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Entries in Andrew McCutchen (7)

Monday
Nov182013

'Cutch's All-Around Game Extends to Batter's Box, Too

Andrew McCutchen earned the 2013 National League MVP by displaying all-around excellence. There's the speed and savvy that helped him run down line drives destined for the gaps (+7 Defensive Runs Saved) and take extra bases at the highest clip (64 percent) among regular players. There's the patience that produced his second consecutive season with a .400+ on-base percentage. And there are those Gary Sheffield-esque wrists, allowing him to scorch pitches to all fields.

That last talent -- making loud contact in every direction -- may be the most impressive aspect of McCutchen's MVP campaign. Opposing pitchers, burned by throwing inside to 'Cutch in 2012, backed off and located on the outer half of the strike zone in 2013. McCutchen adapted, proving every bit as capable of stinging outer-half pitches to center and right field as he is pulling inside pitches down the line.

The Bucs' center fielder annihilated hurlers who threw him a pitch on the inner half of the plate in 2012, slugging .614 against those offerings. In response, opponents shifted to the outer portion of the zone this past year: 'Cutch saw the lowest percentage of pitches thrown inside (23.5) among all qualified right-handed hitters, compared to a league average 30 percent in 2012.

Did that faze 'Cutch? Not in the slightest. He slugged .526 versus pitches thrown to the outer half in 2013, besting all righty batters save for AL MVP Miguel Cabrera (.611) and short-time teammate Marlon Byrd (.540).

McCutchen's slugging percentage by pitch location in 2013

Thanks in large part to his crushing outer-half pitches, McCutchen was equally productive hitting the ball up the middle or to the opposite field (10 home runs, .621 slugging percentage) and pulling pitches to left field (11 HR, .613 slugging percentage). His all-fields approach is especially important at a venue like PNC Park, which smothers right-handed pull hitters. McCutchen's home park decreases home runs hit by righties by 36 percent and overall offensive production by 13 percent compared to a neutral stadium, according to StatCorner.

Through age 26, McCutchen's resume reads like that of a future Cooperstown inductee. He has tallied the third-most Wins Above Replacement (26.8) through that age in franchise history, trailing only Hall-of-Famer Arky Vaughan (48 WAR) and Barry Bonds (41.1 WAR), the last Pirate to win an MVP back in 1992. 'Cutch tops a score of others with bronze plaques, including outfielders Ralph Kiner (25.4 WAR), Paul Waner (23.8 WAR) and Roberto Clemente (20.8 WAR).

Unlike Bonds, McCutchen won't be leaving town after his MVP campaign -- he's signed through the 2018 season at what can only be described as a bargain-basement rate, given his skill and the new TV cash permeating the game. With 'Cutch locked up and both the major league roster and farm system loaded with young talent, the Bucs can finally forget about Barry and 1992.

Tuesday
Oct082013

Wainwright's Curveball Key to Bucs-Cards Game 5

The Pirates and Cardinals face off Wednesday night for the 24th and final time during the 2013 season, with a trip to the National League Championship Series on the line. The Dodgers' opponent in the fight for NL supremacy may be decided by whether the Bucs can accomplish something they failed to do in NLDS Game 1: Solve Adam Wainwright's curveball. Pittsburgh has struggled all year along against the curve, though a pair of trade pickups offer hope as the club tries to win its first postseason matchup since Willie Stargell and Dave Parker raked for the 1979 World Series champs.

Pirates batters are slugging a collective .268 against curveballs this season, which is 55 points below the MLB average (.323) and bests only the historically punchless Miami Marlins among all teams. In particular, Pedro Alvarez (.123 slugging percentage versus curveballs), Starling Marte (.237) and Russell Martin (.267) are flailing when pitchers snap off a curve.

