Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Magnitude of McCutchen's Struggles and Why it's Helped Make This Season Suck

Pictures from 8-16-10: vs. the Florida Marlins

It's amazing what starting pitching can do. James McDonald has only been here for three weeks, and is already 2-1. This is already more wins than has Ross Ohlendorf and puts him in a third place tie with Jeff Karstens for most wins amongst Pirates starters.
It doesn't take much to look good in comparison to our starting pitching, so maybe this isn't the best way to analyze McDonald's abilities. I could also say that he's one of a handful of Pirates starters who managed to go seven full innings this season, but that would just be more of the same.
Hell with it, I can't help myself: keep in mind that two of his three games were played with Doumit in right field!

Chris Snyder has continued to impress here. He got himself another two hits tonight; unfortunately, he was batting seventh before Argenis Diaz and the pitcher. If he isn't batting with runners in scoring position, he's screwed unless he hits a home run.
Jose Tabata makes a catch in right field. I've heard rumors that he may eventually replace McCutchen in center field. Frankly, I like the idea of Tabata's speed not-so-unofficially backing up Doumit's fielding, so for at least right now I say go for it.
Aside from the starting pitching (and now the bullpen), Andrew McCutchen has been perhaps the biggest reason why the Pirates have managed to perform below the already-low expectations for them this season.
Back in April, many had hopes that we would get a couple legitimate power hitters out of Jeff Clement, Ryan Doumit, Lastings Milledge, Andy Laroche, and eventually Pedro Alvarez. Clement swung and missed his way back to Indianapolis, Doumit has been playing like he's had mono and doesn't want anyone to find out, Milledge has yet to develop the power that you need from a right fielder, and Laroche breaks my heart every time I see him. Only Alvarez has really given one much reason to hope out of this group.
Garrett Jones isn't in this list because if anyone expected him to hit like last year, they deserve the resulting disappointment.
Given the lack of power, McCutchen really needed to put up numbers at least comparable to last year, if not better. On one hand, the rookies could have used the leadership. And in a very basic sense, if your leadoff hitter isn't hitting and you have no real power bats, you aren't going to get many runs.
Tabata and Walker have exceeded expectations, and nearly form the entirety of the Pirates' offense. I shudder to think of this season without them, but the rookies should not be the best hitters on the team.
This leads to the enigma of the clutch hit. How many times this season have Pirates players blamed the awful record on the persistent lack of the "big hit"? Maybe clutch hits can't be measured with mathematics, but it is clearly what the players are alluding to with these comments.
Logically, the idea of the clutch hit makes a lot of sense. One is supposed to ignore the crowd and the pressure and treat an at-bat as if it were any other, but this is of course much easier said than done. If we had a dependable hitter with at least one full year of MLB experience under his belt who was hitting around .300 and able to deliver in these circumstances, it would theoretically bolster the entire offense. There would be fewer players left on base, and as a result there would be more incentive to get there in the first place. McCutchen would have been the ideal guy to fill this role and still very well may, but he has not done so this season.

What really gives McCutchen the edge when it comes to degrees of disappointment is the fact that he needs to be this guy. Short of hitting under .200 and earning an error a game, McCutchen will never be benched or sent down to AAA. He is going to be a keystone in Pirates batting orders until he reaches free agency.

I am not bemoaning this fact; McCutchen has done nothing to deserve a demotion, and it would be a crime not to have him be an every-day player. However, given the huge flaws in Pirates offense, McCutchen can't just be a hitter with a .281 average and a .781 OPS. He needs to be a star, the nucleus around which our offense will eventually coalesce.
Because of this, I think we should resign Nyjer Morgan in the off-season and make him the bench coach. Or even give him the position of "McCutchen's Best Friend" for all I care. We have not had a leader like him amongst the Pirates' offense since his departure, and the absence has been felt.
I'm only half kidding about the Nyjer Morgan thing. After the season he's having, we could sign him for next to nothing, have a guy with a great sense of humor to take the edge off of losing streaks, and a future legendary color commentator.

Neil Walker participates in a double play.
Argenis Diaz also participated in a double play. Unfortunately, he hit into it.
That's not the sun; that's the glowing light of the God of Pitching, and it was sure as hell shining on McDonald last night.

Not so much for Marlins pitcher Volstad.
Imagine my surprise when Diaz got a hit! Compounded only by my surprise when he was picked off at first immediately thereafter for not getting back in time.
It's okay, little dude. I imagine Cedeno has set the bar pretty high for post-screw up freak-outs by this point.
McCutchen finally stole a base tonight, only to run into this guy's foot while doing so.
Fortunately it was no big thing because McCutchen is made of steel. Steel that also hit a home run tonight. Look, I'm not saying he's yet another hole in the batting order. Rather, he's a hole that cannot be plugged; it must heal itself. Go reread the above paragraph again if by this point you think that I'm bashing McCutchen, because you're wrong.
Alvarez hits a foul. Unfortunately, I have very few photos of Alvarez getting a hit because the ball moves out of the frame far too fast.
This speaks for itself.
I'm not going to get into the bullpen right now because I don't want to ruin my good mood, but Resop has been very good through tonight.
He struggled a bit when, with two outs, he threw about twenty pitches to two successive batters, both of which ended in walks.
He got the third out without letting in a run.
Hanrahan started off a bit shaky. Here we see him watch a ball go flying towards left field.
Fortunately, he got it together and emerged from the inning without giving up a run.
Big win!
Oh yeah, we also signed Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie. Looks like I'll be living in Pittsburgh for at least another five or six years.

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