Four years ago, Cutch was the toast of baseball. Cover boy for the MLB 13: The Show, the first Pirate to ever be on the cover of a video game. In that season, he would finally lead the franchise out of their baseball hell. The Pirates were winners. Not only that, they were in the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Cutch was rewarded with the NL MVP over the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt after hitting .317 with 21 home runs and 84 RBIs, a whopping 8.4 WAR. Leading 2-1 in the best of 5 series versus the Cardinals, the Pirates had the chance to make it to the National League Championship Series. Did their MVP deliver when it mattered most? Nope. Then-rookie, Michael Wacha, allowed only a Pedro Alvarez home run in 7.1 inning win to send the series back to St. Louis where the Bucs eventually lost. Cutch went 0-4 striking out looking in the first and popping out to end the game against Trevor Rosenthal.
Despite struggling in this first appearance in the playoffs, you could make a legitimate argument that McCutchen’s 2014 season was better than the year before. He set career and league highs in on-base percentage (.410) and OPS (.952) with four additional extra base hits than the previous season. But Cutch would fall to third in the MVP Standings for 2014 behind Giancarlo Stanton and winner Clayton Kershaw, who also won the Cy Young Award that year. Again McCutchen would fail in the playoffs, going 0-3 in a blowout loss to the San Francisco Giants who eventually captured the World Series.
The following year Cutch helped the Pirates to their most wins since 1991, yet 98 wins was only good for another trip and loss in the NL Wild Card game, this time to Jake Arrieta and the Chicago Cubs. Though McCutchen went 2-4 in the game, the offense was shutout by the pitcher they used to refer to as Voldemort. During the regular season, his numbers did not show any signs that he would slow down from his All-Star form. He tied his career-high in RBIs with 96 while earning his fourth straight Silver Slugger award. However, his batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage were all slightly down from the previous year. Those numbers would even take a bigger dip in 2016 when McCutchen was moved up to 2nd in the lineup in order to fulfill the team’s new fantasy of an on-base percentage based offense. That pretty much failed from the beginning as Cutch could not find his rhythm in the number two spot in the order, going back to his customary third slot a few months into the season. After a poor start in the first half of the season where he hit under .250, he did pick up his production posting a higher batting average, on-base and slugging percentage.
McCutchen’s decline at the plate spurred rumors this offseason that his days in Pittsburgh were finally numbered. But when a proposed trade to the Washington Nationals fell through, the franchise player was once again the back as the face of the club. He even promised the Pirates faithful he would have a bounce back season in an article he published for the Players Tribune. However, the former NL MVP looked for a time that he had hit rock bottom. His on-base percentage was lower than Jaso. A move to right field before the season did not last long after Starling Marte was suspended for drugs. And with a batting average hovering around the Mendoza line, manager Clint Hurdle chose to sit his slugger the last two games in their series against Atlanta Braves. When McCutchen returned to the lineup on Friday versus the New York Mets at PNC Park, it was not in his traditional spot in the number three hole. Hurdle finally decided to move his former MVP down in the order to sixth. It was the first time he had batted below the cleanup spot in the order. Though the move was not met with immediate success in its trial run that night, an 8-1 loss that included two Neil Walker homers, the Pirates may be on to something with Cutch in this position.
In the last 3 games, McCutchen has gone 4-10 with 2 home runs and 4 RBIs including his first walk-off home run of the season in their Memorial Day win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. It has been a small sample size in this spot, but the former All-Star has already raised his average 10 points since being moved into the sixth position in the order. With Gregory Polanco out day-to-day with a sprained ankle in the absolute dumbest injury I have seen happen to a Pirates player in quite some time, Cutch could be moved back up in the order. I say not so fast. Keeping McCutchen in this spot puts no pressure on him, which is something that has been building on his shoulders as his time in Pittsburgh has gone on. Even if he raises his average back up to a respectable mark, let’s say around .240, he should remain in that spot. Listen, getting Andrew McCutchen back in some kind of rhythm should be one of the biggest priorities for this coaching staff if Neal Huntington and the front office ever want to see a decent return for the former MVP.
Though I do not think this move is going to totally solve Cutch’s woes since I believe he’s never going to be close to the player he was even in 2015, if he continues to be a factor in his lineup it will only help the Pirates slim chances of making the playoffs. Even so, McCutchen succeeding at the plate means a happy Cutch, which is a good thing for everyone involved. I still believe he is not going to be a Pirate at the end of this season, but if he remains, don’t expect anything close to 2015 Cutch. Maybe 2016 Cutch if we are lucky. Either way, it will be a long summer if he cannot pull himself off the mat to salvage together a respectable season for the Pirates.