Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and... The Tampa Bay Rays?

Three topic headers concerning the Pittsburgh Pirates.


Andrew McCutchen













































Above is a chart detailing some advance statistics for Andrew McCutchen pulled from so far this year and over the course of his career.

The first stats that caught my eye were his tripleslash line, highlighted by his average, which stands at .219 compared to a career .280 average.  Part of McCutchen's low average is a result of poor luck (.235 BABIP  compared to  .312 BABIP, and 8.3 IFH% compared 10.5 IFH%).  However, a lower LD% (16.4 to 18.5) also may have led to his lower Avg. this year. 

Also concerning is his higher strikeout rate (24.0K% compared to 17.7K%).  However that has come with a higher BB% rate (13.4 compared to 11.0%) to keep his ratio close to his career mark (.65 compared to .71 - .65 was his exact ratio in his half year in '09).  This seems to indicate more patience and a selective approach at the plate so far in '11, which isn't all bad.  Especially when his Iso. is higher this year than over the course of his career so far (.198 compared to .175).  Part of that has to do with a higher HR/FB% (by approximately 50% - 13.5 compared to 9.2), but I can buy into the theory that he's trying to hit for more power, which may have added some uppercut into his swing (which would explain his higher FB%, more strikeouts, and higher HR/FB%).  This would fall in line with what Kev S said in this earlier fanpost about McCutchen. 


He is trying to hit HRs.

Which is leading to too many SOs, way too many fly balls and not enough line drives. In the first week of the season Cutch said that management wanted him to hit more HRs this season, this is a result of that.

by Kev S on Apr 30, 2011 9:08 AM EDT reply actions  




Which also accounts for his low BABIP.

by Kev S on Apr 30, 2011 9:12 AM EDT up reply actions  


Personally, I feel like that's an acceptable trade, as long as the ISO. stays near .200 and the BB:K ratio doesn't fluctuate too much. 

Now, to really worry about McCutchen, it's prudent to see if his stats are concerning independent from luck.  Adjusting what his expected Babip should be based on his LD% ratio (a very rough and inaccurate process) you get a % factor of 88.6 (16.4/18.5). 

Adjusting that to his career BABIP, you get a .276 mark (88.6 x .312).  It's reasonable with a lower (and thus unlucky) IFH% (8.3 compared to 10.5) that you could bump that up a bit, say to .285, meaning his BABIP for this year consistent with his LD% and IFH% should normalize and increase by .50.  

Adjusting his BABIP by .50 adds 4 hits so far this year, bumping his average up to .260.  Add a bit if Cutch is able to better his LD% and cut down his K% rate a bit, and you are close to his career .280, and hopefully he can achieve that with his improved power and, at least so far, better defense (UZR/150 : 7.6).  Even his arm has him saving runs (0.8 so far) making it seem McCutchen is turning into the 5 tool stud the Pirates and their fans hope he can become.


Pedro Alvarez

Now on to another Pirate who's struggles may be a bit more worrisome.  Pedro Alvarez's strikeout rate is basically the exact same as last year (33.3% in 2011 compared to 33.4% career) and his BABIP isn't that low (.293 in 2011compared to .331 career).  What is low is his 10.3 LD% (13.9% career) and his 5.3 HR/FB% (15.5% career).  The second stat should rise and normalize over time, but his 10.3 LD% rate is worrisome, especially considering Pedro has looked lost at the plate and has rarely made hard contact so far this year.

For McCutchen, I talked about why he should rebound.  Since Alvarez simply looks like he may be not as good as hoped, I will focus on why that's okay.  I have a few main points concerning that.

  • Realistic Expectations - Even when he was drafted, Alvarez's strength was power.  When viewing his minor league numbers, rookie numbers, and the HR/FB% showing his "bad luck" so far this year, it's clear Alvarez will hit for power.  The area limiting his ceiling is his plate discipline, which directly inputs into his OBP.  He's going to strikeout a good bit and have problems with left-handers, and his declined walk rate is also a concern (6.2% in 11' compared to 9.6% in 2010 and a figure over 11.5% in all his stops in the minors - this figure was inflated some by IBB).  Basically, believing Pedro's going to be hitting near .300 and have a OBP near .400 is just wishful thinking, even with the hype coming out of college.
  • Value Regardless - Even if Pedro's hits closer to .250 than .300 and doesn't walk like Adam Dunn walks, if Pedro can provide legitimate power (ISO of .205 in 2010), especially if it goes along with reasonable defense at 3B (UZR/150 : 3.2 so far this year), Pedro will still be a valuable player. Considering a majority of players drafted don't even make the big leagues, Pedro providing above average value at 3B (or hopefully 1B if he does have to move) is great.  Obviously as the 2nd pick overall, much is expected out of him and the success rate is higher than the average draftee, but it is important to remember how valuable he's going to be while under cheap team control. 


Tampa Bay Rays

Now, if Pedro becomes a .260/.340 25 HR guy instead of a .290/.375 40 HR guy, concerns arise about the "window".  The general concept of a competitive window has been discussed here ad nasuem.  Basically, for a small market team, window's appear when enough cheap talent is in the majors at the right time, allowing a team to be competitive for a short period of time, usually two-three years.  The Marlins had an extreme example using the window concept, winning two world series titles, then shipping everyone away in fire sales to replenish the farm system. 

