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June 14, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

Andrew McCutchen

by Brian Cartwright

The Andrew McCutchen era has begun in Pittsburgh. Since being selected as the 11th overall pick in the first round of the 2005 draft, McCutchen has been the most touted prospect in the Pirates farm system. With last week's surprise trade of Nate McLouth to the Braves, McCutchen was promoted to fill McLouth's centerfield spot, making his major league debut at age 22. Now with four years of professional experience, has McCutchen shown the talent to lead Pittsburgh into contention in the National League Central Division?

McCutchen graduated from Fort Meade High School in Fort Meade, Florida in 2005, where he had been named All-County in baseball, football, cross country and track. As a junior he played in the 2004 AFLAC All-American Baseball Game, and after hitting .709 with 16 home runs as a senior was named Gatorade's High School Athlete of the Year for Florida and Baseball America's top Florida high school player. The Pirates' selection of McCutchen at number 11 came between two other high school outfielders, Cameron Maybin and Jay Bruce.

Professional success came quickly for the 18 year old McCutchen, as he hit .297 in 45 games the rookie Gulf Coast League and then .346 in 13 games at Williamsport of the short season New York-Penn League. Combined he stolen 17 bases in 19 attempts, drew 37 walks and struck out only 30 times. After the 2005 season Baseball America rated McCutchen as the best defensive outfielder, best hitter for average, and having best strike zone judgment of all the Pirates minor league players.

2006 drew even more accolades for McCutchen, being named the Class-A South Atlantic League's Most Outstanding Major League Prospect and the Pirates' Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .294 with 17 home runs and 23 stolen bases in 114 games at Class-A Hickory and another 20 games at Double-A Altoona, where at 19 he became the youngest player in franchise history. Following the season, Baseball America again rated him the best defensive outfielder and having the best strike zone discipline, as well as the fastest runner in the Pittsburgh organization. Baseball Prospectus described him as "The crown jewel in the tarnished tiara that is the Pirates farm system, McCutchen is the real thing: A five-tool player with no weaknesses. The whole workbench is already showing up in games, too, including power, speed, and a good approach at the plate."

Despite the words of praise, McCutchen's performance in the batter's box did not translate to a star level, with my Oliver Projections showing a major league equivalency of 277/331/437 BA/OB/SA. He showed better than MLB average homerun percentage in 2006, but at the expense of worsened BABIP, BB% and SO% from the year before.

After hitting .321 in Spring Training, McCutchen returned to Altoona for 2007 and struggled to a 233/298/345 line through the end of June, although he was able to recover to the tune of 309/372/447 from there to the end of the season, including 17 games in Triple-A Indianapolis. Baseball Prospectus continued to rate him highly, "McCutchen has plus power potential and speed with outstanding range in center field and remains the one Pirates prospect with definite star potential." He continued in Triple-A for all of 2008 and the first two months of 2009, hitting 283/372/398 and 303/361/493, finally getting the call to Pittsburgh in June 2009.

After normalizing for league and ballpark, McCutchen's yearly statistics have shown a deal of consistency. The projections use a three year weighted mean, which will smooth out year to year fluctuations, but will also then be slower to respond to any true improvement or declines. His home run spike in 2006 did not carry over, settling in at about 60% of major league average, while his SO% has shown a nice decline for the past two seasons.

At 5-11, 175 lbs, he might not be expected to add much power as he ages, but Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has described McCutchen's 'compact, powerful swing' as one 'often likened to that of Ron Gant.' However, PECOTA lists some of McCutchen's top comparable players as Scott Fletcher, Dave Martinez, Shannon Stewart, Chuck Knoblauch and Gary Thurman - a few good players but not exactly an All Star group.

PECOTA's 90th percentile forecast for McCutchen is 296/369/461, but by definition he should only be expected to reach this level once every ten seasons. It's much more likely that his batting average, on base percentage and slugging average will all be within 10 pts of major league average. He's better on BABIP, lower on home runs, and exactly average in walks and strikeouts. PECOTA gives a 60% chance of being a regular and a 30% chance of being a star.


