By John Perrotto
Andrew McCutchen tops the Pirates with seven home runs, which leads to the question of whether his power surge is a sign of things to come for the 24-year-old or a statistical aberration?
Time will obviously tell if McCutchen becomes a power source for the Pirates. However, many scouts believe the 5-foot-10, 190-pound McCutchen has the wiry-type strength to annually hit at least 20 home runs. He is on pace for 30 this season after going deep four times in the last 13 games.
McCutchen showed power potential during his first two seasons in the major leagues. He hit 12 home runs in 493 plate appearances as a rookie in 2009 and went deep 16 teams in 653 trips to the plate last year.
This season, he is averaging one home run every 19.4 at bats, is significant improvement over a combined one in every 35.8 at-bats in his first two seasons.
McCutchen averaged just one homer every 45.7 at-bats in 1,967 at-bats over five minor-league seasons. His career homer high in the minors was 17 in 590 plate appearances for low Class A Hickory in 2006, a year after he was the Pirates’ first-round draft pick from Fort Meade (Fla.) High School.
McCutchen, for his part, isn’t dwelling on his power surge.
“The power is there,” McCutchen said. “It’s always been there. I’m not the type to say I’m going to hit home runs or that I’m a home run hitter. It’s just putting a good swing on a pitch that’s elevated a little bit. I’m going up there trying to hit home runs.”
One conflicting piece of statistical information is that McCutchen actually has a lower slugging percentage this year at .434 than in his first two major-league seasons, when he posted marks of .471 and .449. However, the season is not quite one-quarter over and 157 plate appearances in not a large enough sample size to draw any conclusions.
Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system takes a multitude of factors into account when trying to predict a player’s future then produces a list of 10 players who are similar to that player at the same stage of his career. The player most comparable to McCutchen coming into this season was Al Kaline, a Hall of Famer who had 3,007 hits and 399 home runs in 22 seasons for the Detroit Tigers.
Another Hall of Famer, Rickey Henderson, is also on the 10-man list. However, before you start planning the trip to Cooperstown to see McCutchen get inducted into the Hall, keep in mind the other eight comps are a mixed bag that includes Tim Raines, Lastings Milledge, Johnny Groth, Vada Pinson, Bill Madlock, Jason Kendall, Greg Gross and Cesar Cedeno.
Thus, it appears that McCutchen’s future can go in a number of directions and he is still a work in progress.
— John Perrotto is a contributor to Inside Pittsburgh Sports.com. He is National Baseball Writer for Baseball Prospectus and has covered the Pirates since 1988