By Jared Lankes
Andrew McCutchen has been the face of the Pirates for what has seemed like forever now. However, he had a disastrous 2016, even though he finished the season with two strong months. 2017 has, unbelievably, been even worse for McCutchen. The former MVP owns an OBP of .271 with a wOBA of .275, and a wRC+ of 69, well below average in all three statistics. His walk rate is still respectable at 9% but nowhere near where it used to be when pitchers feared him, and while his strikeout rate has returned to more normal levels, he’s hitting a lot of soft contact to the pull side for routine grounders. In short, Andrew McCutchen is not the MVP or even the All-Star player he used to be, and may never reach that pinnacle again at this current pace. A sad reality that we may need to face.
Through all this, however, Clint Hurdle remains steadfast in letting Andrew McCutchen hit right smack in the middle of the lineup in the 3 hole. This decision to do this night in and night out is killing the team on too many occasions. In turn, the debate about moving McCutchen out of the 3-hole to a lower position in the lineup, which was split 50-50 just 6 months ago, has turned into an obvious decision that needs to be made and nearly everyone agrees.
I could probably go through the season so far and pull out at least a dozen instances, if not two dozen, where hitting McCutchen third has lead to a rally being squashed or at least hindered in its midst. There used to be a time where he was the guy you most wanted up in big spots, but sadly he has turned into the guy people seem to least want up in those big spots in which he’d thrive in even just two short seasons ago.
The solution to Andrew McCutchen’s issues may not be a moving him around in the lineup, but moving him in the lineup would be for the betterment of the team as a whole. And who knows? Maybe he gets moved down in the order and something clicks for him knowing he can relax a bit more in a much lesser-leverage area of the lineup.
Given Andrew McCutchen’s struggles and the team’s current situation, they need to be open to any idea to help this team squeeze out every bit of production they can from every player they currently have. Right now, McCutchen hitting third is not maximizing anything; in fact, it is a major part as to why this lineup has not performed the way they are capable. I get that McCutchen is still “the guy” and will be until he’s not with the Pirates anymore, but the time for him having his “own spot” in the lineup has passed because he has not proven to anyone recently that he deserves that.
It was fine to have McCutchen hitting third to begin the year to see if he’d bounce back, but through nearly two months, he hasn’t shown many glimpses of that. Therefore, I believe it is time for Clint Hurdle to make the tough move, that I’m sure he doesn’t want to make, and move McCutchen down in the order to 6th or 7th in an effort to get him going as well as to make the lineup more productive as a whole.