2020 was a big year for Andrew McCutchen. Finally healthy, McCutchen was looking to return to form after missing the majority of the 2019 season with a torn ACL.
It was always going to be tough for McCutchen to reach or even surpass his level of production from 2019 in the shortened 2020 season. He was arguably their most valuable player through the first two months of last season, slashing .261/.383/.469 with 10 HRs and 29 RBIs as the dynamic lead-off hitter the Phillies hoped he’d be.
McCutchen put up a respectable .253/.324/.478 line in 2020. He struggled to begin the season, was scorching hot at the end of August and finished out the season with one of his best individual offensive performances of his Phillies career, going 3-for-4 with a home run, double and three runs scored against the Rays.
While the Phillies would like to get a bit more out of him on offense in 2021, the concerns lie in his defense and durability. The 33-year-old posted a -8 DRS in 2020 and just isn’t as quick to the ball as he was post-injury. His sprint speed was down by more than a foot a second from last season.
McCutchen started 52 games out of 60 in 2020 with 36 games in left field and 16 as the DH. That equates to 140 games in the lineup, 97 games in the outfield and 43 games as the designated hitter in a 162-game season.
“I am happy with the amount of games we were able to get out of him,” manager Joe Girardi said when asked about McCutchen’s 2020 season during the Rays series. “I wasn’t quite sure, especially when we saw at the beginning of the year there was some trepidation about some certain things he had to do and he knew he had to mentally get over those hurdles and he did.”
Rehab for McCutchen was just as mental as it was physical. Earlier this season, he spoke on what it was like to return to first on a pickoff play standing up after the injury — something he wouldn’t think twice about in prior years. He also recognized at the time that there was still plenty of progress to be made.
“I went back to first standing up and I looked at Paco (Figueroa) and I (said) ‘That’s the first time I’ve done it,'” McCutchen said on Aug. 16. “Little things like that. It takes those reps and knowing I can do it…But I also realize that it may not look as fluid. The starting and stopping. There are little things there that look a little weird but I know with the repetitions and doing it over and over, that stuff is going to clean up.”
Girardi employed a cautious approach when managing McCutchen’s workload this season. Does he think he’ll have to do it again?
“I think there will be less caution next year being a year removed and I think he will probably feel a lot better coming into [next year’s] spring training than he did [last] spring training. He won’t be rehabbing so I would think next year would be different,” Girardi said.Embed from Getty Images
The universal DH returning next season isn’t a foregone conclusion. McCutchen staying on the field over a 162-game season also isn’t a guarantee. If he can stay healthy for the duration of what will probably be his final year with the Phillies, the team might need to sacrifice corner outfield defense to have his bat in the lineup. He was a plus defender in 2019, so perhaps he can improve in 2021.
The Phillies were one of the worst defensive teams in all of baseball in 2020. The outfield ranked 26th in defensive runs saved (-16) and 29th in ultimate zone rating (-11). The infield isn’t much better as the team ranked 27th and 29th in DRS and UZR. Improving on defense should be a priority in both free agency and the early days of spring training.
All things considered, Girardi thinks he can get as much or even more out of McCutchen in 2021 — especially if the DH remains in the National League.
“I do,” Girardi said when asked if McCutchen can be an everyday left fielder in 2021. “I think I would give him his DH days. He’s not like 37 or 38 but he’s getting to his mid-thirties to where I think DH days help him.”
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