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.
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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.
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.
I'm more annoyed that Will hasn't made some effort to pay attention to the excellent baseball analysis that happens outside BP.
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.
Which is better than I expected, given that I don't really enjoy Player Profiles normally, either.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 clichÃ©.