In 22 Days…

Andrew McCutchen (22) days until Opening Day.

McCutchen performed at an MVP-caliber level in 2012, earning the Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, and Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year, among other achievements.

Two questions about number 22…

1. Can he build off of last year? It’ll certainly be tough to top his .327/.400/.553, 31 HR, 96 RBI from a year ago, but the Pirates need another huge year from McCutchen if they want to succeed. He was an absolute bargain at $500,000 last season; even though his new contract kicks in, he’ll still be quite valuable at $4.5 million.

2. Can he contribute for a full season? As we wrote a few weeks ago, Cutch has struggled to piece together a complete MLB season. In both 2011 and 2012, he had some difficulties at the plate down the stretch; a tired McCutchen (and rest of the team) resulted in two consecutive collapses. If he can play solid baseball from April through September, there’s no doubt that he’ll be among the league’s best in 2013.

Go Bucs

Can Cutch avoid a second half breakdown in 2013?

After an All-Star campaign in 2011, Andrew McCutchen evolved into one of the best young players in the game with a marvelous 2012. His success was no secret, as he collected numerous awards and achievements along the way. MVP candidate, Gold Glove Award, Silver Slugger, Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year, MLB 13 The Show cover athlete. Despite his accomplishments, Cutch faltered at the end of the season in both 2011 and 2012. Here’s a look…

– McCutchen entered the All-Star break in 2011 with a .291 avg, 14 homers, and an .894 OPS, earning himself an opportunity to represent the Pirates in Arizona. His second half was a different tale, however, as he hit just .216 in his final 70 games. Cutch’s month of September was particularly abysmal, as he hit only .171 (13 for 76); three of those 13 hits were home runs. His final line: .259/.364/.456 with 23 HR and 89 RBI. He joined the Pirates’ 20-20 club by hitting 23 bombs and stealing 23 bases.

– Cutch absolutely terrorized opponent pitching in 2012 by putting up ridiculous numbers. Although he didn’t hit one out of the park until May 8th, McCutchen posted 31 HR on the year. His most damage was done in 61 games between May 8th and July 17th. He displayed video game numbers in the span, hitting a ridiculous .404 with 11 doubles, four triples, 22 HR, 58 RBI, and a 1.220 OPS. His second half stats are respectable: .289 avg, .860 OPS, 13 home runs. But it simply wasn’t enough from the budding superstar, and don’t let those numbers fool you. He posted a .252 avg with just two homers in August; he hit seven homers in September, but hit just .254. Cutch lost 38 points on his batting average in his last 50 games. His MVP and batting title hopes were lost with two poor months to end the season.

Watching him play down the stretch both of those years, it was quite obvious that McCutchen was drained. He was impressive in the first half each season, but just couldn’t put together a full campaign of greatness. Obviously Cutch still had an amazing season in 2012; .327 avg, 31 HR, 96 RBI, and .953 OPS are nothing to complain about. However, the phrase “the team goes as Cutch goes” was ultimately reflected, with the team collapsing to its 20th consecutive losing season. Without much other star power, McCutchen essentially carries the team for extended periods of time. Therefore, the Bucs need him to contribute every time he steps on the diamond.

That being said, can Cutch pace himself and avoid a meltdown in the second half of 2013? The Pirates are in a good position to win some ballgames this year. Baseball Prospectus projects around 78-79 wins, giving the Buccos a 17% chance at making the postseason. If they want to surge towards October or even finish above .500 for the first time since 1992, the club will need a full year of Cutch.  Hopefully he can save his best for last and bring baseball glory back to the ‘Burgh.

We named him one of our players to watch for 2013.

