Continuing from our season preview of the Pirates earlier today…
Can Andrew McCutchen carry the team on his back once again, or was 2012 an aberration?
McCutchen had an MVP-caliber 2012 with the Pirates, homering 31 times, stealing 20 bases, winning a Gold Glove, and posting a .953 OPS. His fWAR has increased over every season of his career, topping out last season at 7.4 during his age 25 season. Now 26, a lot of people are expecting McCutchen to come back to Earth, but is that feasible?
Looking at McCutchen's 2012, there are some warning signs to indicate that his production will drop off in 2013. McCutchen's .375 BABIP last season was nearly 50 points higher than his previous career-high. That mark will likely come down a bit, but that won't cripple his production. After all, McCutchen still posted a career-best line drive rate of 21.9% last season. He's not exactly hitting bleeders through the hole, here.
McCutchen's power outburst in 2012 is something that is also coming under scrutiny, because of his 19.4% HR/FB rate (which is nearly double what the league average is). However, a study on Fangraphs a couple of weeks ago illuminated things a little bit. Only four of McCutchen's 31 homers clocked in as "just enough" on ESPN's Home Run Tracker, the ninth lowest rate (12.9%) in baseball. McCutchen's HR + FB distance was also eighth highest in baseball after being 60th in 2011, indicating that he's hitting the ball harder and longer when he puts it in the air.
The BABIP and HR/FB spikes that inflated McCutchen's stats last season are a popular indicator that he's going to struggle this season. However, it's a little sloppy to just point at both of those stats and say "derp, regression imminent", because there's more to it than that. McCutchen might not be a seven win player in 2013, but that's not to say he's going to drop all the way down to being a three win player not worth his contract.