PITTSBURGH — Andrew McCutchen drew a walk against the Milwaukee Brewers Thursday night. He has just 35 unintentional walks on the season through 96 games. He’s on pace to draw just 59 compared to 98 in 2015. His walk rate of 8.6 percent is the lowest of his career.

Of course that isn’t the only hitting-related career low McCutchen has recorded in 2016. He’s also striking out and a much higher rate — 24.7 percent of the time, compared to his 17.9 percent career average.

Because both walks and strikeouts involve plate discipline to a certain degree, I asked around to see if the Pirates thought the two issues are related.

“They can come from one symptom and it can also come from a couple different things,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Are you trying to hit the ball too hard, are you committing to one pitch early, are you guessing? There’s a number of ways to look at it and a number of questions to be asked.”

McCutchen acknowledged the number, but pointed to the complexity of the situation, saying that there are “so many different things that go along with it that you can’t just look at strikeouts and walks.” There are a range of outcomes that can happen on any given at-bat, only some of which is inside the hitter’s control. Sometimes a walk can be a positive result. Sometimes, a batter may have missed a chance to get an extra-base hit, but takes a walk as consolation.

Is that latter case a good result or a poor one? That’s not any easy question to answer, but hitting coach Jeff Branson said it depends on the situation of the batter.

“Sometimes, when you’re pressing at the plate, you’re trying to get out of a rut,” he said. “You tell guys to be more patient, but you don’t want him to be patient to the point where he’s getting more walks and not doing damage. The only way you do damage is by swinging the bat. The way you get your swing back and the way you get out of ruts is by swinging.”

So with a player like McCutchen, who clearly has the talent and ability to be a dangerous hitter, walking more doesn’t seem like it’s always a positive outcome, especially given the sub par results thus far.

“There’s a fine line,” admitted Branson. “You don’t go up there looking for a walk. You’re still looking for pitches that you can do damage on. Plate discipline, strike zone discipline, vision and all of that is going to increase strike zone awareness and be able to get pitches that you can drive and do damage with.”

 

As you can see below, McCutchen is swinging at pitches outside the zone at a slightly increased rate this season. There isn’t a dramatic red spot in any one place, but there is an across-the-board increase in every sector. McCutchen is also swinging-and-missing at pitches outside the zone at a higher rate.

Swings:Pitch 2016

Swings:Pitch Career

But the biggest, most startling difference is the amount of times he’s missing on pitches that are in the zone, particularly at the top. Branson acknowledged that opposing pitchers have changed their approach against McCutchen this season.

“There is some difference,” he said. “Their scouting report is to pitch him a certain way: the pitches he’s not getting to. That’s why they have advanced scouts. They go in the series before and say, ‘OK, this is the way we’re going to pitch him.’”

Whiffs 16

Whiffs Career

But Branson was quick to point out that those back-and-forth adjustments take place throughout every hitter’s career.

“He has to be able to make the adjustment of what they’re doing to him,” he said. “That’s every hitter. That’s not only him. We as hitters talk about not falling into their game plan and sticking to our strength, but if they have the ability to get us off our game plan, we have to do something to counteract their game.”

So the reason for McCutchen’s inability to make that adjustment this season?

“It’s timing,” Branson said. “He just hasn’t settled in. In my mind, the All-Star break was great for everyone except for him. The series he had against the Cubs, everything was rolling, everything was perfect. The four days off came at a bad time for his swing. Now we’re trying to rebuild and get back to where he was. … Hitting is tough to repeat day in and day out. Every day it’s a simplified game plan, simplified thoughts, to get not only him, but every other hitter, not to over think things. Sell out to one pitch, one spot. That’s what we’re talking about.”

Hurdle also said that when a player is struggling, they will divide the plate into areas, giving a player the best chance to make contact. If McCutchen isn’t hitting those high strikes, maybe it’s beneficial for him to take them even if they’re in the zone and wait for a pitch in one of his higher-percentage areas.

“The analogy I use is that everybody has a lock on them,” Hurdle said. “You have to keep trying different keys. If you only have one answer or one key to try to help them, man, you might help one guy, but there’s going to be a bunch of guys that you miss.”

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35 COMMENTS

  1. I took a close look at his results last month, and I noticed he was also missing more fastballs than usual in April, then that settled back down but he started missing a lot of offspeed pitches in May and June (at highest rate since July ’10). In the July ’16 his offspeed contact rate is back to normal but he’s still swinging at more fastballs than usual. At least he’s not missing them as much as he was in April.

    I think he’s working his way back and will get it all together any day.

