February 15, 2013
How Can the Pirates Make the Most of McCutchen?
It was yet another losing season for the Pirates, but at least they displayed some reasons to believe things would start getting better soon. Sure, it was just one star and sure he stood alone in a lineup of virtual nothingness, but he was on the cusp of his prime and there were prospects on the way, including a no. 1 overall pick on the mound. So things were looking up on the Pirate Ship despite a brutal finish to an otherwise promising year. This streak of losing seasons had to come to an end sometime in the not-too-distant future.
Anyone who has been following baseball closely knows the story. But do you know the year?
The year was 1998. Sounds more recent than that, right? The player was Jason Kendall—an up-the-middle star—and don't lose sight of that in the myopia of his sad career denouement—in his 20s. The no. 1 pick, by the way, was Kris Benson.
The analogy is obvious to state, but it shouldn't be taken as a predictor of future peril. Just because the Pirates went nowhere after that ’98 squad doesn't mean a thing for Andrew McCutchen's team heading into 2013 and the streak beyond its current 20 years of losing-ness.
What it does illustrate is the potential for and one example of a team wasting its star's prime, which the Pirates are in danger of doing with McCutchen. The now 26-year-old outfielder stood alone in the batting order among a squad of disappointments, unproven talents and Quadruple-A types, compiling 4.9 wins above replacement player while none of his teammates poked their heads above 2.
In fact, McCutchen is the only player since BP’s WARP data originates in 1950 to be his team's only hitter over 2 WARP in three consecutive years. Or any three years, for that matter.