Andrew McCutchen is on his way back to being, as Clint Hurdle once called him, the ‘baddest dude in the league’
At the start of the 2016 season, Andrew McCutchen was viewed as one of the best players in Major League Baseball. He was every bit of a superstar, and, in many ways, was viewed as one of the faces of the game. Especially in the African American community.
Unfortunately for McCutchen and the Pirates, his 2016 season was a struggle. He finished with career lows in walk rate (10.2 percent), on-base percentage (.336), slugging percentage (.430), wOBA (.329), wRC+ (106), and fWAR (0.7). Additionally, his 21.2 percent strikeout rate was a career high while he also rated as the worst defensive outfielder in baseball with -29 defensive runs saved (DRS).
Luckily for fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Andrew McCutchen is on his way back to being the old Cutch we all knew and loved.
Through his first 86 plate appearances of the 2017 season, McCutchen’s wOBA and wRC+ both match his output from last season. However, his walk rate, ISO, and slugging percentage are all up. This is in addition to his strikeout rate being down, and his fWAR of 0.5 already nearly matching last season’s total.
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Andrew McCutchen scuffled through the team’s first five games of the season, but since April 10th he has looked a lot like his old self. During this stretch he owns a .359 on-base percentage, .250 ISO, a slugging percentage of .536, a .379 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 139.
A big reason for McCutchen’s recent success is that he has been pulling the ball more. He currently owns a 46.7 percent pull rate which is the second highest of his career next to 2013. No matter what anyone wants to say or believe, McCutchen is a much better pull hitter than he is going the other way.
Andrew McCutchen has also been making more contact in 2017. His contact rate this season is 80.0 percent, which is up from 76.8 percent last season. His 9.0 percent swinging strike rate is also at its lowest since it was at 8.9 percent in 2013.
Furthermore, he has also been swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone. McCutchen’s o-swing percentage, which measures how often a hitter swings a pitch that is out of the strike zone, is 21.5 percent. This is the lowest it has been since 2010 and a monumental improvement over his 25.4 percent o-swing percentage last season.
The formula that has led to Andrew McCutchen’s success at the plate this season is a simple one. He is swinging at fewer balls, swinging and missing less often, and making more solid contact. All of which are things that are very sustainable.
With his formula being something that’s so sustainable it should lead to McCutchen returning to his superstar status. There is no reason that his offensive success can not continue throughout the 2017 season.
This season, Andrew McCutchen has also seen a resurgence in his defensive play in the outfield.
Prior to the season, it was announced that manager Clint Hurdle and the Pirates planned to move McCutchen from right field to center field. Cutch handled right field well posting a +1 DRS during his time in right.
However, with the suspension of Starling Marte he has been moved back to center field. And while he still has not been great in center field, -2 DRS, he certainly has been better than the -29 DRS player he was a year ago. His 50.7 UZR/150 in center field is a massive improvement over his UZR/150 of -23.2 last season.
Andrew McCutchen certainly seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder this season. It has led to an improvement both at the plate and in the field. If this continues, then the Pirates’ superstar has the ability to help his team return to being contenders in 2017.
*- All stats via FanGraphs