ANDREW McCUTCHEN, CENTER FIELDER
|Born: October 10, 1986
Height: 5′ 11″
Drafted: 1st Round, 11th Overall, 2005
How Acquired: Draft
High School: Fort Meade (Fort Meade, FL)
Agent: Steve Hammond
WTM’S PLAYER PROFILE
|McCutchen was considered one of the strongest tools players in the 2005 draft. He combined great speed and the potential of becoming an outstanding defensive centerfielder with good bat speed and very good pitch recognition. When he was drafted, the two main reservations were his ability to hit for power and the fact that he faced weak competition in HS. Right from the start as a pro, he showed good pitch recognition and at times he showed surprising power for a smaller guy. He’s had a strong platoon split in his major league career, posting an OPS of .973 against LHPs and .837 against RHPs. He also tends to have long hot and cold spells, sometimes lasting a month or two. His defense in center was controversial, at least through 2015, but he appeared to establish himself as a very good defensive player in 2011. He doesn’t have a strong arm, but his throws are accurate enough that he’s had good assist totals in most seasons and he doesn’t make mistakes like overthrowing cutoff men and the like. Until 2016, he was a decent but not outstanding base stealer.
Went to the GCL after signing and did well. He spent the last two weeks in the New York-Penn League and hit .346. At both stops he walked more than he struck out.
Had a good season in low A, answering some of the questions about his power by hitting 14 HRs. He had a very streaky season, batting .344 in April, eventually slumping to .202 in June, then rebounding to .331 in July and August. McCutchen acknowledged that he tended to get impatient when he wasn’t getting good pitches to hit. The Pirates moved him all the way up to AA for the last three weeks and he hit even better there, with three more HRs to give him 17 on the year.
McCutchen spent the season at Altoona and struggled most of the year until coming around in August. He had a lot of trouble laying off sliders away. Mainly due to that one issue, his career minor league OPS is over 200 points lower against RHPs than against LHPs. Despite his struggles, the Pirates moved him up to AAA for 17 games at the end of the year and he hit better there.
In AAA, McCutchen had a better season, although his power tended to come in bursts and then disappear for long periods. He hit five HRs in April and then only four more afterward.
Had a strong spring in 2009, but the Pirates made it clear from the start he was headed back to AAA for at least a little while. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that they wanted to make sure he doesn’t qualify as a “super-two” while also putting off free agency by a year. He got off to a good start, posting an .853 OPS through 49 games and showing more power than before, although his platoon split was bigger than ever. When the Pirates traded Nate McLouth to Atlanta at the beginning of June, they called McCutchen up and he immediately became the team’s best player and its most exciting since Barry Bonds. He hit for more power than expected and showed good plate discipline from the start. He showed a flair for the dramatic, with several key, late-inning hits, including a walkoff HR and another walkoff hit, in the team’s infrequent wins. He also had a three-HR game.
Had a mildly disappointing season. Early on, he appeared to be stepping up to another level. In mid-May, his OPS got as high as .926, but he slumped to .661 in July and .732 in August. It’s hard not to wonder whether McCutchen had trouble maintaining his focus while playing for a 105-loss team that often embarrassed itself on the field. Another possibility is that he wasn’t healthy, as he missed about a week and a half in July with a sore shoulder after getting hit with a pitch. In fact, over the past two years McCutchen has occasionally been thrown at and the Pirates haven’t done much to retaliate. Oddly, McCutchen went long periods in which he didn’t run much. For instance, he stole ten bases in 12 tries in his first 23 games, but attempted only four steals in the next 28. McCutchen’s defense began to stir controversy. He was generally assumed by most observers to be a good defensive player due to his speed, but the defensive stats don’t bear that out. After two years, UZR and +/- showed him to be well below average.
McCutchen emerged as a middle-of-the-order hitter, batting third most of the year and hitting 23 HRs. He again had long streaks, mainly in the form of struggling through much of the second half. He batted 291/390/505 through his first 88 games and 216/330/392 in his last 70. He had career highs in walks and Ks. He got pitched differently, as pitchers threw him fewer strikes and fewer fastballs. He expanded the strike zone at times, swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone in the past (this data is available at fangraphs.com), but still finished fifth in the NL in walks. Some of this may have resulted from pitchers being more cautious of his increased power, and some of it may have resulted from McCutchen being stuck in a terrible lineup. On the bases, he didn’t run as much or as effectively as before. All of the defensive metrics showed him as being one of the better defensive center fielders, hopefully putting that issue to rest. Some of it may have been experience, some may have been better positioning, as the Pirates employed a lot of controversial outfield positioning in 2010.
