Andrew McCutchen's severely unlucky start to the season

Pittsburgh Pirates' veteran DH Andrew McCutchen should be hitting a lot better than he has and his underlying numbers prove this.
Apr 20, 2024; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates pinch hitter Andrew McCutchen (22)
Apr 20, 2024; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pinch hitter Andrew McCutchen (22) / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates brought Andrew McCutchen back for another season this year. He was solid in his return to Pittsburgh, providing the Pirates with a .776 OPS, .345 wOBA, and 115 wRC+ through 473 plate appearances, but McCutchen isn't off to a great start to 2024.

McCutchen is hitting a meager .187/.298/.327. While he's still walking at a strong 12.1% rate, his strikeout rate has jumped to 29.1%. His power hasn't been as good as expected, and he has a .141 ISO. Overall, he clocks in with a .288 wOBA and 83 wRC+.

Too many times, I've seen people call McCutchen washed. Has he gotten off to a good start? No, and I'm not expecting him to return to his 2013 MVP form. But Cutch should be hitting much better than he has, and you expect him to eventually start producing more with the bat once the weather starts heating up. He's been one of the unluckiest batters on the Pirates (aside from Edward Olivares).

So here's what the underlying numbers say about his performance so far. Cutch has a .355 xwOBA and .485 xSLG%. Both are above the 75th percentile. He has the second-largest negative gap between his xSLG% and SLG% and the 10th-largest negative gap between his xwOBA and wOBA. Even though his expected batting average is low at just .233, it's still a lot better than what he currently has and is the 35th largest difference. His xwOBACON (expected weighted on-base average on contact) sits at .452, the highest he's posted since his 2015 season and not by a lot, a year in which he finished 5th in NL MVP voting. That's the 29th highest in baseball. He's only one of 31 batters above .450. Meanwhile, his wOBACON is .335.

Cutch is getting older, but the raw power is still there. He has a 46.5% hard-hit rate, which is in the 76th percentile of batters this year. His 18.5% barrel rate puts him on pace for the best of his career by a very wide margin of nearly double. Only five other batters have a higher barrel rate than Cutch: Shohei Ohtani, Cal Raleigh, Tyler O'Neill, Riley Greene, and Shea Langliers. All have a wRC+ greater than 115. Juan Soto, Marcell Ozuna, and Aaron Judge are the three players who follow Cutch on the barrel rate leaderboard.

The only thing McCutchen has gotten noticeably worse at is swinging and missing. His whiff rate went from 27.4%, which was already below average, to 30.3%. But he's still offsetting it with an elite 15.8% chase rate, which has improved significantly from last year at 18.7%, and the second lowest in baseball behind Minnesota Twins infielder Edouard Julien and slightly better than Juan Soto.

Eventually, the gap between these numbers will close for McCutchen and benefit the Pirates. 

He's not going to be an MVP hitter, but I also don't see why you can't expect him to eventually start hitting better than he has. I still think he can be a solid power hitter who hits around .230-.240 with a lot of walks. He might be more of a three-true-outcomes now than he's ever been, but he's still someone who should be hitting for a decent amount of power with a lot of walks.