Everyone’s other favorite player is on fire to start the year, but that might not be all
Andrew McCutchen is just the best. It’s been a while since he was the best in terms of actual baseball and things – between 2016 and 2018 he ranked just 82nd with just 7.3 fWAR, a number he matched or surpassed every year between 2012 and 2014, including an MVP win. But he’s just a great guy, fun to watch with a very aesthetically pleasing game, one of maybe five or six players that nobody could hate.
Even when he was on the Yankees last year, you just kind of smiled and thought how cool he looked in pinstripes. It was just tough to see him struggle.
In the early returns from 2019 though, there’s a glimmer of hope – Cutch might be back.
It would be a dream come true for baseball to have McCutchen at or near his MVP level again. He’s amazing when he’s good. And the Phillies probably wouldn’t mind too much, either. He’s already earned a win, and is posting a 144 wRC+ while walking 20 percent of the time. That wRC+ is nearly in line with his MVP efforts, though that walk rate seems kind of untenably high. But all this happening in just 76 plate appearances means we have every reason to discount Cutch right now.
The fun part though is not just 76 plate appearances. This is something that’s stretched back to last year.
As a Giant he wasn’t spectacular – the 115 wRC+ and .255/.357/.412 slash line are both good but a far cry from his peak – and if that player were to be on the Phils today that’s just a useful piece in a very good lineup. That New York water must have something in it though, besides whatever makes their bagels and pizza so good. Take a look:
In 114 plate appearances with the Yankees he posted a 149 wRC+ and walked 19.1 percent of the time. That’s carried over to this year. Between September 1st of last year and this writing, he’s posted a 147 wRC+ and walked 19.7 percent of the time. That’s comfortably a third of a season. There’s something there.
Can a player just have a slump for a year and a half? Can a stadium like AT&T Park really eat that much power? It’s hard to say, but we saw his Isolated Slugging leap from .160 to .218 last year when he got to New York from San Francisco. This despite his Hard Hit rate dropping from 44.1 percent in San Fran to 39.4 in New York, and now 38.5 in Philly. Yankee Stadium is more of a hitter’s park, so is Citizen’s Bank in Philadelphia, so friendlier confines could be curing whatever ailed our man.
So what are we to believe? Some 200 plate appearances across two years, on two different teams and two different leagues? Or a year and a half that was merely very good and had a few issues of nagging injury? Players rarely get better in the second half of their careers without making some major change – Tony Gwynn started pulling the ball in later in his career after a conversation with Ted Williams, leading to a nearly 90 point bump in his OPS from 32 on – and McCutchen’s batted ball profile is nothing different than we’ve seen in the past. He’s sitting on a high-but-not-astronomical .350 BABIP, and it’s still very early, but there’s a hint of something very real here. If that’s actually what’s happening, we’re all better off.
Merritt Rohlfing writes baseball at Let’s Go Tribe and Beyond the Box Score, and does a podcast called Let’s Talk Tribe, too. He’s on Twitter, @MerrillLunch, and email him with praise only at firstname.lastname@example.org