McCutchen had a breakout season, establishing himself as one of the best players in the game. He started off slowly from a power standpoint, not hitting his first HR until May 8. At that point he got blistering hot, posting an OPS well over 1.000 each month from May through July. He was especially hot in the last of those three months, when he hit 446/510/739. As in 2011, though, he slumped late in the year, posting an OPS of .693 in August before rebounding to .861 in September. His slump seemed to date from an August 3 game in which Reds closer Aroldis Chapman very obviously beaned McCutchen on purpose. It was at least the second time in McCutchen’s career in which a team intentionally threw at his head, the other one being the Dodgers, and both times the Pirates failed to retaliate. On the season, McCutchen destroyed LHPs, batting 392/464/677. He hit 309/381/518 against RHPs. He didn’t suffer from PNC, as he had almost no home/road split and hit 15 of his 31 HRs at home. Of his HRs at PNC, five went to right or right-center and four to center, showing he has power to all fields. The defensive metrics suggested McCutchen slipped back to below average (UZR) or just about average (+/-), so that debate isn’t over. He did, however, win a Gold Glove. As is often the case with that award, it says more about his hitting than anything else. His base stealing efficiency obviously left a lot to be desired.
McCutchen posted a big season, winning the NL MVP award. He seemed to tone down his approach a little, resulting in fewer HRs, but career highs in doubles and OBP, and a much lower K rate. He continued his career trend in splits, blasting LHPs for a 1.130 OPS, compared to .864 against RHPs. He hit better at PNC than on the road, .963 to .859. In contrast to prior years, he started slowly, with a .731 OPS in April, but got blazing hot in the second half, with OPS totals of .994, 1.019 and .994 in the season’s final three months. His defensive stats, always a source of controversy, were very good according to both UZR and +/-, and he recorded eleven assists.
McCutchen had another MVP-level season, leading the majors in OBP and the NL in OPS and OPS+ (168). He had an OPS over .900 every month but May, when he had no HRs but still had an OPS of .815. In the early season, with many of the Pirates’ hitters struggling, opponents pitched around McCutchen, walking him 42 times in his first 54 games. He got more pitches to hit over the last four months, with more hitters producing throughout the rest of the lineup. For once he had a reverse platoon split, with a .962 OPS against RHPs and .912 against LHPs. His every-other-year pattern with defensive stats continued, as the metrics showed him to be well below average. He took a hit for his arm, as he had only one assist.
McCutchen went on the disabled list for the first time in August with a rib fracture. He ended up missing just the minimum 15 days and came back well from the injury. The injury occurred the day after an incident in which MLB’s worst team, the Diamondbacks, and their detestable now-former manager Kirk Gibson intentionally tried to injure McCutchen in retaliation for Ernesto Frieri accidentally breaking Paul Goldschmidt’s finger with a pitch. McCutchen was hit in the back, but it wasn’t clear whether it caused or contributed to his injury the next day. The beaning was one of a number of instances over the last several years in which teams have thrown at McCutchen.
McCutchen started the season in probably the worst slump of his career. Through May 6 he was hitting just 188/279/292. He also was noticeably bothered by his knee, which led to concern that he wasn’t healthy. The next day, though, he got hot and posted an OPS well above .900 for four straight months. He finished the season with a 12-for-57 (.211) stretch, though, leaving his final numbers a little short of what they’d been the previous three years. One factor may have been that teams stopped pitching to him; in one four-game stretch in September, he drew a dozen walks. In the season’s final month he drew 27, which was seven more than in any other month. He missed a chance at his first 100-RBI season, finishing with 96, when he had only one RBI in his last 14 games. He had a milder platoon split than usual, posting a .918 OPS against LHPs and .881 against RHPs. There was no dispute that his knee wasn’t fully healthy. He attempted the fewest steals of his career and the Pirates stated early in the season that they’d told him not to run out balls that clearly were going to be outs. The defensive metrics remained erratic, with UZR showing him going from well below average to just below, and +/- showing him going from average to well below.
