Take a look at the current FanGraphs leaderboards and you’ll see these three players sitting in the top three spots when sorted by WAR (Wins Above Replacement):
1. Jose Bautista – Currently sitting with 26 homers, a .328 average, and a 1.150 OPS
2. Jose Reyes – Hitting for a .354 average and a .927 OPS, along with great defense (a 1.7 UZR)
3. Andrew McCutchen
That’s right. Andrew McCutchen currently ranks as the third best qualified position player in baseball, a group consisting of 158 players. And yet McCutchen wasn’t named to the NL All-Star team. Now I’m not going to talk about how McCutchen was an All-Star snub. That’s mostly because I don’t care about the All-Star game. It used to be a fun event. Now it represents everything that is wrong with the way baseball is run. The All-Star game and the events surrounding it used to be a nice 2-3 day event. Then they had a tie game, and to save face, all future games would decide home field advantage in the World Series. That pretty much sums up baseball under Bud Selig. A problem comes up. A solution is presented that doesn’t fix the problem at all, and only leaves baseball worse off. But I digress.
Aside from the ridiculous rule that the All-Star game plays an important role in the World Series, the All-Star selections themselves are a sham. The starters are decided based on a popularity contest. Even the benches are selected based on popularity. For example, Carlos Beltran was selected as a bench player. He has an average than is 8 points lower than McCutchen, an OPS that is 19 points lower than McCutchen, and his defensive numbers haven’t been as good. Beltran is good, but McCutchen has been better. However, Beltran is a star name in a big market, while McCutchen is considered a rising star in a small market. It’s kind of like what happened with Jason Bay. Bay was a tremendous player when he was in Pittsburgh. When he went to Boston, he didn’t do anything that we didn’t see in Pittsburgh. Yet he got more attention as a star in Boston.
The All-Star snub brings up a great opportunity to talk about how Andrew McCutchen is a star player. That’s not a “rising star”. It’s not saying he could be a star. He is a star. Maybe you don’t buy in to the WAR stat, but let’s consider…
…McCutchen is one of 50 players in the majors with 12 or more homers.
…Of those players he is one of 22 with an OPS over .850.
…Out of the players with 12+ homers and an OPS over .850, McCutchen is one of five with double digit steals.
…Out of those five players, McCutchen is number one in defense, according to UZR, and it’s not even close. His 6.9 UZR is followed on that list by Justin Upton’s 2.5.
Now this isn’t the most scientific way to determine whether a player is a star. It’s meant to highlight certain traits. It points out that McCutchen hits for power, including home runs. It points out that he has a strong OPS (which indicates a strong ability to hit for power and get on base). It points out that he’s a weapon on the base paths. Finally, it points out that he’s great defensively. McCutchen may not lead the league in any one category. However, he’s on pace for about 25 homers, he has an .883 OPS, he’s a threat to steal 30 bases, and his defense this year has been spectacular. As an overall player, McCutchen is a star.
Wondering who the other players were on that list of five? They were Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Curtis Granderson, and Justin Upton. Kemp, Braun, and Granderson were voted in as starters to the All-Star game. Upton was selected as a bench player for the National League.
You look at the Pirates this year, and they’re a young team that’s starting to come together, with a lot of guys making the jump recently from AAA. The pitching staff is mostly young, and having a lot of success this year. The offense has been inconsistent, especially with young players like Jose Tabata and Neil Walker. With a team like this, McCutchen is the perfect guy to have. He’s the guy you want to build around. He’s young, he’s under control for multiple years, he hits for average, he gets on base at a strong rate, he hits for power, including homers, he steals bases, and he plays strong defense. Outside of a wild throwing arm from the outfield, there aren’t really any major weaknesses in his game.
I don’t need an All-Star selection to tell me that McCutchen is good. All I have to do is look at the results, and the results say that he’s good across the board, with power, speed, defense, and a strong hitting ability. All four of those traits together are rare. So when one player has them all, it’s hard to say that he’s not a star.