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.