McCutchen’s Good Bad Season

I watched the Pirates square off against the Diamondbacks last night with all of the morbid curiosity of viewing an autopsy.  They were going up against Ian Kennedy, he of the 2nd place NL Cy Young finish in 2011 (even though I think he did it last season with smoke and mirrors).  The Pirates also had the not-so-small issue of having only scored more than 2 runs in 3 of their first 10 games.

So it was with some sense of mild surprise to watch the Pirates be able to consistently square up Ian Kennedy for the majority of the night.  Even team whipping boy Pedro Alvarez charged one into deep left-center, requiring a fantastic catch from Chris Young that resulted in his potential injury but saving extra bases.

Each time Andrew McCutchen was at the plate, I had a feeling of ease that he was going to do something good.  He and Casey McGehee are the only players at present that I feel that way about, although Neil Walker appears to be coming out of his doldrums and approaching that status as well.  But here’s the issue about McCutchen’s great start to the season:

It’s not that great of a start.

I know.  Beggars can’t be choosers.  At least someone on the Pirates through the first 11 games is consistently hitting the ball.  After last night’s 4 for 5, McCutchen’s “first blush” OPS is a very nice 864.  However, his triple slash line of .381/.435/.429 reveals that it’s a pretty empty 864 OPS.

Through his first 42 at-bats, McCutchen has only 2 extra base hits and they’re both doubles.  That’s why his isolated power number (slugging minus batting average) is only .048 right now.  My rule of thumb is that a player should have 10% of his at-bats go for extra base hits to get in the neighborhood of an average number of .130 isolated power.  In his short career, McCutchen has a career isolated power number of .178, so that will eventually normalize.

Additionally, McCutchen has only drawn 3 walks so far this year for a 6.5% walk rate, just over half of his career rate of 11.6%.  Sadly, McCutchen’s 3 measly walks place him 2nd on this team behind Mike McKenry’s 4 walks (figure that one out).

Water will find its own level and soon McCutchen will hopefully have an 840-850 OPS that has some more teeth behind it, rather than one predicated on an unsustainable batting average with no extra base power and few walks.  Hopefully last night’s 5 run/13 hit “explosion” is evidence that the Pirate bats are thawing out from the deep freeze they have been in to start the season.  Andrew McCutchen needs to lead that charge with a more potent bat than has been seen to-date.

Tags: 

About Kevin Creagh

Kevin Creagh resides in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and has been a Pirate fan since the mid 1980′s. Kevin joined Pirates Prospects in July 2010 and enjoys writing about the economic side of baseball decisions. Many of Kevin’s articles focus on the long-term decisions that the Pirates and other organizations may need to make in the future, in order to balance escalating player salaries with built-in payroll limitations. Kevin also enjoys following prospects throughout the Pirates’ minor league system and forecasting their potential to help the major league team.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

    I understand the concern that he’s not hitting for power, but this is what he’s doing right now.  There’s absolutely no reason to have concern for the way he’s playing right now.  Is he going to finish 162 games and hit .401?  Most likely no.  But what he’s doing now is better than not hitting home runs and only hitting at a .220 clip.

  • ADman2B

     I don’t think any of us would be too disappointed if he finishes with a .381/.435/.429 line.  But, if you say that his .381 average is unsustainable and will likely normalize, shouldn’t you also acknowledge that his walk rate and power numbers will also normalize?

    • Kevin_Creagh

      I did mention that his career ISO was .178 and it will normalize.  I also referenced his walk rate was just over half his career rate.