The Numbers Behind Andrew McCutchen's Slump
Andrew McCutchen is a good baseball player.
I don't think we need to debate that. However, things have started slowly for both McCutchen this year, and his batting average sits at just .186, down significantly from his .314 mark of 2014.
Plenty of factors go into a batting average, though. Is it really McCutchen's fault, or are things likely to regress back to the mean soon enough?
Not the Same
In his past six games and 17 at-bats, McCutchen has just one lone hit: a single against the Diamondbacks on April 26th. The 1-for-2 day upped his average from .175 to .186.
Of course, more than just his batting average is down as a result of his start.
Naturally, one of the most important columns in the table is the one that lists plate appearances. Yes, McCutchen has stepped up to the plate just 73 times this year, but practically everything is down this year from last year -- and quite substantially.
Of his 11 hits, four are of the extra-base variety (including two homers and two doubles), but McCutchen's Isolated Power (.136) ranks just 101st among 189 qualified hitters so far this season, according to FanGraphs.
His wOBA (.293), though, ranks even worse, sitting at 127th among the 189 qualified batters in 2015.
His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .191 ranks just 173rd and falls well below his career average of .333 and his three most recent marks of at least .353. The BABIP of the entire league in 2015 so far is .290 -- and was .299 in 2014 -- so McCutchen should have some better luck this year on the balls he puts in play.
In the same breath, though, those numbers also indicate that his previous marks were significantly above league average in the past three years and may not be entirely sustainable year after year. McCutchen's sky-high BABIP of .361 between 2012 and 2014 -- which ranked seventh among 223 batters -- might just be coming back down to earth hard.
One glaring issue evidenced in McCutchen's numbers is his line-drive percentage (line drives per ball in play), which sits at just 8.2 percent. That's significantly down from his career average of 20.3 percent. His fly ball percentage, however, has climbed in each of the past three seasons and is higher this year than even last year when it spiked drastically.
McCutchen's fly ball percentage has increased from 34.3 percent to 34.8 percent in 2012 and 2013. Last year it was 41.5 percent, and this year it's at 46.9 percent.
So, McCutchen is hitting fewer liners than the rest of the league (8.2 percent compared to 20.6 so far this year), and he's hitting more fly balls than league average (46.9 percent compared to 33.9 percent).
Problematically, his home run to fly ball rate (8.7 percent this year) is down from his 13.7 percent last year and 12.5 percent career average. It also pales to the league average this season of 10.3 percent.
Swings and Misses
In terms of actual swings, it's not as though McCutchen is chasing more pitches outside the strike zone. In fact, he's chasing less frequently (swinging at 25.5 percent of balls outside the zone) than in any of the past three seasons (25.9, 27.9, 27.7 percent, respectively). However, he's not connecting on them when he does offer.
McCutchen's contacting the ball on just 52.6 percent of his out-of-the-zone offerings, down from his career average of 64.7 percent.
Overall, Cutch is making contact on 75.9 percent of his swings, the lowest such mark of his career (his career average is 80.4 percent).
Considering that he's also seeing the highest rate of first-pitch strikes in his career (60.3 percent, up from 57.4 percent) in addition to the combination of lower contact rates, a higher fly ball rate, and a very low line-drive rate, it's no wonder that McCutchen is falling on the wrong side of 100 in league ranks of batting metrics.
McCutchen seems to think that breaking out of this slump is just a matter of time, and it's hard to think otherwise.
His BABIP and line drive rate are practically unsustainably low. After all, only three players (among 146 qualified) posted line drive rates lower than 16.4 percent last season, and Brian McCann's BABIP of .231 was worst among those qualified batters.
However, McCutchen has been near the top of the league in BABIP for three years, and this may be the year when balls don't always find the gaps.
Better things have to be in store for the 2013 NL MVP, but maybe this is just a sign that he will be taking a step back this season offensively.