchen rebounding well in 2017.  So was 2016 just a down year for Andrew McCutchen like Bay in 2007, or is it the culmination of lingering injuries creating a mighty downfall of the Pirates star?

*Numbers from fangraphs