A Comprehensive Analysis of Andrew McCutchen’s Switch to Right Field

Matt+Freed%2FPost-Gazette%0AAugust+19%2C+2014%0A%0APirates%27+Andrew+McCutchen+stands+in+center+field+in+the+first+inning+against+the+Braves+at+PNC+Park+Tuesday+night+after+returning+from+the+disabled+list.
Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
August 19, 2014

Pirates' Andrew McCutchen stands in center field in the first inning against the Braves at PNC Park Tuesday night after returning from the disabled list.

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette August 19, 2014 Pirates' Andrew McCutchen stands in center field in the first inning against the Braves at PNC Park Tuesday night after returning from the disabled list.

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette August 19, 2014 Pirates' Andrew McCutchen stands in center field in the first inning against the Braves at PNC Park Tuesday night after returning from the disabled list.

Sam Bisno, Editor

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Andrew McCutchen used to be one of the best defenders in the game, but a recent drop off has prompted a shocking decision on the part of manager Clint Hurdle. That’s right; it was announced last month that McCutchen will be handing over center field duties to Starling Marte, with Gregory Polanco swinging over to left to make room for the now 30 year-old franchise favorite. With spring training for the 2017 season just under way, the following article will take an in-depth look at the move and gather the opinions of some Obama ninth graders on the matter.

Let’s face the facts: Andrew McCutchen is not what he used to be. 2016 saw his WAR fall from around 5 into the negatives. His offensive production tumbled, with his batting average (.256) down almost 40 points from his career average and his RBI production (79) significantly decreased from 2015. And although his power remained relatively consistent with a respectable 24 home runs, what was perhaps even more surprising than his slumping bat was how drastically his fielding took a turn for the worse. In fact, statistically speaking, Andrew McCutchen was probably the worst defender in all of the major leagues. Yes, the same man who won a gold glove for his performance in center field just five years ago posted some of the lowest advanced defensive metrics in all of baseball. His abysmal defensive runs saved (-28) and ultimate zone rating – a sabermetric used to judge defensive performance on similar balls in play balanced against the average player – (-18.7) were both among the worst across all qualified players. Suffice it to say it would be in Cutch’s best interest to turn it around in 2017.

So, on Opening Day, if you look out to center field, you won’t see the trademark black and yellow glove you’ve grown so accustomed to. Instead, you’ll have to turn your eyes to the right, where McCutchen will now make his home. To see what the consensus was about this significant change in the Bucs’ defense, I interviewed two fellow freshman: Piper Walsh and DeVaughn Brown.

When asked about her thoughts on the swap, the former had the following to say: “This move could really make or break his career. His reaction to it could affect his performance if he allows his spirits to get down.” Meanwhile, Devaughn was straight to the point: “I don’t know. I don’t like it.”

And that’s valid. For many of us diehard Pirates fans, this change can bring about a lot of emotions: shock, horror, visceral disgust. When times get tough, when the world becomes unpredictable, we’ve always been able to rely on throwing on our jerseys, heading down to the ballpark, and hearing the sweet, sweet melody of Tim DeBacco’s voice ringing through the loudspeaker: “center fielder Andrew McCutchen”. Instead, we’ll have to bear a far more vile prefix: right. But I counter the following: perhaps a more appropriate feeling would be more bittersweet. Because as much as we love him, McCutchen is aging, and change is not always a bad thing. Statcast provides overwhelming evidence that he is more effective ranging to his right rather than his left (hence why right field is ideal), and as for the mental side mentioned by Piper, Andrew has expressed complete willingness to do whatever is necessary to give the team the best chance of tasting October again, even it means handing over the reigns. And, hey, he’s yet to make an error in spring training so far (even he has only played in four games). So here’s to a new season, and may Starling Marte be at least semi-competent in center field!

 

*All statistics derived from mlb.com and baseball-reference.com.

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