Former National League MVP Bryce Harper and All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, both of whom were acquired during Spring Training, were the biggest pickups in a major offseason for Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak. It was easy to overlook some of the Phillies other moves this offseason.
However, one of the earliest dominoes to fall in the Phillies plan this offseason was Andrew McCutchen. The Phillies inked the 32-year-old outfielder to a three-year/$50 million deal that includes a fourth-year club option in December. Despite entering his age 32-season, McCutchen is still a valuable player and is going to be a much-needed upgrade for the Phillies, both offensively and defensively.
For the Phillies, trading Carlos Santana two the Seattle Mariners killed two birds with one stone – it allowed them to acquire All-Star shortstop Jean Segura and opened first base for Rhys Hoskins. The next piece of the puzzle for the Phillies was finding the player that would step into left field and be able to provide the club with 600 plate appearances. This is something that McCutchen has done in each of the last nine seasons. The ability to give Gabe Kapler a veteran player who has produced at the major league level while racking up 600-plus plate appearances is of great value and should allow the second-year manager to run out a more consistent lineup.
With McCutchen in the lineup, Kapler also has a player that can fit in multiple spots. Last year, McCutchen saw time hitting in each of the top three spots of the lineup in a season he split with the San Francisco Giants and New York Yankees.
McCutchen was most productive hitting from the leadoff spot, where he posted a 147 wRC+ in 222 plate appearances. In those plate appearances, McCutchen drew a walk 18.5-percent, while striking out 19.8-percent of the time. McCutchen has been very productive out of the leadoff spot, hence while he will open the season at the top-of-the-order.
While McCutchen was not as productive hitting second and third, he did post a 116 and 106 wRC+ in those spots in 2018. It is very possible with the Phillies current roster that McCutchen hits anywhere from first to sixth at points this season, but he has shown the ability to move around and still be better than league average. However, as the 2018 numbers suggest, he may be most valuable leading off, which is why Cesar Hernandez has been pushed down the lineup.
In 2018, the Phillies managed to enter August with the National League East lead, despite having quite a few issues offensively. As a team, they ultimately finished the season 19th in baseball with a 93 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. In that group, there were just three Phillies with 500 or more plate appearances against right-handed pitchers and a wRC+ greater than 100. Those Phillies were Rhys Hoskins, Cesar Hernandez and Santana, who is no longer with the team. The addition of McCutchen brings in a bat that posted a 118 wRC+ against righties last season.
While the Phillies weren’t good against opposing right-handed pitchers, they were worse against left-handed pitchers, posting an 85 wRC+. This is another area McCutchen improves the Phillies, as he brings a 126 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers. McCutchen could be even better than that in 2019, as he had a 190 wRC+ the prior season in Pittsburgh.
If we move away from wRC+ and look at exit velocity, we can also see that “Cutch” consistently makes hard contact, an area where he ranked 69th in average exit velocity last season. As it usually goes with a solid exit velocity, McCutchen also catches a decent number of barrels at the plate – posting an 8.4-barrel percentage, which is right in line with where he has been for his career and 2.3-percent better than league average.
It becomes easier to believe the above numbers can hold when it is backed with solid batted ball data. McCutchen posted an average exit velocity of 90.5 mph against left-handed pitchers in 2018 —which was his highest since 2015. Against right-handed hitters, he bounced back following a career worst 87.9 in 2017 to 89.8 mph last season. It may not seem like much, but those two miles per hour do matter.
Another massive factor worth considering is that this is the first full season McCutchen is going to play 81 games in a hitter’s park. During his career, the former National League MVP has called Pittsburgh and San Francisco home at the start of seasons. Last season, McCutchen played 130 games for the Giants before being dealt to the Yankees, where he appeared in 25 regular season games. The sample size is incredibly small, as McCutchen only played 11 home games in Yankee stadium, but he did post an .892 OPS during his time there.
Philadelphia did rank as the seventh-best park for right-handed hitters in 2018, according to Baseball Prospectus Park Factors. That gives reason to be somewhat bullish on the outlook for McCutchen in a better hitter’s ballpark. Below is the 2018 spray chart for McCutchen if he had played all his games at Citizens Bank Park:
Another upgrade the Phillies should get from signing McCutchen is improved defense in left field. It was obvious that Rhys Hoskins was a first baseman that was forced into left field by personnel decisions and despite his best efforts, the experiment was unsuccessful. Hoskins was -18 outs above average, which was the second worst total in baseball. If going by outs above average, McCutchen was poor defensively with -10. But using defensive runs saved, McCutchen was actually on the positive side with two runs saved. That’s a pretty large difference between the two, but both would agree that McCutchen is the better defender than Hoskins.
It will be interesting to see what the Phillies do as they move players around quite a bit shifting, but McCutchen’s average depth in right field in 2018 was 290 feet, while the Phillies had Hoskins at 300 feet in left field. McCutchen, even at age-31 last season, was the eighth fastest right-fielder in baseball, so the Phillies have a little more leeway there as his speed is significantly better than Hoskins’. He may no longer be an elite defender, but there is no doubt it is an upgrade from Hoskins as the Phillies need to improve their league-worst defense from 2018.
The addition of McCutchen is going to be huge for the Phillies in 2019. It should allow Hoskins to truly unlock his full potential to the team while upgrading in left field. The Phillies sent away a patient bat in Santana this off-season, but McCutchen brings that skill in to cancel the loss. The versatility he brings to the plate will allow Kapler to fit McCutchen in different spots in the lineup while having another guy that has been through the grind of 600-plus plate appearances for the last nine years. He may not be in his prime anymore, but he brings much needed skills to the Phillies on both sides of the ball and will finally play at least 81 games in a hitter friendly ballpark.
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