The Pirates watched as Andrew McCutchen put together an impressive 2012 season while roaming center field. When he wasn’t hitting a career-high 31 bombs –which lead the team — or setting another career-high in batting average (.327), McCutchen was showing off his speed in the spacious outfield by making diving plays. The 26-year-old, who was named to his second straight All-Star game, played in 156 games for Pittsburgh of the seasons 162 game schedule.
In 2011, McCutchen started the first half of the season with an impressive campaign. By the All-Star break, he had a .291 average and 14 long balls. But a second half slump, which McCutchen admitted to trying to swing for the fences when the team collapsed, contributed to just a .217 average over the final 70 games to drop his season clip to .259. In the offseason, McCutchen worked hard to ensure that he wouldn’t have the same problem in 2012.
McCutchen once again started off strong. By the break this year, he had posted an impressive .362/.414/.625 line. His 18 long balls were just five shy of his previous high, set in 2011. The Pirates were in the playoff mix once again for the second straight season, but the club’s struggles during the final six weeks notched their 20th consecutive losing season. McCutchen, too, struggled down the stretch, hitting just .252 in August, .260 in September. Although despite the rough patch, McCutchen’s second half numbers were still higher than his career .276 mark he had entering the 2012 season. The 26-year-old hit .289 after the All-Star break, and was in the mix for the National League batting title but lost out to San Francisco’s Buster Posey just days before the season ended.
Overall, McCutchen capped off a career-year in Pittsburgh, showing why the Pirates signed the center fielder to a long-term deal during spring training.
McCutchen finished the 2012 season with a .327 average with 29 doubles, six triples, 31 HR, 96 RBI and 20 SB in 156 games with the Pirates. McCutchen led the National League with 194 hits, the first Pittsburgh player to do so since Andy Van Slyke in 1992 (199). But his impressive numbers didn’t stop there. He ranked second in OBP (.400), slugging (.553) and total bases (328).
With 31 home runs and 20 stolen bases, Andrew McCutchen became just the fourth player in team history to reach the 30/20 mark in one season. Jason Bay (32 HR/21 SB) was the last Bucco to do it in 2005, and only Dave Parker and Barry Bonds have reached those marks. McCutchen, Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun and Los Angeles’ Mike Trout were the only players in the Major Leagues this season with at least 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases. McCutchen also earned N.L. Player-of-the-Month in June and July.
Presley appeared in four games (two starts) in center field this season. Only Nate McLouth, who the Pirates released after a .140 average, made more starts (three) in center field.
Presley struggled in his sophomore year in 2012 and was even demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis to get back on track. Presley put up strong numbers while in the minors — a .307 average, five home runs in 40 games with Indianapolis — but struggled to translate them into the Majors this season.
Presley finished with a .237 average, with 14 doubles, seven triples, 10 home runs and 25 RBI in 104 games with Pirates. Presley did show flashes of getting back on track. He led club with his career-high seven triples, the most by a Bucco since Andrew McCutchen in 2009 (nine), and also hit double digits in homers for the first time in his career.
Marte made just one start (four appearances) in center this season. Coming up through the system, Marte has been touted to have an even better glove than McCutchen. Scouts even said that it could push McCutchen to a corner, but with McCutchen in a long-term deal and face of the franchise, the move is unlikely.
Marte put up solid numbers in his limited playing time in the Majors his rookie season. After spending 98 games in the Minors, while fans eagerly awaited his debut, the outfielder put together a .286 average, 12 home runs and 61 RBI during that span before an oblique injury forced him on the disabled list.
Marte returned from the injury and went on to hit .264 over his final 24 games. Overall, Marte hit for a .257 clip with three doubles, six triples, five homers, 17 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 47 games with Bucs.
by Tim Williams
The Pirates signed Andrew McCutchen to an extension prior to the 2012 season, which locked the center fielder up through the 2017 season, with an option for 2018. If the Pirates want to keep McCutchen in center field, they won’t be looking for a prospect for this position for a long time.
There is reason for the Pirates to be looking, and that’s to upgrade McCutchen’s defense. The center fielder put up a -7.0 UZR/150 this year. In his career in the majors, McCutchen has a -4.7 UZR/150 in just under 5000 innings in center field. Anyone who has watched McCutchen can see that the UZR numbers match the game. He takes some poor routes to balls, has an average arm and air mails the occasional throw, and he doesn’t cover the ground you’d think a guy with his speed would cover, which probably goes back to the poor routes.
McCutchen is a star player, but his best defensive position is left field. There’s no reason for the Pirates to keep McCutchen in center field. They’ve got a much better defensive option in the majors in Starling Marte. Marte covers much more ground, runs better routes in center field, and has a superior arm to McCutchen. There’s no reason to avoid the switch. Regardless of where McCutchen plays, his bat will still be the same in the lineup. The switch would upgrade the defense, which only helps the team win. And for those of you wondering how this could impact McCutchen’s potential earnings by moving off center field, that no longer becomes an issue now that his salary is set through the 2018 season.
Down the line the Pirates have another potential plus defender in center field. Gregory Polanco covers a ton of ground in center, gliding effortlessly with his long legs. He also has a strong arm, which can stick in center. Polanco has been hitting for power this year, and could be a two-way threat in a few years. But Marte will still be in Pittsburgh by that time, so it’s unlikely Polanco would become the top center field option.
For now, the top center field option needs to be Marte. The reasoning is simple: he’s the best center fielder they have in the majors.