Key Stats: On a June night in 2009 I was in a hotel room the night before my sisters wedding hanging out with family and friends. My cousin, who grew up and has lived in Pittsburgh nearly all his life was pumped not only for the wedding, but because his Penguins were in the Stanley Cup Finals. After the game, and celebration of winning the Cup, I asked him about the Pirates, and this kid McCutchen they had just called up. “What do you think?” I said. Have you seen him play?” “Dude is gonna be a star.” he told me. ‘Cutch finished that rookie year batting .286 over 108 games. He hit 12 HR’s and stole 22 bases. He scored 74 runs on an inept Pirates team and things have just kept getting better. He repeated his .286 average over a full 2010 campaign, and scored nearly 100 runs. 2011 saw his first 20/20 season. This year, Eno Sarris says he can flirt with 30/30.
Skeptics Say: While the power that people projected for McCutchen came this past year, his average dropped by 27 points. His strikeouts increased by 5%. He was switched from lead off to batting 3rd, then back to lead off and back to 3rd. He swapped his ground ball and fly ball rates from his first two seasons with 2011, which isn’t surprising given the increase we saw in HR’s, but hitting those extra fly balls lead to a BABIP below .300 which isn’t good for someone with his speed. If he hadn’t also increased his line drive rate last year as well that .259 batting average from last year could have been a lot uglier. The question going forward is will his power continue to develop where if he continues to hit the fly balls they leave the park on a more frequent basis, increasing the BABIP and AVG, or has he reached his ceiling? Read below…
Peer Comparison: David Schoenfield from the SweetSpot blog on ESPN.com put together an excellent article on McCutchen, comparing him to other 23 year old OF’s Rasmus and Bruce. He included a chart detailing the OPS+ of other 23 year old regulars in the majors since 1969. It’s an impressive piece, and worth the read here.
Team Outlook: The Pirates looked to have turned the corner last year then fell apart epically. While they did not make any huge upgrades they did get Casey McGhee in the event the Pedro Alvarez project fails miserably again. While they aren’t a playoff team, they certainly aren’t the pushover they used to be. A healthy Jose Tabata should cement McCutchen in the Pirates No. 3 spot in the lineup
Projection: Despite the low ranking here, you will be hard pressed to pick up McCutchen in drafts past the 2nd round, in fact, if you are in an NL only league, I wouldn’t question you if you grabbed him at the end of the 1st round. He isn’t in his prime yet and has a 20/20 season under his belt along with a career .182 ISO. His OBP has never been below .364. So here we have a power hitting, base stealing, on base machine. Yeah…I’m thinking that average is going to come back up.
.289 AVG, 26 HR, 90 RBI, 82 R, 25 steals .370 OBP and a .830 OPS in 570 AB’s