McCutchen struggled through easily his worst season. He got off to a slow but not terrible start, hitting 257/339/455 through the end of May. Like many of his teammates, though, he fell into a deep slump in June and July, batting just 242/318/372 over the two months. The Pirates finally benched him for a three-game series in Atlanta at the beginning of August and, from that point on, he hit 284/381/471, which was only slightly below his career norms. Naturally, there was a lot of speculation about the reasons for the bad year. McCutchen was out briefly early in the year with a thumb injury, but there was never any clear indication that either that problem or any other injury accounted for his struggles. Another explanation was that teams were shifting him more often. The most likely culprits, though, were a lack of patience — he set career highs for swinging at pitches outside the strike zone and pitches generally — a sharp increase in his percentage of softly hit balls, and an infield popup frequency that was 50% higher than his career average. The lack of patience was especially telling, as he had 35 walks and 107 strikeouts through July 31, but 34 walks and 36 strikeouts after that. Along with the hitting problems, McCutchen’s play declined in other areas. His defensive play in center by most measures left him far below average. He also grades out as a below average baserunner according to Fangraphs’ measure of runs added on the bases and his ability to steal bases obviously took a large step backward.
The entire stretch from the end of the 2016 season to the end of the 2017 season was one of extreme ups and downs for McCutchen, and for fans who see him as the face of the franchise. The Pirates spent part of the 2016-17 off-season listening to offers for him, leading to the usual hysteria about the Pirates trying to dump his salary, but there’s little evidence that a deal was ever close. It also became clear that the Pirates had no intention of trading McCutchen unless they got a very good return. They did, however, decide to move him to right field, with Starling Marte moving to center. Shortly into the season, though, Marte was suspended for 80 games for using a PED and McCutchen moved back to center.
The roller coaster didn’t end there. McCutchen struggled through the first two months of the season, batting just 223/301/404 through the end of May. The Pirates even moved him down to sixth in the order and analytical types struggled in vain to find an example of a player of his caliber who’d declined so suddenly and so severely. Then McCutchen made an adjustment to his swing and, in June and July, had two of the best months of his career. From June 1 through August 11, he batted 347/448/620. On August 11, he left a game when he suffered what seemed to be a minor knee injury while stopping at second on a double. He returned on August 13 and, from then through September 3 he hit 181/253/208. From September 4 through the end of the season, McCutchen batted 315/365/562, buoyed by a four-hit, eight-RBI game that included his first career grand slam. The ups and downs were mirrored in McCutchen’s plate discipline: He had 33 walks and 28 strikeouts in June and July, and 40 walks and 88 strikeouts the rest of the season. His platoon split on the season was extreme, as he had a .769 OPS against RHPs and 1.131 against LHPs. A couple of good signs were that his percentage of swinging strikes dropped by 19% and his percentage of infield popups dropped by over a third after spiking in 2016. Defensively, McCutchen remained below average in center, but UZR, at least, showed him to have improved significantly over 2016. His baserunning also improved, according to Fangraphs.
At worst, McCutchen showed in 2017 that he still has the ability to hit at an elite level. In fact, once he made the adjustment he did so consistently except for the one three-week stretch. It’s reasonable to think that that slump resulted from the knee injury. The Pirates exercised McCutchen’s option for 2018, so they have him under contract for one more season. The trade rumors no doubt will continue, but the team made it clear in the 2016-17 off-season that it won’t trade McCutchen without a very large return and his past two seasons have probably left enough doubt that they won’t get a sufficient offer. Assuming he’s back in 2018, GM Neal Huntington has said he’ll stay in center.
|2018: $14,750,000 (club option with $1,000,000 buyout) (option exercised 11/3/2017)
2012: $500,000 (plus $1,250,000 signing bonus)
|Signing Bonus: $1,900,000
MiLB Debut: 2005
MLB Debut: 6/4/2009
MLB FA Eligible: 2017 (if club option not exercised)
Added to 40-Man: 6/4/2009
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 8.123
|June 7, 2005: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1st round, 11th overall pick; signed on June 14.
June 3, 2009: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.