For the Pirates, that window seems to start as early as next year, and then maybe extend until 2015, when McCutchen is eligible for free agency (contract extension talks notwithstanding).  The fear is the Pirates won't have the pitching to compete in that window.  That fear may be justified, as the only guys with realistic shots to be big pitching contributors during that time are as follows: Morton, McDonald, Lincoln, Owens, Locke, Morris, and Wilson.  A very optimistic time line brings Taillon up mid-season 2013, but hopes of that have been stymied with the approach the Pirates have taken so far for Taillon (sending him to EST - I'm not supporting or criticizing this approach).  That leaves a group of pitchers that is interesting, but leaves something to be desired - namely FOR talent.  This puts more pressure on the Pirates to ride their offense to win games during that "window" and if Pedro doesn't meet some of the lofty expectations placed upon him, well therein lies the problem.

Personally, and this is my key point to this entire fanpost, this doesn't worry me at all.  When I try and establish a sense of Neal Huntington and his plan for the Pirates, I feel like he's attempting to build a model similar to what the Tampa Bay Rays are doing and contrary to what the Marlins did.  Namely, Neal isn't seeking out to create window's in which the Pirates will compete.  His goal is to develop such depth in the farm system, that when a player becomes too expensive or fails to perform, a replacement is available.  Obviously that is a daunting task, but it is precisely what is happening in Tampa Bay.

In 2007, the Rays finished dead last in MLB with a 66-96 record.  In 2008, the Rays became a trendy darkhorse, mainly because of the young talent they had on the field that was expected to take the next step.  The Rays played even better than expected, winning 97 games, losing only 65, and making the world series.  Evan Longoria burst onto the scene, putting up 5.4 WAR in only 122 games.  BJ Upton increased his WAR by .5, from 4.2 to 4.7.  Andy Sonnanstine increased his WAR by 1.4 from 2.1 to 3.5 and Matt Garza showed up in the big leagues, producing 2.9 WAR.  Top prospect David Price caused quite a stir with his performance out of bullpen, showing his potential as a starter atop the  Rays rotation for years to come.  The Rays were competitive in 2009, before missing the playoffs due to finishing 3rd in a very competitive AL East.  They won the AL East again last year, before falling to the Rangers in the playoffs.  

This year, they were expected to fall off losing Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and Rafael Soriano to free agency and Matt Garza to a trade. Still, they have young, elite, team controlled talent in Longoria and ace David Price, along with plenty of talented complementary pieces that include one of the top preseason pitching prospects in Jeremy Hellickson.  Riding this young talent, the Rays have actually managed to be competitive this year as they are currently 15-13, 2.5 GB out of first place in the AL East and 1 GB in the wild card race (all this is all despite having arguably their best player on the DL in Longoria).  With B.J Upton trade rumors beginning to fly, that should open up a spot for another top prospect in baseball, Desmond Jennings.  And the talent in the farm system doesn't stop there; in fact, it's only the beginning. 

Just since 2008 the Rays have graduated an impressive amount of talent from their farm system.  Players include the aforementioned Longoria, Price, and Hellickson along with Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Jack McGee, John Jaso, and Reid Brignac.  Jennings will follow soon and will leave behind a still impressive farm system (even before the return for Upton if he is in fact traded).  This farm system, generally rated second best  behind the ridiculous Royal's system, includes great pitching depth at the top (Moore, Archer, Colome, Torres to name a few) and a few positional players (Sale, Lee). 

Now, a seemingly valid argument is that the Rays have simply been beneficiaries of top draft pick after top draft pick, possibly suggesting their situation is too unique to duplicate.  However, that's mainly untrue for two reasons.

  • The Pirates also have had high draft picks year after year, meaning it is possible to duplicate that success. However, a valid point is that the Pirates have failed on many of their top draft picks, including (but not limited too) Bullington, Moskos, and now, possibly even Pedro Alvarez.  While this may be true, the Pirates have had solid success as well, especially lately.  McCutchen and Walker have become solid major league players so far, and Pedro could still be a very valuable player. Recent top draft picks, Sanchez and Taillon look promising. In addition...
  • The Rays missed on many of their top draft picks too (at least in adding value to their team).  Josh Hamilton, Delmon Young, and more recently Tim Beckham come to mind. Essentially, even with these misses (Aside - The situation the Rays found themselves in in 2008 was simply absurd.  The Rays were on their way to going to the World Series, still picked first overall in June, and, at least according to early returns, "botched" the pick), the Rays have managed to put together a team that will look to compete into the future, even in the AL central.

However, an issue that may occur is success at the major league level leads to drafting lower in June.  For the Rays at least, this seems to not be an issue.  The aforementioned Sale (Josh) was drafted last year with the 17th pick, in the lower half of the first round, and another top 20 prospect, Justin O'Conner was drafted 30th overall (comp pick).  To top it all off, the Rays have an absurd 10 (I believe) draft picks before the 1S round is over, most coming from players they could have traded (Soriano, Crawford, and Pena) but choose to keep, ignoring the fire sale and "window" mentality. 

Personally, I think this approach is possible and the Rays have proved it enough to me.  The question is, can the Pirates duplicate it.  A large determining factor will be the Pirates scouting department to get the right players, especially when we are (hopefully) drafting later in the first round, and then the development department to get the most out of their talent.  A bit of luck will also be a factor.  Hopefully, as a Pirate fan, the organization will do its part and get the luck required to make it happen.  Either way, I'm excited to find out... even if Pedro doesn't become the next Albert Pujols.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the managing editor (Charlie) or SB Nation. FanPosts are written by Bucs Dugout readers.

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