Andrew McCutchen: MLB Network’s #2 CF ‘Right Now’

Andrew-McCutchen Pittsburgh Pirates MLB Network Right Now

MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now” series is under way for 2014, ranking the best players at each position. It kicked off Friday night with center fielders, which of course meant more recognition for the 2013 NL MVP.

For the second year in a row, Andrew McCutchen is ranked the second best CF in Major League Baseball. Only 22-year-old phenom Mike Trout placed ahead of him, just like last year. Trout and Cutch notched the two highest fWAR totals among all players in 2013, at 10.4 and 8.2, respectively.

Here’s the full list of the network’s “Shredder” rankings:
10. Coco Crisp
9. Dexter Fowler
8. Adam Jones
7. Austin Jackson
6. Carlos Gomez
5. Matt Kemp
4. Jacoby Ellsbury
3. Carlos Gonzalez
2. McCutchen
1. Trout

Three consecutive All-Star nods and an MVP award under his belt, McCutchen has continued to grow as a player over the last few years. He’s put everything together – offense, defense, speed, etc. The Pirates go as Cutch goes, and he’s certainly been a steady producer:

Year Age G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 22 108 433 74 124 26 9 12 54 22 5 .286 .365 .471 .836
2010 23 154 570 94 163 35 5 16 56 33 10 .286 .365 .449 .814
2011 24 158 572 87 148 34 5 23 89 23 10 .259 .364 .456 .820
2012 25 157 593 107 194 29 6 31 96 20 12 .327 .400 .553 .953
2013 26 157 583 97 185 38 5 21 84 27 10 .317 .404 .508 .911
5 Yrs 734 2751 459 814 162 30 103 379 125 47 .296 .380 .489 .869
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/10/2014.

Best center fielder in the National League? I think so, especially “right now” like MLB Network defines it. Cutch is the man.

AndrewMcCutchen Dance MVP

AndrewMcCutchen Cole Photobomb

Go Bucs

PNC Park’s Hidden Advantage

After Francisco Liriano dominated the NL Wild Card game, Harold Reynolds brought up a big time theory on MLB Network that I had never thought of before. Watch as he explains a possible reason as to why hitting left-handed pitching can be so difficult to hit at PNC Park:

(Here is the direct link to the video)

Basically, the ivy in center field could mess with hitters when a southpaw is on the mound. From the video, you can see Jay Bruce‘s line of sight vs. Francisco Liriano:

PNC Park Batters Eye 1

With the bushes being a different shade of green than the solid batter’s eye, it could help blend the ball more. Keep in mind, the game-used baseballs aren’t pure white – they are rubbed with a special mud, which could camouflage it even more.

Here’s another one I found with Liriano on the hill during a day game in September:

PNC Park Batters Eye 4

Even if it’s not a direct view into the off-colored shrubs, it could still play with a hitter’s peripheral vision.

On the flip side, batters have a much clearer view of the baseball when a right-hander is pitching. Here’s Neil Walker vs. Johnny Cueto, displaying the solid green batter’s eye:

PNC Park Batters Eye 2

And one I found with Gerrit Cole on the bump:

PNC Park Batters Eye 3

As Harold says in the video, you might get a little curious when you see how well the Bucco left-handers fared at home. Let’s look at a few splits…

Francisco Liriano, 2013
Home: 1.47 ERA, .174 opp. batting average, 8.8 K/9
Road: 4.33 ERA, .261 opp. batting average, 9.4 K/9

Justin Wilson, 2013
Home: 1.80 ERA, .219 opp. batting average, 6.3 K/9
Road: 2.41 ERA, .158 opp. batting average, 8.3 K/9

Tony Watson, Career
Home: 2.36 ERA, .198 opp. batting average, 7.3 K/9
Road: 3.84 ERA, .213 opp. batting average, 8.3 K/9

Clearly the earned run averages have an advantage at PNC, though the fact that it’s a pitcher’s park could explain that. Interestingly, all three have posted better strikeout rates on the road. Regardless, they have put up dominant numbers in the home ballpark.

One thing to note about Liriano, Wilson, and Watson is that they all feature similar arm slots & release points that would seemingly play right into the sight line of the bushes.

It’d be hard enough to face Frankie’s filthy slider or Wilson’s high 90’s fastball – add in a difficulty to pick up the pitch and the Pirates might have themselves an advantage.

Maybe we’re reading too much into it, but Reynolds might be on to something with this. It’s something to think about, at least.

Go Bucs

Was the Pirates’ offense really that bad?

marlon byrd pittsburgh pirates 2013

We heard about the Pirates’ offensive troubles all summer long. When you look at their overall offensive ranks compared to other teams, it’s not too pretty:

– 20th in runs (644)

– 22nd in batting average (.245)

– 17th in on-base percentage (.313)

– 16th in slugging percentage (.396)

The runs were obviously minimal, with the Bucs ranking in the bottom-third of Major League Baseball. However, you have to consider a few factors for the other categories – for one, the Pirate pitchers were awful at the plate, ranking 14th out of 15 NL teams in batting average, 15th in OBP, and 15th in SLG. Excluding the pitching staff, the team hit for a .254 average, etc.