Normalized
Year  Lev  Age   PA  wOBA    BA    OB    SA  BABIP  HR%   BB%   SO%
2005  A-    18  253  .363  .296  .381  .435  .343  .023  .113  .156
2006  AA    19  590  .336  .277  .331  .437  .320  .045  .069  .195
2007  AAA   20  567  .293  .247  .304  .369  .293  .029  .074  .200
2008  AAA   21  588  .323  .265  .344  .375  .310  .022  .100  .169
2009  AAA   22  219  .345  .286  .337  .459  .315  .024  .068  .126
MLB Average          .330  .273  .338  .439  .302  .040  .082  .164

Oliver Projections
Year  Lev  Age       wOBA    BA    OB    SA  BABIP  HR%   BB%   SO%
2005  A-   18        .329  .269  .342  .401  .314  .025  .094  .170
2006  AA   19        .331  .272  .332  .422  .315  .038  .077  .185
2007  AAA  20        .313  .258  .316  .394  .302  .034  .074  .190
2008  AAA  21        .314  .258  .324  .383  .302  .029  .084  .180
2009  AAA  22        .332  .275  .338  .414  .313  .027  .084  .157
2009 PECOTA                .263  .335  .403

While Nate McLouth had a wOBA in the .360's each of the last three seasons, McCutchen has never had Oliver project him to higher than .332. With this batting profile, McCutchen will need to rely on his defense and base running to be a better than average major league player. Sean Smith's Total Zone rates McCutchen's defense at +13, +10 and +8 per 150 games for 2006 to 2008, with Smith calling +10 'very good' and +15 or more 'outstanding'. McCutchen's speed, which has already helped him to 10 triples in 2009, has not translated well into base stealing. In 201 games at Triple-A over parts of the last three seasons, McCutchen has stolen 48 bases while being caught 23 times, a modest 68% success rate.

In each of his five professional seasons, McCutchen has had a ground ball rate between 45% and 49%, with the major league average being 44%. As a fast right handed batter McCutchen should be expected to leg out infield hits, and his career minor league batting average on ground balls is .291, compared to the major league average for right handed batters of .246. Despite his speed, McCutchen has only bunted 8 times in five seasons, going 2 for 4 with 4 sacrifices.

McCutchen has shown an ability to thump left handed pitching. His career minor league line vs lefthanders is 331/414/541, while a more pedestrian 270/342/380 against right handed hurlers. McCutchen generates power against lefties by putting more balls in the air, 43% compared to 35% vs RHP. In 547 at bats spread over five seasons, this accounts for 36 more fly balls, with 16 more doubles and triples and 7 more home runs against left handed pitching than if he hit them at the same rate he does righthanders.

Since the departure of All Star center fielder Andy Van Slyke at the end of 1994, the Pirates tried Adrian Brown, Chad Hermansen, Tike Redman, Tony Alvarez, Chris Duffy and others until Nate McLouth was finally able to bring quality production to the position in 2007. Now the job has been handed to Andrew McCutchen, who appears to have the tools and the performance to date to be a solid regular, but it is still uncertain that McCutchen will deliver the same overall quality as McLouth.

40 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Richard Bergstrom

Overall I liked it but did not love it. It was easier for me to follow than his earlier pieces and I didn't feel overwhelmed with stats.

At the same time, I wanted to see more analysis. perhaps a paragraph on why he might not be living up to his power potential (park factors?)... when he listed the pecota comparables, I was expecting a line like "none of his pecota comparables were five tool players especially in the power department"

I also don't know what the difference between a "normalized" projection and an Oliver projection was, and since the normalized projection wasn't included in any of the text I wondered why that chart was there. The major league eqivalency line of text which was supposed to refer to the Oliver projections of .27$ .431 .337 looked like it came from the normalized chart and not the Oliver chart.

The writing style also changed tone a few times which made the pace a bit choppy for me.

Good but expected more (and this is the first one I read) so I won't make a voting decision yet.

Jun 14, 2009 13:22 PM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

I wish the people going around and auto-negativing all my comments would at least comment on what they don't like.

