Why Andrew McCutchen could be one of the Pirates' best hitters in 2024

Despite entering his age-37 season, Andrew McCutchen could be one of the Pittsburgh Pirates' best hitters in 2024.
Pittsburgh Pirates v Kansas City Royals
Pittsburgh Pirates v Kansas City Royals / Ed Zurga/GettyImages
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Despite being 37-years-old, Andrew McCutchen could once again be one of the Pittsburgh Pirates best hitters this season

How many 37-year-old position players are the best hitter on their team? There aren’t too many, but Pittsburgh Pirates’ designated hitter Andrew McCutchen could be among the team’s best. Cutch was very solid in his return with the Bucs in 2023, but if he is fully healthy, he could be arguably this team’s best hitter, and maybe one of the better hitters in baseball.

So why do I believe this? McCutchen landed on the injured list for the first time in 2023 because of an elbow injury. He had fallen awkwardly on his elbow during a game, which led to a 10-day IL placement. However, through the Pirates’ first 81 games of 2023, he was batting .287/.399/.455 with a .372 wOBA and 133 wRC+. He had a 15.9% walk rate and 19.6% strikeout rate and was hitting for good pop. His ISO clocked in at an above-average .168.

Cutch had silently been one of the better hitters in baseball in the first half of the season. Among the 153 qualified batters, McCutchen ranked 21st in wRC+, 16th in wOBA, and 24th in OPS. He also ranked ninth in OBP and 6th in walk rate. He was arguably a top 20 batter in baseball in his age-36 season, during the first 81 games of the MLB season.

But from July through the rest of the season, it seemed like Cutch had lost his touch. His final 177 plate appearances only saw him bat .205/.341/.301 with a .301 wOBA and 86 wRC+. His power dipped significantly as his ISO clocked in at .096. He still walked a ton as his 15.8% BB% was still among the best, but his strikeout rate had risen to 23.7%. A look under the hood shows that Cutch just wasn’t himself after his elbow injury.

Up through the end of June, McCutchen had an 89.9 MPH exit velocity, 7.9% barrel rate, and 13.1-degree launch angle. That’s comparable to some quality hitters in 2023, like Trea Turner, Kerry Carpenter, and Ian Happ. But after that? Cutch had an 89 MPH exit velocity, a 4.8% barrel rate, and a 10.9-degree launch angle. He struggled to get under the ball as frequently as he did in the first half of the season. That’s more akin to Jose Abreu or Alec Bohm last season.

While Cutch’s Achilles tear from late last season is certainly a concern, I’d be more interested to see if his elbow is back to form. McCutchen was going under the radar in the first half of the season and had some shades of his prime. Elbow troubles in the second half of the year seemed to zap his power stroke. If his elbow is fully operational again, Cutch should be in line for a strong 2024 season, including one that is filled with milestones for the all-time Pirate great.

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