How Much Does Andrew McCutchen Help the San Francisco Giants?
Andrew McCutchen's name has been making the rounds in baseball trade rumors since last offseason once it became apparent that the Pittsburgh Pirates were not going to negotiate a contract extension with the former National League MVP.
Pittsburgh, a small market team, knew they were going to unload the outfielder that had become the face of its franchise before he hit free agency, and it finally happened Monday, as they agreed to a deal with the San Francisco Giants for two minor league prospects.
It's been a brutal couple days for Pirates fans, who are already dealing with watching the team trade their ace pitcher, Gerrit Cole, to the Houston Astros. It's clear the curtain has come down on the mini-revival that saw them make the postseason three straight seasons from 2013-15. But what about the Giants? Does McCutchen help them bounce back from a truly dreadful 2017 to once again be contenders in what's a suddenly very competitive NL West?
Cutch Still Solid
After a horrific 2016 season in which he went from being a 5-6 win player to one with an fWAR of 0.6, McCutchen hit .279/.363/.468 with 28 homers, 88 RBI and 94 runs scored this past year, while increasing his walk rate (10.2% to 11.2%) and reducing his strikeout rate (21.2% to 17.8%). He tailed off in the second half (.775 OPS, 103 wRC+) after a red-hot first half (.909 OPS, 138 wRC+), but his overall numbers were still pretty good.
The move to AT&T Park could hurt his power production a bit, although he has hit decently there throughout his career (.275/.367/.451 with 3 dingers in 120 plate appearances). Consider that the only Giants player to put up better numbers than McCutchen in 2017 was Buster Posey, who had a wRC+ of 123 and an fWAR of 4.3. McCutchen is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $14.5 million, so San Francisco is only concerned with his production for the upcoming year.
Fixing the Outfield
Adding McCutchen is a boon to what was the worst outfield in baseball last season. A collection of 13 players compiled an fWAR of just 0.8 in 2017. The next-closest team, the Atlanta Braves, had an fWAR of 2.6, so it wasn't even close. McCutchen's fWAR of 3.7 was over four times greater than the Giants' outfield collectively, and he's penciled in (for now) as the every-day starter in center field.
Denard Span "led" the way with a team-high fWAR of 1.2 in the outfield. That was tied for 113th out of 144 qualified MLB players and tied for 42nd out of 52 qualified outfielders. He won't be back since he's now on the Tampa Bay Rays, but 34-year-old Hunter Pence will be, fresh off his worst season in ages. In just 134 games, Pence posted an 87 wRC+ and an fWAR of 0.7 in 134 games. With Cutch currently in center, Pence is slated to start the season as the every-day right fielder, with some combination of Jarrett Parker, Mac Williamson and Gorkys Hernandez in left (although a trade or a free agent signing for another outfielder is likely).
While McCutchen's bat will likely help the outfield offensively, his defense in center leaves a bit to be desired. He improved his defensive metrics drastically last season, improving from a defensive score of -16.5 to -3.3, according to FanGraphs. He also reduced the number of runs he cost his team with the glove last season, down from -28 two seasons ago to -14 last year. If San Francisco does add another outfielder to the mix, they would likely prefer a center fielder so McCutchen can move to a corner.
How Much Better Is San Francisco?
While the addition of McCutchen certainly makes the Giants better, there is still a yawning gap between them and the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a sizable distance between them and the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, all of whom made the postseason last year.
The Giants finished with 98 losses in 2017, tied with the Detroit Tigers for the most in baseball. How do they get from 64 wins to something closer to 84 in one season?
San Francisco hopes replacing Span with McCutchen will be worth a few wins, and a few weeks ago the team acquired Evan Longoria in a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. Longoria, who put up a 2.5 fWAR last season, replaces a collection of third basemen that also ranked last in fWAR (-1.8). That's a little over four wins improvement right there.
A return to health will help, too. Brandon Belt played in just 104 games last season, Joe Panik played in 138, and most importantly, Madison Bumgarner made just 17 starts thanks to injuring himself in a motorbike accident. Howver, more changes are needed to fix a starting rotation that finished with a 4.58 ERA (15th in baseball). Johnny Cueto (4.52 ERA) and Jeff Samardzija (4.42 ERA) are set to return, but both need to be more effective, while the back-end of the rotation is still a question mark.
There are still a number of holes San Francisco must fill to get back into the NL wild card conversation, but it's clear the team is trying to keep the window of contention open during the primes of Posey and Bumgarner as long as they can. They hope McCutchen will help them accomplish that goal in 2018, but he'll need more help to do it.