30/30 For ‘Cutch? Could Be

As a speedy center fielder who stands just 5-foot-10 and weighs 190 pounds (dreads included), Andrew McCutchen hardly fits the power hitting archetype. But don’t let his small stature fool you — ‘Cutch can go deep. Possessing the quickest wrists this side of Gary Sheffield, McCutchen has increased his home run total from 12 as a rookie in 2009 to 16 in 2010 and 23 this past year. ‘Cutch has discovered his home run stroke by becoming a power threat to all fields. With a little more thump in 2012 and more walks from opponents pitching him carefully, he could become just the second Pirate ever to go 30/30 (some dude named Barry did it in 1990 and ’92).

McCutchen pulled the ball with plenty of authority during his first two MLB seasons, besting the league average slugging percentage by over 50 points. But when it came to going up the middle and to the opposite field, his power production lagged:

Player Pull SLG% Center SLG% Opposite SLG%
McCutchen .679 .500 .401
League Avg. .626 .462 .415

McCutchen hit 21 of his homers in 2009-10 to the pull side, seven to center field and didn’t hit a single opposite-field shot.

In 2011, however, he decreased his ground ball rate to both center field (from 42% in 2009-10 to 31%) and the opposite field (from 19% to 13%). While he didn’t hit as well to the pull side, McCutchen’s slugging percentage to center and right field spiked with more balls in the air:

Player Pull SLG% Center SLG% Opposite SLG%
McCutchen .598 .613 .515
League Avg. .611 .451 .405

He hit nine homers to the pull side, eight to center field and six to the opposite field.

McCutchen becoming more of an over-the-fence threat has other benefits for fantasy owners, too. As McCutchen started going yard more often, pitchers approached him more cautiously. Check out his percentage of pitches seen in the strike zone during the 2011 season, by month:

Month Zone%
April 52.2
May 48.2
June 46.3
July 43.3
August 47.3
September 46
League Avg. 45.3

More out-of-zone pitches for a patient hitter like McCutchen means more walks: his rate of free passes taken increased from about 11% in 2009-10 to 13% in 2011. Theoretically, more walks means more chances for ‘Cutch to use his wheels. That’s one front where we’ll be looking for improvement in 2012. McCutchen stole a rather disappointing 23 bases in 33 tries last year, a 70% success rate. If he can nab bags at a clip closer to his 2009-10 pace (79%) while on base more via ball four, 30 steals should be within his reach even if he is batting in the 3 or 4-spot in the lineup rather than leading off.

So, can ‘Cutch go 30/30? The projection systems say 30 steals could happen, but they’re more skeptical in the power department:

Projection HR SB
Bill James 19 27
Fans 23 31
RotoChamp 21 26

While 30 homers might be a bit of a long shot, McCutchen’s all-fields slugging will serve him well in PNC Park. PNC typically does a number on right-handed power hitters, decreasing home runs by 27 percent compared to a neutral stadium. It’s no secret why that’s the case: PNC goes 383 feet to left-center and features a “North Side Notch” that’s 410 feet from home plate. Those fence dimensions aren’t so daunting to right-center (375 feet) and right field (320 feet), however.

Going into his age-25 season, McCutchen has everything you look for in a hitter: patience, speed and now, more pop. While his home ballpark isn’t hospitable to righty slugging, his improved power to center and right field bodes well in his quest for a 30/30 season. I’m going to go out on a limb and say ‘Cutch joins Bonds in the Bucco 30/30 club in 2012.

What do you think? Enter a projection for McCutchen here.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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joey bats
joey bats

i hope mccutch proves bill james inaccurate again!