Jun 14, 2009 21:49 PM
rating: -1
 
JayhawkBill

I didn't have trouble following Oliver projections or normalized projections. The "Oliver" is similar to "Marcel" with a longer memory, and normalized projections adjust for league and ballpark, per the article. Brian's point, I believe, was that McCutcheon had outperformed expectations every single year of his career save 2007, and that regression might be more likely for such a player than it would be for one whose range of likely outcomes were better defined by his MiLB career. Furthermore, neither reasonable projections nor after-the-fact normalized stats showed McCutcheon as the peer of McLouth.

Will, you wrote, "This is by far Brian's weakest article of the competition in a week where I was really expecting him to shine." I don't know why you would have expected that. Brian's strength is synthesis of data we've all know to be available in a way that offers us knowledge we didn't have before. If the week's assignment had been a league profile instead of a player profile, Brian would've been hard to beat. Writing about the history and future of a single soul on the mound or in the batter's box is, to my mind, not Brian's strength.

Frankly, many of this week's entries lacked the style that's present when current BP authors write a profile. That's good. I want the skill of the current staff to show, just as I want the Idol writers, at their best, to do better in a paragraph or an article than the established marks of excellence for the BP Staff.

Kevin and Christina, you both wrote of "expectations." It's hard for all of us to separate expectations from round-specific standards, especially for those contestants whose work we know. But I feel that this article missed two things: in the first half, it failed to capture Andrew McCutcheon as a living human being distinct from his stats; in the second half, it failed to bring together all of the excellent statistical anecdotes into a comprehensive picture of what we should expect McCutcheon to become. There was a whole lot of great information, but it came in impersonal bits and pieces, not as a single coherent theme.

In a week where I gave just two thumbs up, this article didn't make the cut.


Jun 14, 2009 15:38 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

As an FYI I'm not really familiar with marcel's projections either. I know it is a projection system but I don't know the nuances.

Jun 14, 2009 15:51 PM
rating: -1
 
Evan
(47)

And as a fan, I think you can be forgiven for that.

I'm more annoyed that Will hasn't made some effort to pay attention to the excellent baseball analysis that happens outside BP.

Jun 15, 2009 13:54 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Would you rather I spend more time on things that aren't in my job description? Look, I'm *not* a stathead and I realize that most of this, BP or not, is over my head. I'm interested when these great principles are explained in a way I can understand.

Know how statheads were annoyed that Moneyball wasn't that big of a deal, that they'd known about those concepts for years? Most of us didn't and the clear explanations made it possible for more people to get it.

Jun 15, 2009 18:36 PM
 
jtrichey

I have read 3 of these now and am coming to the conclusion that there is not a lot to distinguish them by. They have all been solid and a lot like the BP Player Profiles. I don't particularly find the average Player Profile here all that interesting either, which is why I now only read the one's about Dodgers. This week is going to be tough for me to judge.

Jun 14, 2009 16:14 PM
rating: 9
 
Evan
(47)

I agree. I've been keeping track of all of my votes througout the competition, giving every article a strong yes, strong no, borderline yes, or borderline no. And everything I've read this week so far had a borderline vote.

Which is better than I expected, given that I don't really enjoy Player Profiles normally, either.

Jun 15, 2009 13:56 PM
rating: 1
 
McNulty
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

I yell CARTWRIGHT, you no answer, she say curse word and hang up.

Jun 14, 2009 17:56 PM
rating: -9
 
Brian Cartwright

"After normalizing for league and ballpark, McCutchen's yearly statistics..." The normalized stats are single season, but are adjusted for the ballparks played in and the level of pithing in that league.

"The projections use a three year weighted mean, which will smooth out year to year fluctuations..." Projections are multi-year averages of the normalized seasons, with more recent data given more weight, and then 150 PAs of league average performance added.

I was hoping to find some statistical story in McCutchen's numbers, but it just wasn't there, and there wasn't enough time to research a replacement. I was hoping to find something like him hitting flyballs while being a fast runner with below average power, but it turned out he did hit more grounders than average.

