Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 National League Most Valuable Player and all-star center fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was none too pleased with his play up to May 6.
“I’m getting paid what I’m getting paid because of the way that I should be playing ball, but right now … I’m not doing what I should be doing for the money that I’m making right now,” McCutchen told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’m ready to get myself back because it ain’t fun making right turns, especially when you’re used to making left ones.”
Consider the five-time all-star’s play since the quote a jaw-dropping portside turn. Not only has McCutchen since helped save a grounds crew member from being swallowed whole by the tarp at PNC Park, he’s been the team’s offensive spark plug. As Barry Svrluga noted, at the time of McCutchen’s comments he was hitting .185 and had a .280 on-base percentage. He now ranks among the top 32 in batting average and has the highest on-base percentage of any center fielder. In the first month of the season the Pirates were less exciting than things found in drainage culverts; now they’re among the teams with the most momentum.
Pittsburgh is playing at a blistering pace, too, and owns the top spot in the National League wild-card race on the back of its .570 Pythagorean win-loss percentage, the highest percentage for the franchise in more than two decades. Clint Hurdle’s club is 16-12 since the all-star break and 7-3 in their last 10. The team’s pitching has been abysmal in the season’s second half (3.63 xFIP over the past 30 days), but the offense and McCutchen have been noteworthy.
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McCutchen’s contact rate has improved dramatically in recent months; he’s getting on base at a higher rate (.410 on-base percentage compared to .392), and plating more runs (160 wRC+ compared to 149).
It’s tacitly understood that McCutchen is as talented as anyone at the plate, but up until the quote he hadn’t been producing in the same manner he has in years past. For example, McCutchen’s batting stance is noticeably more open, he’s pulling the ball less and drilling the ball to center field and opposite field more than he ever has in his career.
No one is more important to Pittsburgh’s franchise than its center fielder. The Pirates are 25-7 this season when he has at least two hits (57-24 over the past two seasons), and McCutchen hasn’t finished outside of the NL top 10 in Wins Above Replacement since 2010 (currently No. 9). Pittsburgh needs him to excel if they wish to make a run into October this season, and luckily for them, he’s doing just that.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.