Will Andrew McCutchen Rebound?

This wasn’t the season newly minted Andrew McCutchen owners had in mind when they rostered him during their 2016 drafts. Not only was he a disappointment in fantasy circles, but also in real baseball, where he easily posted the worst wOBA of his career and failed to muster even 1.0 WAR, finishing at a measly 0.7. His previous low WAR total was 3.4 set during his 2009 rookie season! Check out where he has ranked among outfielders since 2012 according to our dollar values:

Andrew McCutchen Fantasy Rankings
Season Rank
2012 3
2013 4
2014 5
2015 12
2016 34

McCutchen was as consistent as it gets from 2012 to 2014, then he regressed marginally in 2015 as his steals fell off, but he still managed to earn strong value. This year it all fell apart as he finished outside the top 30 outfielders. In a 12-team mixed league, that meant he was generally the third best outfielder on your team! His fall from grace could be summed up by this graph:

andrew-mccutchen-sb-avg-trend

McCutchen’s speed has waned, which is normal and follows typical aging trends. But it has happened quite swiftly, as he had stolen at least 20 bases in his first five seasons, and then from 2013 to 2016, saw his steals tumble each year in lockstep fashion. Going from a steals total in the 20s to just six is going to take a big bite out of your fantasy earnings.

In addition to his decline in stolen bases, his batting average has also collapsed. It peaked at .327 in 2012, and while it declined every season thereafter, it still remained high through 2015, earning positive value. This year is plunged to just .256, driven by a career high strikeout rate paired with the second lowest BABIP of his career.

My initial thought, especially as an explanation for his lack of speed, was that it was injury related. However, according to his injury page on Pro Sports Transactions, he only dealt with a thumb and heel issue which only lasted a day each. In 2015, he dealt with knee issues, and according to this article

McCutchen won’t reveal the official diagnosis of the injury that hobbled him last year — “it hurt,” he said, “that’s all I can tell you” — but described it as “constant, consistent” soreness. He wasn’t able to do much lower-body weight training during the season, so he doubled down this winter.

This paragraph was then followed by the following McCutchen quote during Spring Training — “I feel pretty strong, as you can see.”

Some digging into the Rotoworld news yielded a link to this tweet:

Was this a minor one-time thing or something McCutchen just dealt with quietly and continued to play through?

If the knee acted up, maybe it was to blame for the loss of speed. But for the first time, he was caught stealing more often than he was successful. Now at age 30, it’s reasonable to believe he has just lost a step thanks to aging, but who knows how much his health played a role. Either way, tt would be silly to expect much of a rebound, and certainly not much into the double digits. Essentially, don’t pay for him with the expectation he’s likely to rebound with double digit steals, but simply hope you get them as a bonus.

McCutchen’s BABIP fell to just .297, marking just the second time it fell below the league average. His xBABIP sat at .305, suggesting there was a limited amount of bad luck that went into it. His IFFB% jumped to a new career high, more than doubling from 2015’s career low mark, his FB% tied a career high, his Spd score declined to a career low, and his Hard% hit its lowest mark since 2011. So while it doesn’t mean he can’t improve upon those metrics in 2017, the declines do validate the drop in BABIP.

A career high strikeout rate is yet another issue, and it was fueled by a career high SwStk%. It was only marginally higher than his previous career high mark in 2015 though, and since he swung more often, you wouldn’t have expected his strikeout rate to jump nearly two percentage points. I’m going to therefore take the under on Steamer’s 20.4% 2017 strikeout rate projection.

Obviously, trade speculation involving McCutchen continues to swirl, and his new team and ballpark are going to affect his project if he gets traded. Like most hitters, he has performed better at home, but PNC Park is the second worst park for right-handed home runs, and he has posted a slightly higher HR/FB rate in away parks throughout his career. So a move to a friendlier park for power could help his maintain a HR/FB rate in the low-teens for a bit longer, and perhaps push it into the mid-teens depending on where he lands.

Ignoring the possibility of a trade, I think some sort of rebound should be expected here simply because of how many metrics moved in the wrong direction in 2016. He’s still just 30 and although the speed may not return, he contribute everywhere else and should be back to being an asset in batting average if his batted ball profile gets back to his historical levels.





Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Anonymous
Member
Anonymous

I kind of hate how SBs feel like the sole determinant of value in today’s 5×5 metagame. Especially considering how little they impact a real game of baseball. Worst stat since the pitcher Win, and it’s actually catching up pretty quick.

Matt
Member
Matt

I tend to agree, although I don’t mind how SB are kind of a proxy, albeit a flawed one, for baserunning/defense. Hamilton, for example, would be worthless if SB were eliminated from fantasy, but his real life value is actually a 3 WAR player (of course with SB he’s a top 50 player, so it exaggerates too much the other direction).

I do generally prefer fantasy leagues to emulate the value of real life where a well-recognized stat exists (OBP instead of AVG, QS instead of W), but with the understanding that it’s not going to be a perfect correlation.