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How do you solve a problem like McCutchen?

Is there even a problem?

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The numbers

241 PA, .253/.324/.443, 10 HR, 34 RBI, 48/22 K/BB, 102 OPS+

The good

McCutchen’s season was really a tale of two parts. In the beginning, he struggled. There really isn’t anyway to get around it. After August 13, his slash line sat at .167/.234/.190. He looked like he had a little hitch in his giddy-up in the field. He was someone who was screaming to be put into the designated hitter spot in order to get a better defender in there.

Then, he got hot. Like, really, really good hot,

After that date, from August 14 on, he hit .274/.345/.491, usually posting those numbers from atop the lineup. That’s exactly the type of production a manager prefers out of the leadoff spot - someone who can get on base at a fairly regular clip, but still has the punch to be a threat himself. McCutchen was that to a tee. Was the slow start a result of his still working his way back from the knee injury? It’s likely since he did play last year as a 33 year old coming off of a major surgery. That’s not something one normally sees a player coming back from so easily. He needed time and got it due to the pandemic stoppage, so when he finally got it kicked into gear, he was a force for this team.

The bad

His speed, according to Statcast, and defense are eroding. Fairly alarmingly too.

McCutchen 2017-20

Year Sprint Speed percentile Outfielder jump percentile
Year Sprint Speed percentile Outfielder jump percentile
2017 90th 14th
2018 88th 23rd
2019 91st n/a
2020 65th 19th

Statcast and other advanced metrics have never been a fan of his defense as he’s usually ranked near the bottom lately in those rates that we are privy to. Whether there is internal data that the team has that would contradict that ability we won’t know.

Then there is the more nerve-wracking part where a lot of his Statcast data for his offensive game also went down from the previous years as well.


Year Exit Velocity percentile Hard Hit % percentile K% BB%
Year Exit Velocity percentile Hard Hit % percentile K% BB%
2017 58th 69th 65th 78th
2018 73rd 74th 47th 92nd
2019 n/a n/a n/a n/a
2020 65th 61st 65th 50th

It’s not the worst news in the world as the data from 2020 is also a smaller sample size by almost 23 from previous seasons, where his terrible start plays a much larger part than it would have over a full 162 game slate. Still, it’s not what you like to see from a player that is expected to carry a much larger offensive burden in 2021 with the possible departures of two core offensive pieces.

The future

McCutchen is only guaranteed to be on the Phillies in 2021. After that, the team has an option on his contract that is not chump change, worth $15 million ($3 million buyout). As the team sits now, it doesn’t look likely that the team picks that contract up, however let’s consider some things.

Prior to his injury in 2019, he was the catalyst that was making the lineup go. Once he was missing, the lineup felt incomplete and didn’t have that presence at the top of the lineup to set the table for Bryce Harper and company. The same thing happened again in 2020. Once he got going, McCutchen did so much atop that lineup that the offense was actually one of the better performing lineups in the game. He has a very particular skill set that the team doesn’t not have access to either as a replacement on the bench or in the minor leagues ready to come up. They are dreadfully thin at the outfield position as far as minor league depth goes, so letting him walk away could be an issue.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves, of course, since 2021 hasn’t even happened. But should he produce as he has the past two years in Philadelphia, it’ll become a very real question what to do with his contract.