The Pirates lost a bunch of games in infuriating fashion last week. Since the start of the weekend, though, the Pirates have won four straight on the backs of good pitching from Nova, Taillon, and Cole and the fact that the offense is actually putting up some runs. A huge part of that is Andrew McCutchen. Over those four games, Cutch is 8-17 with two homers, 4 R, and 6 RBI. As Andrew McCutchen goes, so go the Pirates.
Cutch was in the midst of an 0-15 stretch when he got two off days in a row back on May 24-25. Articles were written about how he was benched due to poor play and how he had hit rock bottom. But there was some hope: McCutchen himself claimed “I know what I’m doing wrong"; mechanical fixes don’t happen overnight, but in Cutch’s case, he sure seems to have figured something out. Since that benching, McCutchen was moved to sixth in the lineup and has been hitting .397/.480/.730 over 75 plate appearances. Five homers pop up in that line as well; basically, we’re seeing the old Andrew McCutchen again. Similar strategies have worked in the past with him in terms of giving him some time off, and it seems to be working this time too.
What’s weird is that it’s difficult to know what changed. If you look at his plate discipline numbers before and after the change, they’re nearly identical, with a big increase in contact % outside the zone from 65.6% to 81.3%. However, it’s unlikely to explain the change in his performance.
One other possibility is the percentage of fastballs that he’s seeing, which has increased 9 percentage points (51.7% to 60.7%) from his pre-benching to his post-benching. It’s possible that pitchers are more confident that they can get him out with fastballs and that they aren’t facing 2013 MVP McCutchen anymore. This, coupled with a change in his mental/mechanical approach at the plate, could be the catalyst to spring this recent surge from the once-lauded MVP.
Caveats apply, as slumps can be broken and resurface as quick as the wind, so it’s not time to call the Pirates division winners on McCutchen’s back just yet. However, these positives have remained over the course of about a sixth of a season worth of plate appearances and I think cautious optimism is the best policy at this point. The division is still within easy grasp if the Pirates can turn things around from their early season struggles; McCutchen is just the guy they could lean on to do that if he keeps producing at the plate.