When Andrew McCutchen was ejected the other night for arguing during the WBC game against Puerto Rico, I became a little concerned. I wondered if my theory from last season was true and if that was going to carry over into the next season. For those that do not remember, my premise was that McCutchen was getting strikes called against him that were outside the zone, which was causing him to swing at more outside the zone pitches and naturally causing him some frustration. You could see it in the way he would look at umpires and roll his eyes when they made a bad call. It culminated with him being ejected for the first time in his career. And then we see him get tossed from a WBC game. Not a good start…
However, I decided to look at some more stats from last season. His strike percentages were in line with previous seasons (those are the percentages of strikes swinging vs. looking). His overall strike percentage was up, which could be from those outside calls, but it was not up so significantly that it looks off (61.9% vs. a career 60.5%). Again, I should mention that the numbers may not back up the theory, but that does not mean that Cutch does not perceive it. If he thinks the umpires are making bad calls and it is frustrating him, then it will not matter what any advanced stats show. But that is neither here nor there.
The number that did increase was his strikeout percentage. Up to 21.2% vs. a career 17.8%. Anyone watching games last year can say that he definitely struck out more often than in the past. One of the things I did notice was that his BABIP was significantly lower than in years past, while his line drive percentage was basically the same as always. Does this mean he was just unlucky? Hitting line drives right at guys? I can definitely see a player becoming frustrated by hitting the ball well and making outs and then add to that getting a few bad strike calls, which then causes the player to swing at bad pitches. That could hurt a player’s confidence. Obviously this is just me speculating.
And now you might be wondering why I called this post part 2. It does not sound like there is anything very hopeful in it. I decided to look at some spring stats. I know what you are thinking: “Josh, spring training stats are pretty much useless. There is always some guy who crushes it in spring, then is terrible all year, and vice versa.” You are not wrong about that, but I just want to look at strikeout percentage. From 2011 to 2015, McCutchen’s strikeout percentage ranged from 10% to 22.72% (obviously small sample sizes give a wide range). However, none of those numbers were ever very high. Until 2016. He struck out 27% of the time in the spring. Could that have been precursor of things to come? Hard to say.
So far in 2017 he has struck out at an alarming 30.77% rate. That is 8 strikeouts in 26 at-bats between spring training games and the WBC. Yeah, I know this does not sound very promising. But I need to point again that spring stats are pretty meaningless. Honestly, if I had to venture a guess about McCutchen, I would say that he is just slowing down. His swing does not seem to have the speed that it used to have and that means he is going to need to reinvent himself as a hitter. Perhaps he needs to bulk up a little and become more of a power guy. Hitting .260 with 35 home runs would be great. Or does he keep the line drive approach try to dial the power back a notch? Become more of a true gap guy who goes after pitches on the outside to hit them to right? I honestly do not know. That will be for Andrew McCutchen to figure out.
What scares me is that Cutch could be on a similar career arc as Andruw Jones (minus the insane home run totals). Jones was on top of the world and then at age 29, he hit a decline. In just a few seasons, he was out of baseball. I do not see that happening to McCutchen. For one thing, Jones was often described as lazy (and he definitely bulked up, but not in the good way), whereas Cutch is definitely not lazy. If there is a player out there that can overcome his newfound limitations, I believe that it is Andrew McCutchen. Unless of course, last season was an aberration and he goes back to being one of the best players in baseball, then I will gladly be wrong.