I was going to do a list of “predictions for this season,” but I figured something like this deserved a post of its own.
Last season, Andrew McCutchen hit .259/.364/.456 with a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 5.7 at age 24. Statistically, it was the best season by a Pirate since Jason Bay hit .306/.402/.559 with a WAR of 6.1 in 2005. Some may look at those numbers and say that McCutchen is a really good, young ball player. I look at those numbers and I salivate at what McCutchen could become.
On July 3rd of last season, McCutchen had already put together a WAR of 4.6. What that means is that between July 4th and the end of the season, McCutchen’s WAR was 1.1, basically league average for that time frame. He had been on pace for a 9.1 WAR, which would have been the 4th best number by a National League hitter since 2000 not named Barry Bonds (he was insane).
So what happened?
The first thing that jumps out is McCutchen’s BABIP (Batting Average of Balls In Play). In the first half of the season, McCutchen’s average was .319 on balls put in play. The 2nd half, that number fell to .251, which is incredibly lower than his career average (.309). Something like BABIP can be attributed to a few things. One is luck, sometimes hits fall in, sometimes hits go right at someone. Other things like LD%, GB%, and FB% play large factors as well and those numbers really didn’t change much for McCutchen in the 2nd half, which tends to lead back to the luck factor.
The next thing is that he started striking out at a higher rate. In September, he K’d in 26% of his at bats, 10% above his career average. Part of that can be attributed to many thinking that McCutchen got a little “pull happy” trying for the long ball.
What I am trying to say is that I think McCutchen is capable of truly great things. I am 100% sure that McCutchen isn’t the guy we saw in the 2nd half of last season. He has shown that he isn’t that guy throughout his career. The question is if McCutchen is the guy who was on pace for a 9+ WAR, or somewhere in between. I’m leaning towards the former.
I have been a Pirates fan for my entire life. I don’t remember Barry Bonds, or that era of players, or any of the greats long before him. But even in the last 19 seasons, there have been some impressive Pirates players like Jason Bay, Brian Giles, Jason Kendall, Aramis Ramirez, etc. McCutchen is more talented and more of a complete player than any of those guys.
I mentioned it in a podcast earlier this spring, but I truly believe we are about to witness an incredible season out of our newly made multi-millionaire. A slash line in the area of .300/.400/.500 is within reason from McCutchen and if he is able to do something like that, combined with his defensive ability, that WAR number could rise to numbers not seen by Pirates fans in a long, long time.