“What if...” questions are always fun. We’ve even started one here where we look at hypothetical scenarios in the game and how they might affect the Phillies. One of the bigger ones here is what would have happened if Andrew McCutchen hadn’t had his knee buckle that fateful day in San Diego. Would his decline be as sharp? Might his option have been picked up? Who knows.
574 PA, .222/.334/.444, 27 HR, 80 RBI, 23.0 K%, 14.1 BB%, 107 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR
With the bat, McCutchen was actually pretty good in 2021. He provided good power to the lineup, hitting his most home runs in a season since the 2017 heyday in Pittsburgh. Following his one year dip in walk rate thanks to the pandemic, McCutchen returned to his double digit walk rate, making him highly productive at the plate.
For me, the power that he showed was the most surprising thing of his season. To be honest, I didn’t remember coming into this review that he had as many home runs as he did, that he drove in as many runs as he did. It just felt that McCutchen was below average all season long, enduring a string of 1-4 nights in which he failed to help the team win. In actuality, McCutchen’s 27 home runs was probably one of the more overlooked parts of the team.
While he may have had some horrible luck in 2021 (.242 BABIP), but some of that can be explained away by seeing his already declining exit velocities further drop. His xBA for fastballs dropped again for the third (full) season. His whiff rates were up and his contact rates were down. Pretty much for all meaningful statistics for offensive players, McCutchen saw regression.
Looking at defensive metrics, McCutchen has lost a step, sure, but in 2021, he was simply bad in left field. His -4 OAA ranked him tied for 30th among all left fielders out of 41 players. For all the talk about how bad of a fielder Kyle Schwarber is, one of the Phillies’ targets to replace McCutchen, Schwarber was only two OAA worse than McCutchen. It’s basically a push.
To simply state it, McCutchen is declining before our eyes.
And that’s ok.
He’s going to play 2022 at age 35, meaning he should be entering his decline phase. Unfortunately for the Phillies, his decline phase happened on their watch in a year in which they really needed to make the playoffs. While McCutchen wasn’t the sole reason the team didn’t make the postseason, he sure didn’t help.
The other issue with McCutchen was his spot in the batting order, but for this, we cannot fault him. As a leadoff hitter, McCutchen batted .199/.318/.373, not exactly prototypical numbers for a person that has the most at bats in a game. When he was finally (mercifully?) moved out of the top spot, he floated around the order depending on need. When the team was fully healthy, he occupied the sixth spot in the order where he performed much better (.288/.411/.603). Of course, when players like Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto had to miss time, McCutchen would move up in the order where his numbers fell off a bit.
On a good team, McCutchen’s best spot in the lineup was sixth. Unfortunately, this team couldn’t stay healthy enough to have that lineup construction to really set them off.
Having had his option declined by the team, McCutchen is now a free agent. Should they miss on every free agent, they might - might - decide to bring him back, but the chances of this happening are almost nil. If the DH gets instituted in the National League, that could help his chances of securing a deal with the team, but it’s likely that he has played his last game in Philadelphia.
Final grade: B-
Look, we all know that McCutchen would have been better suited to being a DH in 2021. His numbers show that he was still able to get the job done when at the plate. However, the defense was almost untenable and though his on base percentage was still solid, he didn’t really fit as the leadoff hitter anymore. Was that his fault? Not really. He doesn’t make the lineup card. Even with all that negativity, it’s hard to look past his numbers and not see a player that was still pretty good with the bat. There were areas he could have done better, but in what he was able to give, he excelled.