Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates are in a lose-lose situation right now
As Harvey Dent says in The Dark Knight, “you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Right now, that statement sums up the situation between Andrew McCutchen and the Pittsburgh Pirates pretty well.
Ever since debuting in the Major Leagues in June of 2009 Andrew McCutchen has been the face of the Pirate franchise. He became a perennial All-Star, he was National League MVP in 2013, he enjoyed a five year run as one of the ten best players in baseball, and he helped lead the Pirates back to the postseason for the first time since 1992. No matter what, he will go down as one of the best and most popular Pirates ever.
However, the past two seasons things have begun to change. Andrew McCutchen is currently having the worst season of his Major League career, and this comes on the tails of 2016 being the worst season of his career.
While Andrew McCutchen did struggle in 2016, he finished the season with a strong August and September. This combined with his career results led many people, myself included, to believe that 2016 was an anomaly and that he would bounce back this season. Unfortunately, it is quickly becoming evident that this is not the case.
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Last night Andrew McCutchen did not start for the Pirates against the Braves, but did collect a base hit as a pinch-hitter. So far this season he owns a .274 on-base percentage and an 8.9 ercent walk rate, his slugging percentage is just .360, he has a .277 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 70. All of these numbers are career worsts for McCutchen.
McCutchen’s 31.4 percent hard contact rate is the lowest of his career since his rookie campaign in 2009, his line drive rate of 15.3 percent is a career low, and his 43.8 percent ground ball rate ties a career high. All of these numbers are very concerning.
These struggles come after McCutchen posted a career worst on-base percentage (.336), walk rate (10.2 percent), slugging percentage (.430), wOBA (.329), and wRC+ (106) in 2016. At this point, there appears to be no denying that Andrew McCutchen is a player in steep decline.
Not only is McCutchen regressing offensively, his defense has become abysmal. Last season he had a DRS in center field of -28. This was the worst DRS of any player in all of baseball. He is on pace to have a DRS even worse than that this season.
When Gregory Polanco returns, which should be very soon, the best outfield configuration for the Pittsburgh Pirates will not include Andrew McCutchen. At that point, their best outfield will be Adam Frazier in left field, Gregory Polanco in center field, and John Jaso in right field. Then when Starling Marte returns in July, you put him in center field and slide Polanco over to right field.
Andrew McCutchen is making the Pittsburgh Pirates worse and that is why they are in a no win situation. If McCutchen is going to remain in the lineup, he needs to be dropped much lower than the three spot. And when Gregory Polanco returns he should not be starting, especially against right-handed pitching.
Both of these moves are tough ones for Clint Hurdle and the Pirates to make. No matter how much he struggles Andrew McCutchen remains the face of the franchise and the leader of the clubhouse, which makes taking him out of the lineup a very tough sell to the men in that clubhouse.
No matter how much McCutchen struggles one thing that is certain is that every player in the Pirate clubhouse believes he will snap out of this funk. You can guarantee that removing McCutchen from the starting lineup is one that would not go over well in the clubhouse. In all honesty, it is a move that may risk Clint Hurdle losing the clubhouse. But it is still a move that looks like it may have to be made.
The fact the Pittsburgh Pirates are struggling does not make this situation any easier. The Pirates currently find themselves with a record of 21-26. If the team was winning they could afford to deal with the struggles of McCutchen, but, unfortunately, that is not the case.
While benching Andrew McCutchen does not do him any favors, continuing to trot him out there every day does not either. Watching any player, let alone one that as recently as 2015 was one of the absolute best in all of baseball, routinely strikeout and pull ground balls to the left side of the infield is not easy. It can not possibly be easy on the player, either.
Right now the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves in a no win situation with Andrew McCutchen. The face of the Pirate franchise is regressing and quickly. He has become arguably the worst defensive center fielder in baseball, while also being abysmal at the plate.
The right move is to play Andrew McCutchen less. However, for a variety of reasons, this is not something that would be easy to do. I do not envy Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington right now because this is a very difficult situation for everyone involved.