At the time when I started writing this piece, the Pirates lineup for their Tuesday night tilt with the Tampa Bay Rays wasn’t released and I was fully expecting Andrew McCutchen to bat sixth again. To my surprise, however, Cutch is back in the three spot of the order, exactly where he belongs.
Like many fans back in May, I was staunchly adamant that Cutch had to be either sat down or moved out of the top of the lineup. Clint Hurdle obliged with the fans’ request, both benching Cutch for a few games and moving him down to the sixth spot in the batting order, the lowest he had ever batted in his professional career. And this was completely warranted, as Andrew was hitting a terrible .203 with an on-base percentage of .274 and a slugging percentage of .360. Those are stats that you expect to see from someone like Chris Stewart, not one of the best players in baseball. Cutch was looking like the shell of a man we saw last season and I was wishing we would’ve traded him to Washington when we had the chance. But Cutch has caught fire since his demotion in the batting order.
After returning to the everyday lineup, Cutch showed that he was ready to silence the critics, and he has done that in a big way. Ever since he started batting sixth consistently, Andrew has hit for a .380 average, .471 on-base percentage and has slugged .690. That is a complete turnaround from what he looked like early in the year. And that is because Cutch found his hips again. His hip torque has returned back to the days where he had the dreads, creating such pop when he hits the ball.
Another point that I like to look at when Cutch looks to be back is if he is pulling the ball or hitting it opposite field. He was pulling way too many balls last year and to begin this season but that has changed since the end of May. Cutch has been hitting the ball to right field with a purpose but is also turning on balls that he should, using that torque to hit balls hard into right and over the fence.
While I am a bit superstitious about the Pirates when it comes to tweaking the team when it’s clicking, hitting Cutch sixth with these numbers is criminal. He needs to hit third for one of two reasons. The Pirates are a contender at the moment, still within striking distance of the atrocious NL Central. With Andrew hitting third, the Pirates have a better shot of driving in Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison, who have been getting on base all season. That will allow the offense to score more, preventing the bullpen from blowing more close games. This will also help Josh Bell see better pitching. Hitting behind McCutchen and before David Freese, arguably the Pirates two most threatening batters at the moment, Bell will see more pitches to hit so opposing teams don’t have to pitch to Cutch or Freese. And that means more bombs.
The other reason to bat Andrew third is if the Pirates fall out of playoff contention, it will add to his trade value. With Austin Meadows banging on the door and Cutch only having an option left on his contract, I have to believe this is his last year in Pittsburgh. Whether they trade him at the trade deadline or in the offseason, showing that he can still produce in the middle of a lineup will make it easier for other teams to part with multiple top prospects to attain his services. If he were to continue hitting sixth, other teams would surely question if Cutch were able to produce in the middle of a contender’s lineup or if he’d have to be in the cellar forever, limiting what they would give up for him.
Regardless of how this season turns out for the Pirates, moving Cutch back to the three spot is a win-win. He is hitting consistently for the first time in two years and that will result in a better Pirates offense that leads them to the playoffs or a bounty of prospects to speed up a new youth movement that could take the Pirates to the promise land. And now that he is officially back in that spot, Pittsburgh can watch Cutch happen and reap the rewards, whatever they may be.