What Is 2019 Andrew McCutchen's Ceiling for Phillies?

Andrew McCutchen had a hilarious series of Instagram stories earlier this week in which he looked straight into the camera and explained how unsettling the first few plate appearances of spring training are for a hitter. 

The pitchers are always ahead of the hitters this time of year because the hitters haven't yet found their timing. There's no perfect substitute for live game reps.

McCutchen, aside from the surprisingly entertaining production quality of his social media accounts, will be a fascinating Phillie to watch this season. Which Cutch will the Phillies get? Barring something unforeseen, it probably won't be the MVP version, but it might not be the 2018 version either.

Last season, McCutchen hit .255/.368/.424 with 30 doubles, 20 homers and 65 RBI.

In 2017, he hit .279/.363/.486 with 30 doubles, 28 homers and 88 RBI.

The OBPs were similar and the Phillies should feel comfortable that even if McCutchen again hovers in the .250s, he'll be able to battle for the team lead in on-base percentage. The big difference between the two seasons was the power output.

Interestingly, though, there wasn't much of a difference in McCutchen's batted ball profile between 2017 and 2018. This past season, despite the worse numbers, he had the highest hard-hit rate of his career. He had his highest line-drive rate since 2015. 

And it's not as if he was super unlucky - McCutchen's .304 batting average on balls in play in 2018 was just a point lower than the previous year.

The big difference was that McCutchen, like most players, didn't do much hitting in San Francisco, where he played 64 games. In 276 plate appearances at AT&T Park (now Oracle Park), McCutchen hit .249 and slugged just .400 with five home runs.

Included in that was an early-season home game when McCutchen went 6-for-7 with a walk-off three-run homer in the 14th inning. Remove that one game and McCutchen hit .229 with a .367 slugging percentage in San Fran, a similar output to Scott Kingery's 2018.

It's a beautiful ballpark out there, but McCutchen had to have been happy to bid it farewell. It's also worth noting that left-center field is very deep at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, McCutchen's previous home venue.

McCutchen last season hit 10 flyballs/line drives in San Francisco that were caught despite traveling at least 350 feet. Five of those traveled at least 370 feet.

And five of those 10 deep flyouts/lineouts would have landed in the seats if hit to the same spot at Citizens Bank Park.

If McCutchen plays a full season, as he's done eight of the last nine years, his home run total should be closer to the mid-to-upper-20s. If he has some additional batted ball luck, you could be looking at a .280/.370/.480 type of season, which is pretty much exactly what he did in 2017, his final year with the Pirates.

Bryce Harper or not, it will be interesting to see where Gabe Kapler bats McCutchen. You can really put him in any spot 1 through 5 and it would make sense. He gets on base enough and still has strong enough baserunning instincts to bat 1 or 2. He can still be enough of a run producer to bat third, fourth or fifth. 

McCutchen is the de facto replacement for Carlos Santana since his arrival pushed Rhys Hoskins back to first base. His ceiling is a lot higher than Santana's and he's just tougher to defend. Santana pulled the ball more frequently last season than every left-handed hitter in the majors except Justin Smoak and Matt Carpenter. As a result, Santana was shifted against more than practically anyone in baseball and suffered so many deep 4-3 groundouts.

McCutchen also pulls the ball a lot - you'll see plenty of hard grounders directly at the third baseman or shortstop - but he's not as easy to defend.

That is a theme of this new-look Phillies lineup - with McCutchen, Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto there will be fewer strikeouts, fewer extremes in hit location and more pressure placed on the opposing defense.

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