Despire being labeled the best prospect in the Pirates' system, ever since he's been an 18 year old in rookie ball, he's projected as a league average hitter. I used my own Oliver projections because I feel they best show a prospect's year to year progress across levels. As I studied in my audition article, projections which chain tranlations from one level to the hext underestimate talent in the lower minors. PECOTA does do a better job than most, as it's projected wOBA for McCutchen the past 4 years have been 333, 326, 305, 322, while Oliver had 329, 331, 313, 314. They both show, on a major league scale, his talent level has been basically unchanged, and no more than average (330 for cf). The other two projections I have available, ZiPS has na, 302, 286, 317, CHONE has na, 290, 287, 318...below 300 not nearly MLB quality. Once at Triple-A, all four agree within 8 pts, but up to 40 pts apart at Double-A.

Jun 14, 2009 21:45 PM
rating: 2
 
JayhawkBill

Your article on the downside of chaining MLEs was, for me, one of the two best in this competition and one of the best I've read regarding any aspect of sabermetrics this year. You probably didn't have the words to show what you just posted in your article this week, but it's good stuff.

Brian, if I'd somehow have been gifted enough as a writer and an analyst to be sitting on the article that you wrote with 24 hours until the deadline, I would've tried to find a way to talk to McCutchen's mother and to squeeze in something personal about him for either the second or third paragraph, as well as something for a concluding paragraph. That .709 batting average with power in high school, coupled with his declining Isolated Power and Isolated Discipline as he approaches MLB, is ripe for a couple of lines about the frustration he might feel having once been a feared power hitter and his now being, at best, a guy with a "Ron Gant swing." I don't know if that would've been possible, but that's what I feel this article needed.

Jun 15, 2009 06:38 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

I think that's unfair, even if correct. Brian or anyone not on the beat would have a hard time tracing that information down and even then, getting the callback and the right quote is as hit or miss as they come. I can't think of the last time I saw a Player Profile or anything like it where the writer talked to the player, which is one of the weak points of the format for me. Yes, I realize that most players will give the cliches, but I think that's often for safety as much as it is disinterest. If a writer asks an interesting question that takes the subject somewhere he's not used to, he's not going to get to ask many questions.

Jun 15, 2009 07:23 AM
 
JayhawkBill

Thanks for the perspective, Will. Perhaps I'm spoiled by David Laurila's success at getting unique tidbits from those with whom he does have the chance to speak.

Jun 15, 2009 07:34 AM
rating: 0
 
JayhawkBill

You know, Will, given the information that came out below this in the discussion, I'm now unsure that it was unfair of me to expect a personal anecdote about McCutchen from Brian this week. Yes, expecting it in 24 hours might've been a long shot, but if BP is aiding Idol writers in gaining access to MLB teams, then the authors have an obligation to make best use of that access.

Jun 15, 2009 10:33 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Just because BP was aiding Idol writers in getting access doesn't mean the Idol writers were able to get responses fast enough, especially during draft week.

Jun 15, 2009 10:44 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Hindsight might be 20/20. As much as I might have thought most of the Initial Entries were "something I could have done", it would've been darn hard for me to keep up with the weekly... check that, semi-weekly pace of these topic responses. Can we really ask for things like getting quotes from players etc during the season? Setting up an interview with an assistant scout or a media relations person is much easier in that kind of timeframe... and even then, each of the finalists have real lifes and real work schedules.

Jun 15, 2009 07:57 AM
rating: -3
 
Tim Kniker

Also, one has to consider this week. I did have a call in to the Royals scouting department to see if I could get a tidbit about Kila, but I assumed with draft week this was likely not a great time to get some call-time with the scout department.

Then again, this is probably one of those things that I should have asked KG or CK for some advice to get a callback from a front office on something like this. Given that I have no contact in these places (or really the right number to call), I did a cold-call to see if it worked. It didn't.

Jun 15, 2009 08:09 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

I wouldn't expect a call back from the front office on such short notice... I consider myself really lucky I got a call back from Larry Himes and that was probably because I was a 14 year old running a cable tv show at the time. Even that took a few weeks to develop.