For Alvarez, merely making contact against a curve is a coin flip. He's swinging and missing 49.1 percent of the time versus curveballs in 2013, the second-highest clip among qualified hitters (Dan Uggla whiffed 49.4 percent). Pitchers are well aware of his weakness, feeding him the seventh-highest rate of curveballs seen (12.6 percent) among MLB hitters. Unless pitchers hang a curve over the middle of the plate, Pedro's whiffing:

Alvarez's contact rate by pitch location versus curveballs, 2013

Marte, meanwhile, can't resist the urge to hack at curveballs thrown in the dirt. He's chasing curves at the fifth-highest rate (40.2 percent) in the National League. Like Alvarez, Marte's trouble with the curve is well-known: He has seen curveballs 11.8 percent of the time this season, the NL's eighth-highest rate. Marte expands his strike zone to go after low-and-away breakers:

Marte's swing rate by pitch location versus curveballs, 2013

Martin doesn't see as many curves as Alvarez or Marte (9.1 percent of total pitches), and he doesn't share their contact or plate discipline woes against the pitch. It's just that nothing happens when he puts curveballs in play. Martin is hitting a ground ball 62.5 percent of the time versus curves, the ninth-highest rate in the NL. Considering that Martin is a catcher with over 1,000 big leagues games to his name and his batting average on grounders (.228) is way below the big league average (.254), that's not a happy development.

Not all Bucs are scuffling against curveballs, however. Andrew McCutchen (.371 slugging percentage versus curves) and Neil Walker (.378) hold their own, while midseason trade acquisitions Marlon Byrd (.452) and Justin Morneau (.507) crush the pitch.

Wainwright, who throws the fourth-highest percentage of curveballs (27.3 percent) among starting pitchers and has limited hitters to a .230 slugging percentage (11th-best), schooled the Pirates with his signature offering in Game 1. He racked up six swinging strikeouts with his curveball, getting Alvarez, Byrd (twice), Marte, Martin and Morneau to chase out of the strike zone. Bucs batters went 0-for-11 against Wainwright's curve and didn't hit a single one out of the infield. If the Pirates are going to play for the pennant, that has to change in their Game 5 rematch.

Monday
Sep302013

Will Cueto Keep Challenging McCutchen?

The outcome of Tuesday night's win-or-go-home Wild Card clash between the Reds and Pirates may well come down to whether Johnny Cueto can silence NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen's bat. Historically, that has been a tough task: McCutchen has taken Cueto deep three times in 39 at-bats, and his .513 slugging percentage is third-highest among all hitters with at least 30 ABs against Cincinnati's ace (Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano are first and second, respectively). Is it time for Cueto to tweak his approach against McCutchen?

Cueto has typically gone mano-a-mano against 'Cutch, pumping the strike zone with fastballs and challenging the quickest wrists this side of Gary Sheffield to turn on a pitch. Cueto has thrown a fastball about 65 percent of the time versus McCutchen during his career, way above his overall 58 percent average from 2008-13. Cueto is less fastball-centric now than he was earlier in his MLB tenure (he has thrown 53 percent fastballs in 2012-13), but he's still going after McCutchen, firing fastballs slightly more than 65 percent of the time over the past two years.

The majority of those fastballs are over the plate, too -- Cueto has thrown McCutchen an in-zone heater 51 percent of the time during his career, above his overall 47 percent average. Age hasn't changed Cueto much here either, as he's still throwing 'Cutch more in-zone fastballs than he does to other hitters.

To this point, Cueto's fastball has been no match for McCutchen's bat speed. The Pirates' franchise player has belted all three of his homers against Cueto on fastballs, slugging .621 against the pitch. McCutchen is one of the game's elite fastball hitters, slugging .580 this season and .555 during his MLB career. That's why so few pitchers feed him fastballs. He has seen a heater just 42 percent of the time this season, sixth-lowest among qualified hitters.

Lowest percentage of fastballs seen, 2013

Cueto has evolved as a pitcher over the course of his six seasons in the majors, relying more upon his secondary stuff, generating ground balls and keeping the ball in the park. Against McCutchen, though, he reverts back into the 22-year-old who preferred to blow hitters away -- and pay the price when he couldn't. Perhaps it's time to slow 'Cutch down with more breaking and off-speed stuff.