[quote_box author=”Andrew McCutchen” profession=”on winning the MLB 13 The Show Cover Vote”]”I can only promise all of you that I am going to continue to work my hardest to prove that you made the right choice and help bring the World Series trophy back to Pittsburgh.”[/quote_box]

Photo: Keith Allison/Creative Commons

Top Ten Pirates of the PNC Park Era: #2 Andrew McCutchen

mccuthen

Year Age G H HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 22 108 124 12 54 22 .286 .365 .471 .836
2010 23 154 163 16 56 33 .286 .365 .449 .814
2011 24 158 148 23 89 23 .259 .364 .456 .820
2012 25 157 194 31 96 20 .327 .400 .553 .953
4 Yrs 577 629 82 295 98 .290 .374 .484 .858
Andrew McCutchen took over centerfield at PNC Park in 2009 after Nate McLouth was traded, and fans weren’t happy at first.  Cutch debuted with an impressive showing against the Mets, and hasn’t looked back since.  In 2010, his first full season, he put up impressive numbers but was the lone bright spot on a terrible team.  The Bucs took off in 2011, led by Cutch, who may have become too fatigued and put too much pressure on himself as the team faded down the stretch.  After ending the first month of the 2012 season without a home run, Cutch went off.  He flirted with a .400 average and was the clear MVP winner as the team soared to the league-best record in July.  Unfortunately, that .380+ average slowly dropped as August began and the team collapsed as Cutch cooled off.  But what’s most impressive about his numbers from last season is that he did it all while having down months in April, August, and September.  Still, he picked up a Silver Slugger Award and Gold Glove, which won’t be the last awards he’ll win in his career.  Even with his electrifying defense and pop at the plate, he still has room to improve.  Luckily, Cutch is locked up through at least 2018 and when this franchise finally gets turned around, he’ll be right in the middle of everything.  Within the next few years, he could very well move into the #1 spot in this top ten.

Photo: Brock Fleeger/Creative Commons

Jones heating up at the right time

After hitting just .232 during the first two months of the season, Garrett Jones has turned it on as of late. Since June 14th, Jones is batting .333 (20 for 60) with 5 HR and 15 RBI in 18 games. His batting average, which was at .250 on June 13th, now sits at .275, which is the highest it’s been since May 8th (.279).

In that stretch, the Pirates are 8-2 in games in which G.I. Jones records a hit, as well as 6-1 in games that he drives in a run. The Bucs scored the most runs of any National League team in June, and could continue to put numbers up on the board as long as Jones keeps staying hot. Here’s why:

Andrew McCutchen is terrorizing opponents this year, and has absolutely mashed balls that pitchers have given him in the strike zone. Cutch, who was named the National League Player of the Month for June, has hit .442 (19 for 43) over his last ten games. However, opponents most likely will start pitching around him and/or more carefully to him.

The Astros pitched cautiously to McCutchen in the fifth inning on Wednesday afternoon, after Drew Sutton‘s leadoff double and Neil Walker‘s groundout. Once the count grew to 3-1, Houston decided just to put him on first instead of attacking the zone; if they had, Cutch could’ve increased the lead after the ‘Stros pulled within one run. However, the Pirates failed to capitalize after Casey McGehee struck out and Jones popped up. It didn’t affect the outcome of the game, but still represents the opportunities that could arise as pitchers are more careful with McCutchen. Two men on with less than two runs puts the middle of the order in a great position. With the frequency the Cutch is getting on base, Jones really is heating up at the right time.

McCutchen has driven the offense, and everyone is curious as to why opponents are still giving him pitches to hit. If they start putting him on base more often, the players behind him will have more opportunities to drive in runs. Jones has been the hottest hitter of the bunch, but McGehee and Pedro Alvarez have contributed plenty as of late as well. Here’s a look at their last ten games:

AVG HR RBI
Garrett Jones .389 4 11
Neil Walker .375 1 7
Pedro Alvarez .324 2 13
Casey McGehee .310 2 9

The Pirates, who could barely score just a few runs per game at the beginning of the season, are now providing their pitchers with much-needed support. If the offense stays hot, especially the guys in the middle of the order, the Bucs have a great chance to keep winning ballgames. They have a pretty easy schedule over the next few weeks, with the exception of the first-place San Francisco Giants. Here’s a look at the next five opponents’ pitching, based on ERA:
– San Francisco, 3.43 ERA (3rd in MLB)
– Milwaukee, 4.26 ERA (tied 22nd in MLB)
– Colorado, 5.35 ERA (30th in MLB)
– Miami, 4.26 (tied 22nd in MLB)
– Chicago, 4.41 ERA (25th in MLB)

The Giants have some solid pitching, but the Bucs will miss their top two starters, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. The next four opponents are all in the bottom-third of the league. Hopefully the Pirates can continue their offensive success and remain near the top of the NL Central.