Here’s What The Phillies Are Getting in Andrew McCutchen

PHOTO CREDIT: KIM KLEMENT-USA TODAY SPORTS

Fear not, Phillies fans.

Despite the team’s trade of Carlos Santana last week, there will be plenty of WALKS coming to Citizens Bank Park this spring. That is, of course, thanks to the Phillies’ reported agreement with 32-year-old free agent outfielder Andrew McCutchen on what’s believed to be a three-year deal worth $50 million. Of course, the immediate concern in the wake of this news has nothing to do with McCutchen at all, but instead what it does in terms of the Phillies’ desire and ability to pursue Bryce Harper. The status of that flirtation remains unchanged in that it remains wholly ambiguous.

For example:

This seems like a fairly reasonable breakdown of where things stand with the Phillies on the Harper front, after the jump:

Glad that’s cleared up. What we do know is that if the Phillies still want to sign Harper, and he wants to come here, it can be done. Frankly, there are so many moving parts that it’s a futile exercise to even speculate on how this plays out, thus we remain prisoners to agent and front office leaks and the subsequent conjecture and speculation that follows it.

In the meantime, I suggest we engage in a more useful exercise and take a deeper look at McCutchen and what we can expect from the 2013 National League MVP.

Let’s get the subjective out of the way first. I’m aware that McCutchen is thought of as a terrific clubhouse presence who will bring strong leadership qualities. That’s great, but it’s difficult to quantify how his personality will lend itself to on-field improvement, so while it’s worth noting, I’m going to keep this focused on skill and production.

We will begin with the obvious; he no longer possesses the ability that earned him five-straight All-Star appearances between the 2011 and 2015 seasons, but he’s not the totally washed former star player that’s simply showing up for the sake of collecting a few more paychecks during the twilight of his career. In 155 games last season, McCutchen slashed .255/.368/.424. Specifically, he’s still dangerous against hard stuff. He produced a very strong .946 OPS against four-seam fastballs and a .997 OPS against sinkers last season. Conversely, while his .781 OPS against curveballs was in line with his career average, he struggled with other offspeed pitches in 2018. His .453 OPS against sliders was by far a career-worst, and his .179 BA and .649 OPS against the changeup left something to be desired. He was slightly more valuable against left-handed pitching a season ago, but there’s a relatively small discrepancy between the .343 and .355 wOBA he produced against left-handed and right-handed pitching, respectively.

Although his 2018 batting average may not jump off the page, his overall offensive value was aided by the 95 walks he worked, and his 13.9% walk rate was the second-best mark of his career. His success in this area can be attributed to a career-low 19.4% out of zone swing percentage, which was the second-best mark among all qualified hitters last season. That’s quantifiable discipline and the hallmark of a good hitter with a plan.

I know, I know. Walks. 2018 Carlos Santana ruined walks in this city forever, but they do possess value, and while McCutchen and Santana profile similarly in terms of approach and power, McCutchen did have 17 more hits than Santana last season and finished with a higher average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and weighted on-base average.

But are the Phillies getting a fading hitter who’s simply getting by on veteran savvy and plate discipline? Not necessarily. McCutchen hit the ball harder in 2018 than he has in recent seasons. In fact, his 43.4% hard hit rate was a career-best, while his soft and medium contact rates stayed within range of his career norms, as did his home run to fly ball ratio.

Speculating on where he may hit seems foolish at this point given the absolute uncertainty of who will be in the Phillies’ lineup come late March, but his on-base potential makes him a leadoff possibility, even with his diminished speed.

In terms of his defense, McCutchen is no longer a center fielder, but played a respectable right field a season ago. For those into advanced defensive metrics, his 2 defensive runs saved and -0.4 UZR (ultimate zone rating) were nothing to write home about, but they were SIGNIFICANTLY better than the -26 and -11.5 UZR posted by Phillies right fielders in 2018, which in case you were wondering, are commensurate with driving the stake of a scarecrow into the Citizens Bank Park turf and placing an open glove somewhere on its body.

Ultimately, McCutchen profiles as a guy who gives quality at-bats, gets on base, and plays decent corner outfield defense. Don’t expect a star, but also don’t expect an overpaid bust who scored a decent deal on name recognition alone. I know in this city it’s easy to have that fear, but in this case, the numbers overwhelmingly suggest there’s some decent production left. Much like the acquisition of Jean Segura, it can be a winning move for the Phillies if, and only if, they’re able to go out and acquire frontline, game-changing talent. Otherwise, these moves will change the complexion of the product, but not its overall ability to win baseball games.

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4 Responses

  1. I actually don’t have a problem with this signing. Boras only cares about how much his client makes and he is clearly wants the Phillies to bet against themselves (as every agent dreams). When you read Boras is enamored with your team, you run the other way. It might cost the Phillies Hoskins when it’s his turn and Boras tries to steer him away from Philly as revenge. But no way Harper is worth more than $300 mil when he is showing himself to be injury prone and his numbers are not near superstar level in his contract year.

    I’d throw absolutely everything at Trout when it’s his time and focus now on pitching and maybe one more decent hitter instead of Harper. I can easily see us way overpaying for him only for Harper to either put up mediocre numbers for a superstar and/or be on and off the DL the whole time until we cut him loose halfway into the deal.

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