By John Perrotto
In Baseball America’s annual Best Tools survey, National League managers voted Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen as the third-best baserunner in the league behind Atlanta center fielder Michael Bourn and Mets shortstop Jose Reyes.
Too bad Baseball America didn’t have a category for Most Versatile Hitter. McCutchen would have to be that guy in the NL this year.
The 24-year-old McCutchen has hit leadoff 44 times, third 43 times and cleanup on 25 occasions. He is the only player in the major leagues to hit both No. 1 and No. 4 at least 10 times.
Furthermore, McCutchen is one of just two NL players to hit in three different spots in the order at least 25 times, joining a fellow All-Star in Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. Five American League players also hold that distinction, though are aided by that league employing the designated hitter, which makes for lineups that are nine deep: Kansas City’s Billy Butler, the Angels’ Howie Kendrick and Torii Hunter, Oakland’s Hideki Matsui and Texas’ Michael Young.
A manager shuffling a young player around in the lineup as much as Clint Hurdle has done with McCutchen could have a negative effect. However, Hurdle has made sure to communicate his reasons to McCutchen.
“Andrew knows why we’re doing what we’re doing and he is always willing to do what’s best for the team,” Hurdle said.
McCutchen has taken it all in stride.
“I don’t care where they put me in the lineup, I’ve said that all along and I don’t mean that in a negative way whatsoever,” McCutchen said. “I don’t worry about things I can’t control.”
McCutchen’s performance certainly hasn’t been affected by all the changes. He is hitting .274 in 114 games and has already tied a career high with 16 home runs and set a career best with 66 RBIs. His .379 on-base percentage and .473slugging percentage are also the best marks of his three-year career.
The only drawback is that McCutchen has been running less as he has stolen 19 bases in 26 attempts. He was successful on 33 of 43 tries in 2010 during his first full major-league season.
From a statistical standpoint, McCutchen has performed best from the No. 3 hole as he is hitting .313 with a .403 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging percentage in 186 plate appearances. As the leadoff hitter, he has a .259/.361/.460 line in 231 plate appearances. At cleanup, his numbers are .230/.367/.448 in 110 trips to the plate.
While each spot in the batting order optimally needs a bit of a different skill set, McCutchen does not change his approach and believes that is the best way to handle his situation.
“My game, regardless of where I am in the lineup, is to get on base and create some havoc,” McCutchen said. “I can use a bunt to get on base, walk, hit the ball in the gap, whatever it takes in that particular at-bat.”
McCutchen, with blend of power and speed, seems best suited to the No. 3 hole just as his statistics this season suggests. Though Hurdle hasn’t committed to it, it seems likely that left fielder Jose Tabata will get a shot at hitting leadoff once he returns from his injury rehab assignment at Class AAA Indianapolis.
Tabata batted leadoff 40 times and second 27 times before going on the disabled list on June 27 with a strained quadriceps. He hit .292/.379/.383 from the top spot of the order in 178 plate appearances compared to .237/.327/.330 in 113 plate appearances as the No. 2 hitter.
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball since 1988.