Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen's Hall of Fame Case

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Andrew McCutchen is one of the best players in Pirate history, but is he a future Hall of Famer?

Andrew McCutchen is one of the most popular players in the Pittsburgh Pirates history. He's also one of the best in franchise history. It's Hall of Fame season, and given that McCutchen has had a highly successful career, could he eventually make the Hall of Fame?

McCutchen is a career .277/.369/.469 batter. The former MVP outfielder has a .838 OPS and .362 wOBA. After adjusting for park factors and the offensive environment, that comes out to a 129 OPS+ and wRC+. As a defensive outfielder, McCutchen started off his career as an average to a slightly above-average glove. But he has -66 Defensive Runs Saved and -38 Outs Above Average. He clocks in with -8.0 defensive WAR. Granted, of those -66 DRS, 41 have come since 2016.

In terms of counting stats and accolades, Cutch has 1948 hits and 287 home runs. McCutchen passed the 200 stolen base milestone this past season and currently has 205. Cutch went to five straight Al-Star Games from 2011 through 2015, winning a Gold Glove Award and four Silver Slugger Awards in the process. He has racked up a career mark of +47 bWAR and +50.8 fWAR.

According to Baseball Reference, the batter McCutchen is most similar to is Fred Lynn. Lynn is arguably a borderline Hall of Famer. Throughout his career, he batted .283/.360/.484 with a 129 OPS+. That's a very similar triple-slash and identical OPS+ to what McCutchen has now. Through their age-35 season, McCutchen compares the most favorably to Reggie Smith, another guy you could make a Hall Of Fame argument for. Smith batted .287/.366/.489 with a 137 OPS+, again very similar numbers to Cutch. A few other borderline Hall of Fame players that Baseball Reference compares McCutchen to are Luis Gonzalez, Dwight Evans, and Torii Hunter. Baseball Reference compares Cutch to one Hall of Fame player, and that's longtime Cincinnati Reds' corner infielder Tony Perez.

However, between Lynn, Smith, Hunter, Evans, and Gonzalez, only Luis had an above-average chance of making the Hall of Fame, per Bill James' Hall of Fame monitor. Even then, the sabermetrician's form of measurement only had the long-time Arizona Diamondback at 103, meaning he only had a 3% better-than-average chance of eventually making the Hall. (Note that does not mean he only had a 3% chance of making the HOF, but a 3% better than average chance).

One thing that voters should take into account is the character clause. You almost always see the character clause being used as a reason to keep a guy out of the Hall of Fame, but you never see it used as a reason to get a borderline guy in. McCutchen has never had on or off-field issues or drama. He's known as a pillar of the community and a great teammate and clubhouse leader for every team he has played for. 

He might need to clear a few statistical benchmarks before getting serious consideration, but he's on pace to reach these. The first is to at least reach the 50 bWAR mark. 15 of the 28 center fielders who have 50+ bWAR are in the Hall. But one is Mike Trout, who will make the Hall after he retires. Another is Carlos Beltran, who has a fair shot of making it this year, a third one is Andruw Jones, who's seen his ballot support dramatically increase over the last few years, and one more worth mentioning is Kenny Lofton, who might be the best player not in the Hall of Fame for non-controversial/scandalous reasons. He could very well get in if he is included on a Veteran's Committee ballot in the future. Cutch is currently at +47, so it's very much within reach. 60 WAR is where you typically see guys make the Hall with a good candidacy, but 50 will get his foot in the door.

The next plateau Cutch needs to reach is 2000 hits. But he is already at 1948. He only needs 52, and so long as he is healthy in 2023, he will undoubtedly reach that mark. A third benchmark that could significantly help his candidacy is to reach 300 home runs. There have only been 17 primary center fielders who have hit 300+ dingers. McCutchen is only 13 away. Given that he's never hit fewer than a dozen in seasons where he has played 100+ games, this is a very attainable benchmark next season. Once he reaches 300 dingers, he'll be one of six CFs to have 300+ home runs and 200+ stolen bases.

But McCutchen could definitely fall into the Hall of very good category of players. In terms of JAWS, a WAR system that is based on a player's seven best WAR totals and their career WAR, the only post-1950 Hall of Fame center fielder McCutchen compares to is Kirby Puckett. Cutch is at +42.7, while Puckett is at +44.4. But Puckett's Hall Of Fame nomination was much more unique given his late-career injury where he lost sight in one eye. In terms of WAR7 (the total of the player's seven best single-season WAR totals), McCutchen is at +38.4. Again, Puckett is the closest at +37.7, but Andre Dawson is a relatively close comparison at +42.7. 

Andre Dawson could end up being the best-case scenario for McCutchen. Like Cutch, Dawson had an outstanding prime of his career. But while he wasn't terrible at the end of his career, he certainly wasn't great either. From his age-35 campaign through the end of his career, Dawson was a .276/.315/.471 batter. He was only slightly above average, registering a 109 OPS+ and 107 wRC+. He also had a sub-100 OPS+ and wRC+ through his final four seasons of his major league career.

A more likely scenario would be something like Bernie Williams. McCutchen already has the advantage over Williams in home runs and stolen bases. While Williams has the advantage in total hits, he only had 2336 throughout his career, a number that isn't out of the reach of McCutchen. But Williams had a 125 OPS+, a mark that Cutch could very well end his career on. Williams had +49.6 career bWAR, and like Cutch, defensive metrics did not like Williams' mid-to-late career defense. Williams also only played 16 seasons and into his age-37 campaign. He could surpass the five-time Yankee all-star in terms of games played and total plate appearances. Cutch will be entering his 15th season and age-36 campaign. But the catch is Williams had a 34% better than average chance of making the Hall.

It's also worth analyzing who else could potentially be on the ballot when Cutch is up for election. Among position players who are between the ages of 34 and 36 who played last season, third basemen Josh Donaldson and Evan Longoria come to mind as guys who could make a serious push. But like Cutch, you could also make a strong case for them to be borderline HOF players instead. The biggest vote-getter who could be on the ballot when McCutchen is up is Clayton Kershaw. While he is a year younger than the former Pirate, he also debuted a year earlier. Kershaw also hasn't ruled out an earlier retirement either. He is pretty much guaranteed a first-round ballot into the Hall, even if he retired tomorrow. Yu Darvish and Corey Kluber will also make compelling cases, though given one was a late-bloomer and the other pitched the first seven pro seasons in Japan, they might fall short.

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It's going to come down to how McCutchen ages through the final years of his Major League career. He hasn't posted an OPS over .800 or wRC+ above 110 since 2019. 2022 was also the first year of his professional career he registered a sub-100 wRC+. But if he can manage to be at least league average over the next few seasons and hit some milestones and benchmarks before retiring, McCutchen might just sneak into the Hall of Fame.