Anyway, Brian Kenny on MLB Network’s Clubhouse Confidential was talking about how the Pirates’ offense was actually pretty respectable this year, stating Adjusted OPS:

Pirates Offense OPS+ Leaders 2013 MLB Network Clubhouse Confidential

Adjusted OPS, or OPS+, is a stat that “normalizes a player’s OPS — it adjusts for small variables that might affect OPS scores (e.g. park effects) and puts the statistic on an easy-to-understand scale.” [FanGraphs]. League average is 100, meaning every point over/under 100 is a percentage above/below average. In context, the Pirates’ had eight hitters this year performing at a steadily above average clip, at least in terms of OPS+.

How does that compare to other team’s around the league? Here’s another graphic from Clubhouse Confidential:

mlb ops+ leaders 2013

Only the World Series champion Red Sox had more players on their roster with an OPS+ of greater than 110.

Here’s how the Bucs ranked as a whole:

Rk Pos OPS+ ▾
1 CF Andrew McCutchen 158
2 RF Marlon Byrd 138
3 LF Starling Marte 122
4 OF Jose Tabata 119
5 MI Jordy Mercer 118
6 1B Gaby Sanchez 117
7 3B Pedro Alvarez* 116
8 2B Neil Walker# 115
9 C Russell Martin 100
10 UT Garrett Jones* 99
11 OF Andrew Lambo* 99
12 UT Josh Harrison 97
13 1B Justin Morneau* 97
14 C Tony Sanchez 94
15 OF Alex Presley* 87
17 RF Travis Snider* 75
18 C Michael McKenry 73
19 C John Buck 67
20 SS Clint Barmes 58

With the exception of Clint Barmes, all other regulars were above average hitters if you look at OPS+. Maybe this helps justify some of the team’s success in 2013? By my calculations, no Pirates team in the last 25 years has seen eight of its players produce OPS+ rates of 110+ (minimum 200 plate appearances).

The Bucs may not have hit for the highest average or scored the most runs, but OPS+ tells us that their lineup was filled with above-average hitters by the end of the season. Teams need good balance to make the playoffs… maybe their hitting wasn’t all that bad, forming a nice complement to their stellar pitching and defense.

H/T to Brian Kenny and Clubhouse Confidential. Be sure to check it out at 3:30 and 5:30 pm on MLB Network.
Data courtesy Baseball-Reference.com.

Video: Ken Rosenthal chimes in on Pirates

The Pirates’ hot start in 2013 is getting the club some recognition across the nation. After taking two of three games from the Cardinals in St. Louis, Hall of Famer Barry Larkin believed that the Bucs were the second best team in all of baseball:

Barry Larkin Pirates Ranking

Some big time baseball writers, such as Jon Heyman and Ken Rosenthal, have started to take notice of the Buccos as well.

Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently put out two videos with mentions to the Pittsburgh Baseball Club.

The first is all about the Pirates, focusing on their pitching situation. He sent out a tweet referencing the starting pitchers inability to eat innings thus far, which is 100% factual and correct. Still, some of Bucco Nation on Twitter took that to mean that Rosenthal hates the Pirates. Obviously that’s incorrect, and he takes a few seconds to explain. Check it out:

HERE is the link to that video if you have trouble viewing it.

In his “Hot Corner” feature, Rosenthal references the Pirates a few times for their successful start to the season:

And HERE is the link to that video.

Last weekend, Buster Olney evaluated Starling Marte on his Baseball Tonight podcast. It’s good to see the Pirates get some coverage, especially after years of being ignored by ESPN, MLB Network, and others due to their futility. While a few weeks of winning baseball isn’t the goal, five more months of success will get them plenty of respect and publicity.

Go Bucs

McPherson impressive in loss to Phillies

Kyle McPherson made a strong case for a spot in the rotation with five shutout innings this afternoon against the Phillies. He retired six of his last seven batters, and allowed just four hits on the day. Andy Oliver, Ryan Reid, and Mike Zagurski also got work on the mound for the Bucs. The Phils manufactured a run off Oliver in the sixth, and Pete Orr hit a go-ahead homer off Zagurski in the eighth.

The Pirates scratched out nine hits, but only scored one run. Neil Walker, who went 2 for 3, scored on a wild pitch in the seventh inning. The Buccos had men on second and third in the ninth, but Felix Pie struck out to end the game on Pi Day.

It was a pitchers’ duel in Clearwater, with Philadelphia coming out on top, 2-1. Tomorrow, the Pirates will travel to Kissimmee to face the Astros at 1:05; the game will be broadcast on MLB Network in the Pittsburgh area.

Injury updates:

 

Go Bucs