Yet, you can call in and discuss your background as a member of that Scout Royal board and that you're in a Baseball Prospectus competition. Brian could talk about his previous statistical work and the published studies he has done and how it might apply to his local team. Agree to meet with whomever they have available, even if it's interns/assistant scouts/tour guides and set up some networking possibilities. Prepare a short questionnaire and see if you can get it distributed among the staff/department you are targetting for information, then laminate any emailed replies you receive so that you can always tap them for any additional information.

Jun 15, 2009 08:29 AM
rating: -3
 
Tim Kniker

Exactly. There are some points made occassionally by the judges about having an industry point of view, which is great if you can get it. I guess that would be one question I have for the judges in terms of managing my own expectations. If I don't get an industry pont of view, should I not get discouraged because that can be something that can take time to develop.

My assumption is that that is something you have either coming in or not. Now after a little time where you build a network that'll be great, but for a 3-day turnaround, it's going to be hard to get that, unless I likely get lucky.

With that said, someone who does have some contact, that IS something they bring to the party (just as Brian brings great stats analysis), and if that is one of their strengths, they should try and use it.

Jun 15, 2009 08:38 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Will Carroll
BP staff

Have you *asked* that question, Tim?

I completely disagree. Anyone can get a quote, but not everyone can get a good quote. But getting a quote? Yeah, pretty easy if you're flexible.

Jun 15, 2009 08:49 AM
 
Tim Kniker

Will, that's the point. As I look back on it now, one of the things that I should ask people like yourself, CK, and KG is how to begin developing my industry network now.

Good chance is that it may not pay any dividends now (or even for the duration of the BP Idol contest), but if I am lucky/good enough to win this contest, it may start to help down the road.

Jun 15, 2009 08:58 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Um... if you want to be involved in the baseball industry, whether it is working for a team or writing about baseball topics, it will definitely pay dividends. Heck, it might not be anything more than a free ticket, but you can get insider information and you can get job offers.

Use the time from now until the next topic is revealed to start whipping up some contacts. Make up a questionnaire about a subject you like that is broad enough to apply to potential future topics. You know what kinds of articles are written at BP so you can probably make some educated guesses. Even if your guesses are completely off, you've started the networking process.

Oh, and remember to send "Thank you" notes to anyone who responds and offer to email them a copy of the article. That kind of stuff works well for their resume too.

Jun 15, 2009 09:04 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Well, in theory you can double-dip a bit... get a full day at a baseball stadium and talk to multiple people. Use one person as a source for one week, and another person as a source another week. Send out emails to beat writers and others... it definitely helps to have a network built up. I used to email people like Rob Neyer, Jon Heyman etc regularly and I imagine there are Royals people that you talk to regularly.. similarly, people like Brian probably tap similar experts based on whatever statistical study he is doing.

I would, though, go about it with the assumption that nothing from a source is coming in. Frame the piece as if your contacts won't respond, then weave the replies in once they do. Otherwise, if you write an article expecting one of your sources to respond, you'll have a big hole to plug at the last minute if that person doesn't respond. Besides, the sources should enhance or support a story, not be the entire focus of the story.

Also, while the judges have a diverse set of expectations, some almost seem to give extra credit just for having a source even if that source isn't used well... but the subscribers like little ole me are the ones who are voting, and if the source isn't used well, then I don't really care.

Jun 15, 2009 08:52 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Points to Tim for making the effort. In the interests of full disclosure, Matthew Knight did ask for this sort of advice, and I know I gave him some; like you, he found that draft week wasn't exactly the best time to get somebody to pick up the phone.

Jun 15, 2009 09:28 AM
 
Ken Funck

Similarly, Will gave me some advice about how best to contact the Tigers, and offered more help if I ran into a roadblock. Our instructions last week contained a phrase that made it clear the judges were willing to answer questions and provide reasonable help as needed. Major props to the judges for following through on that.

Jun 15, 2009 10:00 AM
rating: 1
 
buffum
(458)

Okay, I'm an ignorant schmoe, but I would have liked a link or explanation or SOMETHING that told me what an "Oliver Projection" was. Sometimes your audience is not quite as experienced as you are.

