Everyone is trying to figure out what is wrong with Andrew McCutchen this season. To say that he is having a disappointing year is a bit of an understatement. As I watch the games, something has become clear to me and I wondered if it was at all true. I have noticed Cutch become more and more frustrated by called strikes this season. Before being ejected, it seemed like he was constantly giving umpires the “really?” look.
It really does feel like the umpires have really expanded the zone against him and while it is hard to show if that is true or not, you can kind of see how this could lead to a down year. McCutchen lays off a fastball outside. It is called a strike. Now, the next pitch looks in the same spot, but it is a slider and he swings and misses. These are pitches he would normally not swing at, but once the idea that the strike zone is bigger gets in a guys head, what can he do?
It all starts to avalanche from there. When he does make contact with those bad pitches, they are weak grounders or pop-ups. Pitches have seen a weakness, if they nibble outside, lower corner and get some of those calls in their favor; then McCutchen becomes frustrated and begins to chase.
It is like the reverse of a pitcher like Jeff Locke, who needs those calls in order to be effective. Watch one of Locke’s games when he pitches well, he is generally getting called strikes that are not in the zone. Then he starts getting swings & misses because guys have to go after pitches that are not usually strikes. However, when he has a blowup game, where he walks a ton of guys, it is because he is not getting those calls. He then falls behind, walks one or two, then has to bring his pitches further into the zone, which results in balls being crushed.
Has Cutch been getting a bunch of called strikes outside the zone? Well it is hard to tell. This is a chart of all the called strikes against him this season. As you can see, there are a few well outside the strikezone. Look at that one sinker that is a good few inches outside. I know many of you are probably thinking something like “well there are a bunch that just a wee bit outside the zone, so it should not matter.” However, for a guy with a good eye like McCutchen, who generally does not swing at bad pitches, it is a matter of an inch or two.
I should have also looked at how many of these were first pitch called strikes. I feel like that really would set the tone of the at-bat. It gives the pitcher a definite advantage. I read somewhere after the ejection that Hurdle says they send tape to MLB all the time about certain calls, whether good or bad. I hope the league looks at this stuff and seriously reviews their umpires.
I realize there are plenty of problems with this theory. I realize that my statistical analysis is pretty piss-poor. I did not look at previous years to see if called strikes were better or worse. I did not look at the rest of the league. So please, do not criticize the methodology (there was none). If someone would like to do all the work, by all means. Go for it. I basically had a hunch and I wanted to see if there was anything to that hunch. Obviously I cannot know for sure without actually asking Andrew. “Hey man, do you think the called strikes outside the zone are starting to mess with your patience?” (It would be the coolest thing EVER if he actually commented)
This chart also looks at the called strikes, but breaks it down by zone. It is obvious that pitchers know where to throw on him, now it is up to him to overcome it. Hopefully the All-Star Break will help him get his mind right. The Pirates definitely need Andrew McCutchen to hit like himself.