How Andrew McCutchen Can Regain His MVP Form in 2017

Andrew McCutchen is a franchise icon, a former MVP, and arguably the greatest player in Pirates history since Roberto Clemente graced the outfield. But, with the Pirates looking to re-load on young talent after a 78–83 season and McCutchen becoming more expensive (he’ll make $14 million in 2017 and has a $14.5 million club option for 2018), the 30-year-old could be on the move this winter.

The pressing question for 29 other GMs is this: What version of ‘Cutch are they acquiring — the masher who posted the second-best park-adjusted batting line among all center fielders from 2009 to 2015 (144 OPS+), or the guy who didn’t even crack the top ten at his position in 2016 (103 OPS+)?

Here’s a five-point plan for McCutchen to reclaim All-Star status next season — whether he’s wearing black and gold or a new club’s colors.

Handle the Heat — Especially Down

McCutchen hammered fastballs in 2015 (.537 slugging percentage), but he was merely mortal during his down 2016 (.464, just above the .456 MLB average). He was particularly vulnerable on heaters thrown at the knees or lower, with his slugging percentage plummeting from .563 to .381 (MLB average .457) on those pitches. In 2015, ‘Cutch homered 8 times on low fastballs; in 2016, he had only one, and that was back in April.

McCutchen also showed less plate discipline with fastballs in all locations this season:

Regain the Platoon Advantage

McCutchen’s quality of contact against left-handed pitchers took a nosedive last season. In 2015, he had a .213 Well-Hit Average versus lefties — well north of the .157 MLB average for right-handed batters. In 2016, McCutchen’s Well-Hit Average was a paltry .110. Things got especially ugly when lefties threw him a curveball or a slider (.033 Well-Hit Average versus lefty breaking pitches in 2016, compared to .190 in 2015; the MLB average is .122).

Use the Middle of the Field

McCutchen displayed exceptional power to the middle of the field in 2015, posting a .772 slugging percentage and swatting 11 home runs. Last year? He slugged .429 (.491 MLB average) and went deep just three times.

Stop the Scorched Earth Policy vs. Changeups

‘Cutch’s batting average versus changeups has gone from .407 in 2014 to .179 in 2015 to just .123 in 2016, which ranked 199th out of 202 full-time players and was barely half of the MLB average (.240). On a related note, his ground ball rate against changeups has soared from 43.2% in 2014, to 52.6% in 2015, and 64.9% last year (50.3% MLB average).

Hope for Better Luck

McCutchen produced weaker contact in 2016 (.192 Well-Hit Average) than in 2015 (.216), but he was still somewhat unlucky. His Batting Average on Balls in Play dipped by more than 40 points between 2015 (.339) to 2016 (.297). If fewer batted balls had found leather, McCutchen’s decline wouldn’t have looked quite so severe.