Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Looking back on Cutch-22's "down" season

In 2009, Andrew McCutchen (otherwise referred to by a loyal following of one person as "Cutch-22") debuted for the Pirates and put forth a triple slash line of .286/.365/.471 (batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage) for an OPS of 836. Within that line were 26 doubles, 9 triples, 12 home runs, 54 runs batted in and 22 steals. That was accomplished in 108 games.

Needless to say, some people had their expectation meters set to "blast off" for McCutchen in 2010. Even as one of his biggest supporters, I was expecting more modest gains as I mentioned in the 2010 Predictions Post. I was merely thinking that he would consolidate his gains in 2010 and increase his numbers proportionally over a full season.

There is a somewhat significantly-sized undercurrent out there that 2010 was a disappointing season from Andrew McCutchen. Here is his final line over 154 games:
.286/.365/.449 (814 OPS)

Look familiar? It should, as it's the same batting average and on-base percentage as 2009, with only a slightly lower slugging percentage. In fact if you extrapolate his 2009 numbers to 154 games, here's what they would be...
26 2B's turns into 37 doubles (he had 35 in 2010)
9 3B's turns into 13 triples (he had 5 in 2010)
12 HR's turns into 17 homers (he had 16 in 2010)
22 SB's turns into 31 steals (he had 33 in 2010)

So as you can pretty easily see, the drop in slugging percentage in due in large part to his lesser amount of triples in 2010 versus 2009. I always have considered triples to be as much a measure of luck as skill, as most are the result of a misplayed ball, a bad route, or a weird bounce.

Some of the perception that Cutch-22 had a down year may be due to the fact that he suffered through two rough months in July and August. In July, he hit .254/.303/.358 (661 OPS) and in August he hit .226/.317/.415 (732 OPS). In truth, he needed a red hot September of .324/.411/.519 (930 OPS) to achieve the numbers that he did.

So what happened in the summer time? Was it due to a bad lunch meeting that he had?

In July, McCutchen sprained the AC joint of his shoulder blade while diving for a catch. Naturally, he said that he was fine after taking a few games off, but it was evident that he was playing hurt. To add injury to more injury, on August 3rd as he was just getting back on track, Mike Leake tattooed the back of his neck with a wild pitch. Those two occurences took a toll on Cutch-22 that he did not recover from until his scorching September.

If McCutchen were not hurt, which granted is a big qualifier for any player in any year, it is well within reason that he would have had a 20 HR/40 SB season. Do you know how many players in MLB had that kind of year in 2010?


BJ Upton (18 HR/42 SB) and Carl Crawford (19 HR/47 SB) came the closest. And keep in mind that Carl Crawford is who McCutchen is starting to draw the closest comparisons to around the league. The last Pirate to have a 20 HR/40 SB season was one Barry Lamar Bonds, so that should put a finer point on how difficult it truly is to do.

Here's something else to consider. Around the league in 2010, the average numbers for a leadoff hitter (where he will probably be in 2011 most of the time) were .264/.329/.382 (711 OPS). McCutchen was well above the norm in all of these categories. For all CF's, the average numbers were .261/.326/.405 (731 OPS). Again, Cutch-22 was well above the average for all of these categories.

I feel fairly comfortable that we have now established Cutch-22's baseline season in 2010. I only expect better things in 2011, especially since more pieces have been added around him in the lineup. He doesn't have to feel pressured to win every game on his own. Walker, Tabata, and Alvarez all did that themselves this year, too.

When the high school outfielder draft class of 2005 was working their way through the minors, chats on Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus would always ask the moderator to rank the long-term futures of Justin Upton, Cameron Maybin, Jay Bruce, Colby Rasmus, and Andrew McCutchen. Pretty much every time, the list would look like: Upton, Bruce, Maybin, McCutchen, Rasmus (sometimes Rasmus and McCutchen would flip flop positions). I always contended that McCutchen would be the steady and consistent player, while the others (due to their higher K rates) would have higher peaks but lower lows, too. At this point, especially after Upton's down year, I would not feel uncomfortable ranking them Upton, McCutchen, Rasmus, Bruce, and Maybin maybe being a bust.

The one facet of his game that I would like McCutchen to improve in is his defense. He has been poorly rated by Ultimate Zone Rating statistically and his rainbows throws and shaky routes don't pass my eye test. I think a good offseason with a coach can remedy most of those problems.

Andrew McCutchen is without a doubt the top reason for me to look forward to April 2011 and the start of a new Pirates season. I am a complete masochist.

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