FANTASY BASEBALL – Much Ado About Andrew McCutchen
Here’s a hot take: Andrew McCutchen isn’t going to hit .229 this season with a wOBA far too in line with rookie Billy Hamilton. I know. Shocking. I mean, even for the greenest of sabermetric statisticians, it’s pretty easy to see the main culprit behind the former National League MVP’s struggles – a horrendous .247 BABIP, more than 80 points below his career .332 mark. Now, I’m not exactly the biggest McCutchen supporter, at least in terms of fantasy. Consistently pegged as the overall second best player in the game, ironically due to his safety, I’ve often positioned him as OF4 or OF5 with concerns over his power upside and, at least this spring, the recent drop in his stolen bases attempts. Regardless, even I wasn’t envisioning this.
Aside from the average in balls in play, there’s not a whole lot about McCutchen’s 2015 to suggest the 28 year-old should be regressing this abruptly. Before his 2 for 4 with a home run performance on Tuesday night, McCutchen’s 78.5% contact rate was near symmetrical to the 78.6% number the Pirate posted last season, while his 43.6% swing rate was well within the range his 42.6% career mark suggests it should be. Even the impact a career-low 60.7% O-Contact might have is basically mitigated by the fact that at 23%, McCutchen is swinging at the fewest percentage of pitches outside the zone since his 2011 season. Basically, the slump has little to do with how he’s hitting the ball, simply what’s happening once the ball has left the bat. McCutchen’s hard hit rate at 33.3% is his lowest non-rookie season figure, yes, but it’s still essentially league average, checking in at 59th overall right between Joey Votto and Price Fielder, both of whom experiencing nothing short of a BABIP revival. A 17.7% line drive rate is another area in which McCutchen’s general brilliance makes a middling number seem extreme through the juxtaposition to All-Star campaigns – though the .500 average on those line drives is roughly 200 points below where it should be. The point is, it can only get better – and it appears to be starting to do so, but especially when the schedule finally turns in Pittsburgh’s favor.
Even the league’s best and brightest have situations conducive to helping them thrive. Sure, McCutchen, a .296 career hitter, doesn’t exactly need to be hitting at Coors every single night to bring out the best in his game, but obviously it would help. Thankfully, a trade to the Rockies isn’t the only remedy to the right-hander’s issues. How about just facing a left-handed pitcher every now and again? Since the beginning of 2010, discounting a rookie season where McCutchen posted an already insane .395 wOBA against southpaws, the former 11th overall pick has the fifth highest batting average against lefties at .329 and, more impressively, the highest wOBA of any player with at least 200 plate appearances versus left-handed pitching at .423. The problem is McCutchen has had little opportunity to add to those numbers so far in 2015. With the Pirates sitting at just 165 team plate appearances against left-handers, easily the lowest total in baseball, McCutchen himself has only 15 plate appearances, going an underwhelming 3 for 14 (.214) in that minuscule sample. Now, the Pirates are projected to face two lefties in the coming four days, but, seemingly in line with McCutchen’s amazing luck so far this year, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester are rarely the solutions to offensive issues. Still, when the issue in question is Andrew McCutchen, I’ll take my chances.
It’s been an undeniably tough beginning to 2015 for McCutchen, however, coming into action yesterday at OF64 in standard Yahoo leagues, one must understand that we’re now privy to the heightened floor which was McCutchen’s selling point for so many years. He can’t get any worse, yet, in a 14-team format, he’s still warranted a starting role. The obvious advice here would be to buy-low on McCutchen, but with most unlikely to be open to trading their prime aged, second overall selection, I’d like to direct this piece to those few in possession of the Pirate mulling offers. Selling low is a fool’s gambit, especially in a head-to-head league. Maybe this extended slump will limit McCutchen’s encompassing end-of-season value, but very soon his fortune will turn. You’ll want him in your lineup when that’s the case.