I want to start off by saying that Andrew McCutchen is an incredibly gifted ball player, and that I have no doubt that he will snap out of this funk and start hitting more than a black jack player at the end of a 24 hour gambling binge. This is not a prediction of doom and gloom, but rather an analysis of his current statistics, and what it will take (other than luck) for this to change. So, onwards we go...
When I started writing this, it was in an attempt to reaffirm what we all seem to feel. Andrew McCutchen is simply in a BABIP fueled slump. We all can see and agree that he has been making the same amount of (lots) and type of (hard) contact that he had through all of last year. We feel this way not because we want or hope to, but because this is what our eyes (and to some extent, our ears) are telling us. So when we look at his BABIP and see a .230 just below the .291 in '11 and the .375 in '12, we know for certain that this is true and can move on with our lives.
There is another number though. Another number that is so far out of whack with what history tells us Andrew McCutchen is cable of. It tells us that this BABIP fueled slump is not so much about luck, as it is about plate discipline.
When scanning across his contact rates, everything seems in order. O-Swing%? 27.6%, a touch higher than last years 25.9%, but nothing crazy. So he's not swinging that much more at pitches out of the strike zone.
Well then, maybe his Contact% is down. Nope, the 81% is actually HIGHER than last years 77.8% and is right in line with his career average.
His Batted Ball line says he's hitting more fly balls than grounders, which certainly has some effect on BABIP, in fact it tends to have more than a great effect on it; as ground balls go for hits more often than fly balls which leads to a higher BABIP. But we all know Andrew McCutchen is not Juan Pierre. 'Cutch ropes doubles into the gaps and triples into the corners. So a small dip in ground balls to fly balls doesn't account for more than 100 points in BABIP.
What I've found is that, while McCutchen may be swinging at balls out of the strike zone only a few more percentage points higher than usual, he is making CONTACT with these pitches at an alarmingly high rate.
Throughout his career he has made contact with pitches out of the strike zone at a rate of 63.8%. Last season he was at 61.3%. This season he's at 73.6%. An increase of more than 10%. That's a BIG change.
There are currently 190 players that qualify for a batting title. Of those 190 there are currently only 30 players with a higher O-Swing% and O-Zone% than 'Cutch. The vast majority of these players are guys you'd expect to see, Chris Getz, Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Alcides Escobar and good ole Juan Pierre. There are only two other guys, Matt Holliday and Adrian Beltre, that could even get within sniffing distance of an MVP award. Suffice it to say, this is not a list that Andrew McCutchen has any right to be on. Because Andrew McCutchen is not anywhere near the type of hitter that most of these guys tend to be. Andrew McCutchen's contact skills have almost become TOO good, if there can be such a thing. Once 'Cutch's contact rates even out a bit, there's no doubt he'll get back somewhere in between '11 and '12.
There are three quick things I'd like to bring up before finishing. The first is that I do not have a scatter plot of the pitches he's been swinging at. He very well could be swinging at, and making contact with, pitches that are but fractions of inches out of the strike zone. Which would more or less make this entire post a moot point. The second is that Andrew McCutchen posted a +34.4 wFB last season, while posting a -1.7 wFB this season. In other words, there is not a chance in hell that this will continue.
The third and final thing is that the DAY I wrote about Pedro's slump, he crushed a home run and has hit pretty well ever since, hopefully 'Cutch does the same. GO BUCS!
(as usual, all stats are courtesy of FanGraphs.com)