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July 19, 2013

What You Need to Know

Managing McCutchen

by Daniel Rathman

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Matchup of the Day
Right-handed-hitting Andrew McCutchen has always done his best work versus left-handed pitchers, but he has more than held his own against like-handed hurlers, too. McCutchen carried a .292/.366/.440 triple-slash line against righties into this year’s All-Star break, numbers that understate his true offensive value because he also went 17-for-19 on stolen-base attempts.

One righty who has had no trouble slowing McCutchen down, though, is the Reds’ Mike Leake. In 42 head-to-head plate appearances, McCutchen is just 8-for-38 (.211/.286/.289) against Leake with one extra-base hit (a home run), two walks, eight strikeouts, and a couple of plunkings. Leake ranks ninth in the majors with a 2.69 ERA this year, even though he has made eight of his 18 starts in the treacherous confines of Great American Ball Park.

The 25-year-old Leake keeps the ball on the ground—his 51.1 percent worm-killer rate is the 16th-highest among qualifying starters—and does not dole out many free passes, placing 21st in that same bunch with a 5.5 percent walk clip. He has induced 15 double-play balls, the seventh-best total in the league. And arm-side hitters have amassed a combined .218/.276/.287 triple-slash line against him in 2012, similar to McCutchen’s overall body of work, which dates back to April 16, 2010.

All that red in the lower-right corner of the strike zone is bad news for McCutchen. According to the data on his Brooks Baseball card, Leake throws his slider and cutter 19-20 percent of the time each to right-handed batters. With McCutchen in the box, though, he has unfurled one of those two out-moving offerings on half of his deliveries, per the Matchup page linked above.

And here is why:

McCutchen can’t hit them. Leaving sliders up on the outer third can spell trouble, and McCutchen is capable of punishing backed-up sliders that stay inside, but pitchers like Leake, who command the offering well enough to hit the knee-high, outside target, are his Kryptonite, rendering him a singles hitter on the few occasions when he does reach base.

McCutchen went 1-for-2 in his most recent meeting with Leake, on June 17, collecting a single on a poorly placed changeup and getting drilled later in the contest, and he is 2-for-8 against the Arizona State product this season. McCutchen’s lone extra-base hit off of Leake, the long ball on August 21, 2011, also came on a center-cut changeup. His other head-to-head knock this year, back on April 12, was the fate of a sinker off the inside corner that followed a get-me-over slider.

The game plan here seems obvious: cutters and sliders away, and caution when throwing sinkers or changeups. McCutchen has feasted on right-handed sinkers on the inner third throughout his career, and Leake has done an excellent job of giving him very few opportunities to do so, as the gap on the Strikezone Location Plot above can attest.

Leake is unlikely to try to fix an approach that is not broken, so McCutchen must make the necessary adjustments if he hopes to reverse his fortunes. And the Pirates, after scraping across only one run in 13 innings in their last two showdowns with Leake, need more from their no. 3 hitter to maintain their four-game edge over the Reds through the weekend (7:10 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • Most players who did not earn spots on the All-Star Game rosters likely were happy to enjoy a few days off, but do not count Kyle Seager among that bunch. The Mariners’ third baseman was forced to table a 22-for-48 effort, good for a league-leading .458 batting average to this point in July, for five days and hope that the brief hiatus would not cool his bat. Tonight, we will find out, as Seager and the M’s travel to Houston for a three-game series with the Astros. The 25-year-old Seager, in the midst of a breakout campaign that has seen him amass 4.3 WARP of value through just 93 games, is set to dig in against Bud Norris, on whom the trade price tag remains sky-high, in the opener (8:10 p.m. ET).
  • John Lackey went a career-high seven consecutive starts without walking more than one batter between June 5 and July 7, but on July 12 in Oakland, he issued a season-high four free passes and served up at least one homer for the third straight start. The 34-year-old righty, who has bounced back from Tommy John surgery to post a 2.78 ERA over his first 100 1/3 innings, worked around those walks to hold the Athletics to two runs over seven frames in a 4-2 Red Sox win. He will try to rein his control back in with the Yankees in town this weekend, and he is scheduled to lock horns with Hiroki Kuroda, one of the most lamented All-Star snubs, in the middle match. Kuroda did not permit a run in either of his two most recent outings, compiling a 12-inning scoreless streak that lowered his ERA to 2.65, second only to Felix Hernandez among qualifying American League starters (Saturday, 4:05 p.m. ET).
  • And if that is not the weekend’s most intriguing duel, there are two more pairings that could vie for the title on Sunday. First, National League All-Star teammates Cliff Lee and Matt Harvey square off at the site of the Midsummer Classic, Citi Field, in the series finale between the Phillies and Mets (1:10 p.m. ET). Then, just 25 minutes later, Nationals righty Jordan Zimmermann will throw the first pitch of his battle with the Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw, who, as Sam Miller pointed out in this week’s Lineup Card, is “on the cusp” of history (1:35 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

Related Content:  Andrew Mccutchen,  Leake

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