Jun 15, 2009 07:45 AM
rating: 1
 
Brian Cartwright

Oliver is a modified Marcel. Marcel, by Tom Tango, is designed for simplicity and uses only 3 years of data weighted 5/4/3, no minor leagues, no park factors and 150 PAs of league average performance. I built upon it by adding more years with similar weighting, minor leagues and park factors. This is a link to it's introductory article http://statspeak.net/2008/08/turning-the-monkey-into-a-gorilla.html.

Oliver is one of the projections hosted at FanGraphs, including Tango's Marcel, Bill James, Dan Szymborksi's ZiPS and Sean Smith's CHONE. I am working on an enhanced version, as I now have a complete set of minor league batting and pitching 1998-2008, college batting and pitching 2002-2008, and play by play for all minor league games 2005-2008.

Jun 15, 2009 08:20 AM
rating: 2
 
Evan
(47)

I do think you should have linked to an explanation of Oliver for the benefit of those people who haven't heard of it or don't know how to use Google or haven't been paying attention througout the competition.

Jun 15, 2009 13:59 PM
rating: -1
 
Morley

Brian--Thanks for the explanation and link to the article.

Jun 15, 2009 16:05 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian Cartwright

I probably should have included a link in the original article, but I also don't want to look like I'm pimping myself with links to previous work on other sites

Jun 15, 2009 16:56 PM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Nah, Brian, it's cool, pimp yourself--good work speaks for itself. Link to it in here if you wish.

Jun 16, 2009 09:49 AM
 
mickeyg13

I have read a lot about the expectations for various BP Idol contestants. Well Brian helped to show how expectations for a top prospect may not mesh with his performance on the field. As a Pirate fan I've followed McCutchen's career for several years and I was never particularly impressed with what he did on the field, but I found few that saw the same thing. It's nice to see somebody agree that he might not even reach what McLouth did offensively...though I hope we are both wrong at that front. Thumbs up for helping us to discern reality from expectations in this instance.

Jun 15, 2009 07:59 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

This article fell miles short of your others. I'm giving you a thumbs-up anyway because I liked your others so well. Looking forward to next week.

Jun 15, 2009 10:32 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

Content B

Brian C. jumps from simple Eisenhower era stats (HR, BA, SB) to his highly sophisticated Oliver slash stats. Two paragraphs later he is discussing McCutchen's slash stats in 2007 Altoona and I am confused as to whether those are "actual" or his "Oliver".

By the way, it is contentious as to what degree hitting a high BABIP is a skill or a matter of luck. Certainly, if a young player has a sudden dip in BABIP without a career hampering injury, I would prefer to see BABIP couched as a luck factor unless there was greater evidence his previous BABIPs were all flukes.

An interesting point was made about McCutchen's un-sustained power. However, that paragraph ended with a sarcastic remark about his comparables that was unwarranted. It is extremely rare for any prospect's comparables to be All-Stars, isn't it? The group he mentioned was actually fairly impressive. Most of them had very respectable careers, while Knoblauch had a string of impact All-Star seasons.

I needed reminding or a link to what wOBA was - and to his Oliver's projections for that matter. (Brian, thanks for providing the reminder about your Oliver projections in the comments here.)

I liked getting the bit of Pirates CF history.

Writing C

The writing was fairly clear, but lacks personality. It was a struggle to force myself not to skim to the end. After James, some sportswriters tried to imitate his style by doing their analysis with an obnoxious cutesy-ness, which can be worse than straightforward clarity. It is a difficult task to attain a likeable "voice", so I am not making a suggestion here, just laying out my feelings about what I have just read. The one notable attempt of flair here, "to the tune of" is a cliché.

Jun 15, 2009 11:07 AM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

This is my worse rating of the week, but I would not like to see Brian be voted off, yet. He deserves at least one more chance to wow us with a statistical insight or something.

Jun 15, 2009 22:42 PM
rating: 0
 
fireorlime

Ehh, this is the first article where I stopped reading and started skimming to get to the end. Agreed with hotstatrat that I would like Brian to be given another chance though.

Jun 16, 2009 13:45 PM
rating: 0
 
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