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BRADENTON—Andrew McCutchen has been the Pirates' starting center for the last 1 2/3 seasons. Yet the Pirates are still trying to figure out exactly what they have in the 24-year-old.

McCutchen has outstanding speed and is developing the kind of plate patience that could make him one of the game's better leadoff hitters. However, his ability to hit the ball into the gaps and occasionally over the fence also could make him a possible run producer.

The Pirates could use both after finishing next-to-last in the major leagues in runs scored last season, in front of only the Mariners. So they will spend spring training trying to find out where McCutchen, considered one of the two cornerstones of the Pirates' latest rebuilding effort along with third baseman Pedro Alvarez, fits in the batting order.

"I've hit first and I've hit third in the big leagues, and I really feel I can help out at either spot," McCutchen said during a break at the Pirates' spring training camp.

McCutchen has started more than three times as many games as the leadoff hitter (190) than the third-hole hitter (53) in his fledgling career. However, his statistics are a touch better while batting third as he has a .390 on-base percentage and .824 OPS in 219 plate appearances as opposed to a .358 OBP and .831 OPS in 849 trips to the plate as a leadoff man.

First-year manager Clint Hurdle sounds as if he would prefer to hit McCutchen third, saying "we think it could lengthen our lineup and helps us score more runs, which is something we certainly need to do"

"My approach really doesn't change regardless of where I'm at in the lineup," McCutchen said. "You always want to take good at-bats and get on base and, if there are runners on base, drive them in. That's the goal every time you step into the batter's box."

Having been part of two of the Pirates' record streak of 18 consecutive losing seasons, McCutchen has one preference that overrides Hurdle's lineup card.

"I just want to win," McCutchen said. "I'm tired of losing. I'll do whatever (Hurdle) he wants if it means we'll win more ballgames."

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219 PA is probably too small of a sample size to say that Andrew McCutchen would in the future produce a higher OBP hitting 3rd vs leadoff. Assuming he and the other players perform the same regardless of their lineup slot, right now I might like Neil Walker better batting 3rd. McCutchen has on base, speed and steals than Walker, while Walker has more extra base hit power, including combined doubles and triples. So I think the Pirates might score more letting Walker drive in Tabata and McCutchen than McCutchen driving in Tabata and Walker. Then in 2012 Anthony Rendon can hit 3rd.
Brian, it will be interesting to see which way Hurdle goes with this. I really get the feeling, by his tone, that he wants to go Tabata, Walker, McCutchen, Alvarez at the top of the order.
The best solution would be to have one of the left handed hitters, Jones or Overbay, hit second, and move Walker down to protect Alvarez. Last year both Jones and Alvarez suffered because they faced a left handed pitcher a majority of the time after the sixth inning, the manager has to give his guys a chance to succeed.

Tabata, Jones, Cutch, Alvarez, Walker, Overbay, Snider, Cedeno
I'm not sure Jones would be ideal there with his K rate over 20% and 18 GDP last year. He'd kill a lot of 1st innings. Overbay wouldn't be much better.

Honestly, I think the Pirate should worry about trying to get their best hitters as many ABs as possible. Worrying about what to do in potential 7th or 8th inning matchups in a close game should be secondary to worrying about putting yourself in position to have such a worry in the first place.
just let him hit.
Why is the answer to this question never to hit the guy 2nd? When was it decided that only slap-hitting second basemen are eligible to bat 2nd? Put a decent OBP with no power (e.g. Tabata) ahead of him, put a solid bat (e.g. Alvarez) behind him. Best of both worlds.
This is the correct answer.