Out of all of my Projecting the Offense series, this post is the easiest. Andrew McCutchen is the club’s best hitter and will lead the offense again in 2013. The only thing that could hold him back from being a prominent player in the MVP conversation is his team mates – given the BBWAA’s preference for players to win the award being members of contending teams.
2012: 673 PA, 29 doubles, 6 triples, 31 home runs, .327/.400/.553, .403 wOBA, 20 stolen bases
Bill James: 675 PA, 34 doubles, 6 triples, 24 home runs, .286/.372/.483, .363 wOBA, 22 stolen bases
ZiPS: 673 PA, 31 doubles, 6 triples, 24 home runs, .283/.372/.480, .365 wOBA, 23 stolen bases
Oliver: 626 PA, 29 doubles, 5 triples, 25 home runs, .290/.374/.500, .375 wOBA, 23 stolen bases
Summary: All three projection systems predict regression towards McCutchen’s career .290/.374/.484 batting line rather than a continuation of his 2012 season. His .375 batting average on balls in play is not something that is sustainable; however he has the speed to maintain an above average BABIP, just not to that level.
McCutchen took a positive step forward in 2012, hitting for more power than at any level during his career (.226 ISO). The combination of the power spike and high BABIP makes it understandable as to why many would predict regression; however, as Jack Moore of FanGraphs points out, McCutchen swung at more pitches over the plate than he had over the course of his major league career. Controlling his aggression will be essential for McCutchen in 2013, as he will face spells where he will be pitched around.
McCutchen’s 19.9 home-run-to-fly-ball ratio was not only career high but also the 19th highest HR/FB in the majors last season, although this figure is bloated due to a career low 34.3 FB%. Looking at ESPN’s Hit Tracker, only four of McCutchen’s 31 home runs were classified as just enough (in comparison Ryan Braun led the NL with 14 just enough home runs); so that combined with a career high 21.9 LD% does point to a sustainable ISO of around .200. While McCutchen may not surpass 30 home runs in 2013, he will certainly approach that level at the very least.
The only problem the Pirates have is that they need another Andrew McCutchen (or a team full). He’s the club’s best option for the lead-off spot and to hit in the heart of the order. While many would want McCutchen in a position to drive in runs, he needs men to be on base in order to do so. My personal preference would be to have McCutchen leading-off as his on-base percentage will be at least 50 points higher than what Starling Marte is likely to manage. Furthermore, the difference in the number of plate appearances for each spot in the order is usually around 18 trips to the plate which could be very useful later in games – and more Andrew McCutchen can never be a bad thing for the Pirates.
Whichever way you want to spell it out, Andrew McCutchen is the Pirates’ best hitter and one of the league’s top players. His BABIP does point to signs of regression overall as that will likely drop, so he will need to reduce his strikeouts (19.6 K% in 2012) and increase his walk rate (10.4 BB% in 2012) to maintain an on-base percentage of around .400. Each projection system listed above provides reasonable predictions for 'Cutch, especially when his career before 2012 is considered, although it would surprise no one if McCutchen surpassed these levels in 2013.