  2. The thing that bothers me the most about Cutch is his running game.

    More than his plate discipline, more than his numbers, more than his defense, more than his attitude, more than Hurdle’s unwillingness to “screw” with him… the running game.

    I know he’s gotten older, I know he’s bulked up, I don’t know if he’s currently injured; while he may not be the blazer he was when he came up, he’s still definitely fast… yet he does nothing on the base paths.

    He went from the mid 20’s in stolen bases his first five years to 18 in 21 attempts in 2014, 11 in 16 attempts in 2015 to 3 for 8 this year. 3! Mike damned Napoli has 3 this year. Hell, Cervelli has 4. He’s become completely irrelevant on the bases and it bothers the crap out of me.

    /rant

    GO BUCS.

    • It’s almost like he never learned how to read a pitcher and steal a base. He stole based on speed only. Now he is a below base stealer even as he is an above average runner

    • This drives me nuts as well. It’s not just stolen bases either. I couldn’t even count the number of times he didn’t score from first on a double, or from second on a single. He may be one of the worst baserunners on the team. I don’t get it. And don’t get me started on his defense- he’s just a bad all around player right now. Just don’t understand how all aspects of his game have declined so rapidly at the same time.

      • This aspect of his game shows me a lack of commitment to that part of his game. I see Kong go first to third on hits to left and Cutch pulling up at second on hits to right center. It looks often like a complete lack of hustle and in many cases he assumes perfection from the fielders so he trots to the next base not being able to take the extra base when the fielder drops the ball or bobbles it. Now that either needs to be addressed or he believes he will pull something if he ever turns it up. Either way it hurts the team and looks really bad. In recent years both Polonco and Marte were benched for lack of hustle yet Cutch has never been and I see it once a week.

      • OK, so I’m a new poster and long time follower of this wonderful site so I’ll throw out my first (many more to come) crazy idea. See if you can get the very befuddled White Sox management to take Cutch off our hands. I’m proposing Cutch and Glasnow or a couple of the other highly touted pitching prospects for Sale and Eaton. What do all think? I know, you think I’m nuts but hey, I’m trying to make an impression here.

        • I’d go way out of my way for Sale, but they can keep Eaton in favor of us getting Nate Jones, who can close next year.

          It would be difficult getting Sox to accept all of Cutch’s salary though.

          • Not sure you could get them to part with Jones because Robertson will almost surely be dealt before the deadline. I live in the Chicago area and it certainly seems like they will be unloading soon. I know the trade scenario I proposed is a pipe dream but Eaton would give you a decent lead off man with excellent defense until Mr. Meadows arrives.

  3. I have never been more beduddled by a player’s lack of performance than with Cutch this year. I will say that some of what is happening this year was beginning to show last year as his k’s were increasing and his OPS + diminished (although still at a really good level). His historic inability to hit with the bases loaded may hold a clue too. The article mentions him trying to do “too much” which seems to be the case with the bases loaded over the past 4-5 years. It is just inexplicable that a player of his caliber at the reasonably young age of 29 is tanking it like this for a whole season.

    • He is not picking up the ball out of the pitchers hand like he used too. Seems very unsure of his swings and guessing wrong more often than not. Could be eyesight issues but he does not seem to have any confidence in his game at bat or in the field. Pitching has been bad but this guy is the #1 reason for not having a better year.

    • Imagine how the Nats feel about Harper no longer being able to hit a 4-seamer. Not a 2-seamer. A straight up middle high fastball.

      If I were Hurdle, I might go counterintuitive and try moving Cutch to leadoff if he’s not going to be benched. I think that could induce him to get back to having plate discipline and making solid contact while taking away the need for him to try and mash everything. I don’t know what moving him down in the order accomplishes at this point, other than insulting him.

      That said, is an OF of Polanco, Marte, Joyce/Bell/SRod/JHay an improvement over the current Marte, Cutch, Polanco configuration? I think you’d have to say “yes” right now given Cutch isn’t only hurting the team at the #3 spot, but also in the OF.

      The irony of what’s happening right now is that conventional wisdom of those who talk “windows of opportunity” always include the assumption that Bucs have to load up in other positions before Cutch’s contract is up. Now it’s becoming apparent that the Bucs might be better off without him in the lineup.

      • It accomplishes getting him fewer At bats in crucial situations that can be taken by players whom actually deserve that opportunity right now (responding to the first paragraph only)

    • Take out the month McCutchen attempted to play through a knee injury and his numbers are right around 2012-14 levels.

