Moving Andrew McCutchen Out of Center Field Had to Be Done
Despite a multitude of rumors over the winter that the Pirates were looking to move their franchise star, McCutchen remains in the Steel City and is preparing for a change of position. Manager Clint Hurdle confirmed the move in a statement, and for his part, McCutchen said he's fine with it.
QUOTED: Andrew McCutchen pic.twitter.com/uX9F0tFI9Q
â€” Pirates Breakdown (@pbcbreakdown) February 5, 2017
The National League MVP in 2013, McCutchen had been one of the game's true studs until he posted career lows in batting average (.256), on-base percentage (.336) and slugging percentage (.430) last year. His wRC+ of 106 was just slightly above league average, and after posting a Wins Above Replacement no lower than 4.9 every year since 2011, he went in the opposite direction in 2016, posting a -0.7 bWAR.
It was a really bad year at the plate, and also a horrible, no good, very bad year in the field as Pittsburgh's primary center fielder.
Among 54 qualified outfielders, McCutchen had the fewest Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) last year, with a whopping -28. His Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which calculates how many runs a player saved thanks to their range, was also worst in baseball, at -18.7. Here's a play from a game against the Marlins last August that helps tell the tale.
The next closest player in DRS wasn't all that close, either -- Marcell Ozuna came in second worst at -12. A knee injury from the 2015 season could've been lingering and had a part in his defensive struggles. However, FanGraphs' defensive metrics graded McCutchen as a below-average center fielder in four of the last five seasons.
Pittsburgh also has a terrific young defensive star in Starling Marte, who will now take over the position for the Pirates. Only four qualified outfielders had more DRS than Marte's 17 last season, including Mookie Betts, Kevin Pillar, Adam Eaton and Jason Heyward.
That wasn't even his best year in the DRS department, saving 24 in 2015 and another 20 in 2013, while also winning a Gold Glove in each of the last two seasons. His UZR has always been good and should increase dramatically in center, with more balls to go after, along with having to make longer runs to catch them.
Marte is an extremely talented defender, while McCutchen is declining in that area. Pittsburgh's outfield defense should improve with this move, which makes it a no-brainer.