Fantasy Baseball: Pass on Andrew McCutchen at Your Own Risk

Andrew McCutchen really struggled in the first four months of 2016. Will that make him a bargain this year?

The raw numbers from 2016 don't look too bad: 81 runs, 79 RBI, 24 homers and 6 steals to go along with a middling batting average (.256) and on-base percentage (.336).

While the full numbers turned out fine, many fantasy baseball owners of Andrew McCutchen will break out in a cold sweat remembering a brutal first four months of the year.

As a result, in taking a look at early 2017 consensus rankings over at FantasyPros, last year's 14th overall pick per NFBC draft data is sliding way down boards -- all the way to 59th overall and nearly out of the fifth round in 12-team leagues.

Is the stench of those rough four months a harbinger of things to come? Or is it possible the perennial first- or second-round pick could be a draft-day steal?

It's Not You, It's Me

No one saw what was coming out of McCutchen in the first half of 2016. On the heels of five consecutive monster seasons, the sky seemed to be the limit for the face of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Category 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
On-Base Percentage .364 .400 .404 .410 .401
Runs 87 107 97 89 91
Home Runs 23 31 21 25 23
RBI 89 96 84 83 96
Stolen Bases 23 20 27 18 11

The center fielder was a five-time NL All-Star (2011-15), which included taking home the NL MVP in 2013 and racking up four consecutive Silver Sluggers (2012-15). Entering his age-30 season in 2016, there was no reason to believe it would be anything but an extension of the past five campaigns.

His numbers ended up being fine, but it was a brutal start that had some questioning if the stud could be demoted or be benched.

Category April May June July
On-Base Percentage .339 .339 .255 .306
Runs 16 18 8 15
Home Runs 5 4 3 3
RBI 10 13 9 11
Stolen Bases 1 0 1 1

While the power numbers weren't bad, every other category was far below expectation.

Was he hurt? A thumb injury seemed to bother McCutchen quite a bit. Did the thumb affect his swing? Were his knee problems of 2015 still a thing? It seems like the knee gave him a little trouble, as evidence by an early April stretch where he had to leave a game early and miss the next day.

Whatever the cause, those weren't the numbers we were accustomed to seeing from him as fantasy owners.

Mash Them Taters

Just as it seemed like 2016 couldn't get much worse, the calendar flipped to August and Cutch returned to the being the beast we all know and love.

Category August Sept
On-Base Percentage .391 .373
Runs 10 14
Home Runs 3 6
RBI 14 22
Stolen Bases 3 0

His .391 OBP in August was his best month of the season in that category, while his .226 ISO in September was easily his best power month of the year. This led to a wRC+ of 124 in August, followed by 136 in September, which was the production we had been missing earlier in the season.

Perhaps it had nothing to do with his injuries and more about his batting approach -- McCutchen posted his highest walk rates in August (15.5%) and September (12.7%), which just so happened to coincide with his lowest strikeout rates (15.5% and 14.2%, respectively). These numbers were far above his first half numbers (8.8% walk rate and a 24.7% strikeout rate), which would have been his worst output across any full season of his illustrious career.

Whether it was injury, approach or just a bad year, McCutchen was clearly feeling something in September, as he purportedly called not one, but two moonshots with former teammate A.J. Burnett in attendance and delivered.

Every Day Low Prices

It's hard to figure out exactly what caused McCutchen to go from fantasy stud to dud and then back to a stud last year, but if you owned him, or owned multiple shares, those first few months really stung the nostrils.

Early consensus rankings show many experts are still a bit bearish on him for 2017, and that 2016 start could definitely leave a mark. However, if we extrapolate his last two months over a full season, you'll notice something eerily similar.

Category Aug-Sept Full Year
Plate Appearances 234 650
On-Base Percentage .381 .381
Runs 24 67
Home Runs 9 25
RBI 36 100
Stolen Bases 3 8

While McCutchen's run totals in that full-season scenario would be a career low, these numbers match up pretty closely to the early-round player we've seen before.

There's definitely risk in betting on him -- but there's also quite a bit of reward if Pittsburgh's center fielder from the final two months is here to stay, meaning the production we saw from 2011-15 isn't too far of a reach.