The Pittsburgh Pirates play the San Francisco Giants this weekend. Both teams are pretty good, not great. This series really wouldn’t mean all that much if not for one man. Obviously, I’m referring to Andrew McCutchen.
McCutchen will go down as the man who resurrected baseball in Pittsburgh. He was the driving force in ending 20 straight losing seasons. In my mind, he’s an all-time great Pirate based on that feat alone. He won an MVP and made five All-Star teams. McCutchen brought a certain charisma and swagger to the team that was desperately needed.
Fans were sad and angry and many still are. McCutchen thanked the fans of Pittsburgh and was on his way. Almost everybody knew the trade was inevitable.
Tonight, McCutchen returns.
How is he doing in 2018?
Through the first month of the season, the right fielder struggled as he usually does early in the year. McCutchen was hitting .212/.339/.364 with three home runs, four doubles, and a triple in 118 plate appearances.
Since the start of May, McCutchen is starting to heat up. He is 10 for his last 25 with a double. He has also added five walks. McCutchen is now hitting .250/.377/.379 on the season. Those numbers are not at all impressive on the surface.
Don’t let the numbers fool you.
McCutchen is getting on base a ton. His walk rate of 15.9 percent would be the highest of his career if the season ended today.
Digging a little deeper, McCutchen has made great contact all season. His hard contact rate of 45.7 percent in 2018 would be the highest of his career by over five percent. It was around 35 percent the past two seasons and sits at about 37 percent for his career. McCutchen is hitting the ball harder more often this season and is also hitting the balls on the ground less. His fly ball plus line drive rate this season is 64 percent. In his career, that rate is 59.8 percent.
McCutchen has looked great this season when bat hits ball. Yes, he is striking out slightly more (20.5 percent) but that mark is not much higher than his career rate (17.9 percent). He has been unlucky in terms of HR/FB rate. This season, 8.1 percent of his fly balls are leaving the park when his career rate sits at 13 percent. More home runs are coming. If McCutchen keeps doing what he’s been doing this year, he will break out, perhaps in a bigger way than he did last year.
Have fun tonight
The return of McCutchen will be bittersweet tonight. As a fan, it will be weird to root against him. At the same time, it will be extremely fun to watch him play in person again, even with another team.
Andrew McCutchen will always be special to the city Pittsburgh.
It has been weird to see McCutchen struggle early this season with another team. As Pirates fans, we know this cycle all too well.
For as weird as it has been to see him stink early on, it will be twice as weird to see him to see him absolutely light it up in the coming weeks. There is no doubt that he will.
It will be fun to watch. Many fans will moan and cry that the Pirates made the wrong decision, and who knows, maybe they did. That’s the thing about baseball.
Nobody knows anything.