      I think McCutchen again tried to play, adjust through an injury and made bad adjustments. His bat path seemed to be earlier in the year, he speed up his swing, he was pulling everything in May and June, and has been terrible against off-speed stuff. He needs to re-set and take time off if he is injured in the future.

  4. Top reasons that Cutch is having a bad year:

    1) He is in decline with his best years behind him (see Jones, Andruw)
    2) He is or was injured. If ‘was’, he has gotten into bad habits over compensating.
    3) He’s just in a season long slump. It happens.
    4) His butt has gotten too big
    5) All of the above.

      • It’s almost as if his butt has grown in proportion to his shrinking head. Dude should never have dropped the dreads…

        • Something is seriously wrong with this guy. I’m sure management is very frustrated with his play but are hedging dropping him in the order or benching him because he is the face of the franchise and might hurt little Cutch’s feelings.

          • Few sports encourage respect for past success more than MLB, if any.

            But I got no time for these endless “move him out of center” debates of recent vintage. You just can’t hide Cutch anywhere right now, and moving him to a corner where he may be even worse does not make sense to me given the huge left field at PNC.

              • That’s ridiculous Sir. Andrew’s pop-gun arm in RF would be a disaster. You just haven’t noticed how important the arm in Right is because we got a borderline plus plus arm in RF at the moment. You are taking it for granted that all those guys who don’t go 1st to 3rd because of Polanco’s cannon will not take advantage of Cutch daily. But they would.

                • No, it’s not ridiculous. It’s a short porch therefore the arm isn’t as important because it’s closer to the home plate at least in PNC. Next please. You put the player with the worst range and worst arm in the smallest part of the park…..if you think that’s ridiculous you don’t know much about strategy in baseball positioning

                  • The “short porch in RF means you dont need a good arm” argument is ridiculous & shortsighted. Who cares how deep RF is when every team in the League will be going 1st to 3rd on an average single to Right.

                    I am very unhappy with Cutch and just over him. But forcing the guy to learn a new position, one that couldn’t be more inappropriate for his skills, is yes very ridiculous.

    • Not sure if you were serious about 4), but I have actually been saying that same exact thing. He seems to have put on noticeable weight in his lower half, and he looks out of proportion now. It seems to be affecting his speed (along with his age, I’m sure).

    • #1. Bat and leg speed both in decline. Remember watching him go from 1st to 3rd a few years ago or stealing bases or beating out infield dribblers ? He now doesn’t get to balls he used to or drops some easy ones. Forget the big trade. He is not a high end player right now.

      • Cutch’s nearly unbelievable loss of a few steps led me to review video from 2013 vs 2016. It’s really noticeable how much bigger his butt is, and also the belt is more rounded around the front of his belly.

        Which leads me to believe if he can get his head around 100% commitment this off-season to fitness, he’s got another 280/370/480/850 season in him. No more 300/400/500/900+ years likely though.

        Unless he magically gets into shape late-season and goes on a tear, I don’t see the point of trading him before the 2017 trade deadline. I really believe he will get it done this winter after this failure of a season, and be 4 or 5 WAR player next year. Then you trade him when the value is decent mid-season or off-season.

        But on a personal level, I am done with Cutch. He doesn’t hustle and sometimes he doesn’t seem to care…

    • Didn’t he get married this past off season? I can’t remember. My only reason for bringing that up is it may have cut into his offseason work too. If it wasn’t this past off season then my point is invalid. Otherwise he may just need to adjust to the new lifestyle. I don’t know about 1 directly, only because its a drastic drop off. I do believe in 2, 3, and maybe 4 from the stand point he may not be in as great of shape as he has been. Good news if its 2, 3 and 4 they can all be fixed. Good thoughts foo.

  5. Alan, have the Pirates had Andrew’s eyesight checked? In watching him this year, it seems as though, both offense and defense, that he isn’t seeing the ball clearly. Might he need corrective lenses or if he already wears them, has his eyesight changed in such a way that the prescription needs changed? I know such changes have happened to me and sometimes I wasn’t as aware of it until I had a checkup.

  6. I was looking at all of his situational stats the other day and thinking about the many at bats I’ve seen and there’s a definite lack of Cutch shortening up his swing and taking more of a contact approach when he’s behind in the count too. Most of his numbers back this up. The lineup is better this year, but despite this I feel like Cutch is trying to do too much. It’s nothing a month of hitting .330 won’t fix but it has to happen soon. Interestingly, I was talking about how he used to rip a single on the ground between SS & 3B twice a week. He has some ridiculously impossible low average this year when hitting the ball to the infield. Two nights ago he slashed a ball for a single between the SS & the 3B and showed some nice patience. He looked like the old Cutch on Thurs.

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