Keys for Andrew McCutchen to Return to MVP Form

Andrew McCutchen is by far one of my favorite players to watch.

He has been the cornerstone of the revival of a struggling Pittsburgh Pirates organization. He has been the spark that brought the franchise back into relevance after going through a rough playoff drought. McCutchen has torn up the league and has been dubbed as the best all-around player for several years. He has an MVP award, a Gold Glove, four Silver Sluggers, and five All Star Game selections.

Now, it’s 2017 and McCutchen is in jeopardy of being traded this offseason.

The Pirates outfielder has had somewhat of a decline since his 2013 MVP season. In that season, he hit .317 with 21 homers, 84 RBI’s, a .911 OPS, and a career high 8.1 WAR. 2016 was the lowest point of his career, as he posted a .256 average, .766 OPS, and a career high 143 strikeouts.

However, he had a solid bounce back year in 2017, but it was not nearly as good as his 2013 campaign. He hit .279 with 88 RBI’s, 28 homers, .849 OPS, and a 2.5 WAR. Let’s take a look at what McCutchen needs to do to regain elite outfielder status in the MLB.

 

1) Be Aggressive Early in the Count

McCutchen mashes the ball when he is aggressive at the plate. In counts that last two pitches or less, he has hit .366 throughout his nine year career. On the first pitch, he hits .355 with a .373 OBP and .985 OPS; in a 1-0 count, he hits .363 with a .367 OBP and 1.017 OPS; surprisingly, he gets even better with a 0-1 count, hitting .399 with a .401 OBP and 1.080 OPS. Not only does he hit for average, the high OPS shows that he hits with power.

 

2) Stay Away from Deep Counts

Going along with my last point, McCutchen has increased the amount of strikes he takes by over two percent since his 2013 MVP season (24% vs 26.1% in 2017). This has led to an increase in pitches per plate appearance (3.8 vs 4.05 in 2017). The stats show that Cutch has been an excellent hitter early in the count throughout his whole career. Therefore, he needs to go at the strikes he sees early in the count. When he gets into deeper counts, that’s when his struggle begins; after a 2-2 count, his average dips to .234 with a .351 OBP and a .726 OPS.

 

3) Do Not Chase the Slider

This has been something that has plagued McCutchen his whole career. He has a career .239 average against sliders, his worst average of any pitch thrown to him on a consistent basis. Over the last two seasons, 24% of his strikeouts have been on sliders; almost a quarter of his strikeouts on only one pitch. No hitter is perfect. Sliders just happen to be McCutchen’s weakness, but just a slight improvement would put him above the competition.

 

4) Improve defense

McCutchen has fallen off defensively. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle pushed him to right field in 2017 due to his awful performance in 2016. He accrued a league worst -18.7 UZR and -29 Defensive Runs Saved. 2017 proved to be a better year, but not by much. McCutchen finished with a -4.6 UZR and -16 DRS. His UZR had been negative in every season since 2013. Simply put: Get better.

Baseball Reference projects McCutchen to hit .268 with 23 home runs, 77 RBI’s, and a .820 OPS.

If he is able to jump on pitches early in the count, not give in on the slider and improve his defense, he should be getting back to consistently hitting over .300, driving in over 90 RBI’s and hitting over 25 dingers.

Freshman at Springfield College majoring in Sports Journalism and minoring in Sports Analytics. Born in Detriot, Michigan but raised in Northern VA. Avid sports fan, especially baseball (Go Yankees!). Feel free to connect with me on social media!