5 Lessons Learned from Andrew McCutchen's 1st Half

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5 Lessons Learned from Andrew McCutchen's 1st Half
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates are Major League Baseball's biggest surprise so far this season at 53-36. And once again, the team's star has been center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

In his fourth full season with the Pirates, "Cutch" is having yet another All-Star-caliber year, leading his team with a .300 batting average. After he won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 2012, much of baseball, including fans outside of Pittsburgh, wondered what McCutchen would do as an encore in '13.

Here's what we've learned about the star outfielder so far this season, besides his excellent dance moves:

 

First lesson: He's a five-tool player

McCutchen, along with the Colorado Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez and LA Dodgers' Yasiel Puig, has been one of the best five-tool outfielders this year in the National League.

With the Dodgers' Matt Kemp and Nationals' Bryce Harper both enduring injury-plagued seasons, McCutchen has impressed with his consistency and hitting.

After a disappointing April that saw his batting average dip down to .216 at one point late in the month, McCutchen rebounded in May by hitting .324 while racking up eight stolen bases and four home runs. His OPS in May was an impressive .885, and he leads his team in that category this season at .836.

He is in the top 10 for stolen bases in the National League; with 18, he is tied for sixth with Miami's Juan Pierre. Cutch's 46 RBI rank as the second most, trailing only Gonzalez, who has 63.

 

Second lesson: He's getting better as the season goes on

McCutchen batted .246 in April, and everyone wondered what was wrong with the Steel City's finest ballplayer. From that point on, however, No. 22 has played like the All-Star that he is.

Batting .324 in May and .303 in June, Cutch has once again arrived at the pace that made him the second highest-paid Pirate of all time. He signed a six-year, $51.5 million deal before his breakout 2012 season. 

Batting .406 so far this month, McCutchen's steady improvement is reminiscent of his pace last season. In 2012, he hit .302 in the first month of the season and then posted an average of .360 in May with eight homers. Finally, people thought he'd plateaued after a ridiculous .370 average in June, when he also accumulated seven homers and 26 RBI. That, however, was a mere prelude to his July totals of .446, seven home runs and an astounding 41 hits.

 

Third lesson: His 2013 will not reach his greatness from 2012, which is OK

In 2012, McCutchen hit .330 while smacking 31 home runs and racking up 96 RBI. This season, in addition to his stolen base totals, No. 22 is ninth in the National League in runs scored with 54.

However, he is currently hitting only .303, and unless he has a ridiculous post-All-Star Game hitting surge, he won't be reaching 30 home runs this year.

His teammates have been picking up the power that isn't coming from McCutchen's bat this season. Home Run Derby contestant Pedro Alvarez, a third-year third baseman for the Buccos, has smacked 23 dingers, while left fielder Starling Marte has added nine from the leadoff spot while drawing All-Star Game considerations. He also is batting .289 with an OBP of .339.

Cutch can't be Superman every year. Pittsburgh fans can accept a slight dip in his numbers, as long as he keeps up his clutch play for a team that is looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 1992.

 

Fourth lesson: He enjoys hitting at home

Just about every player in the big leagues, All-Star or not, enjoys some home cooking. Many players play better when they're being cheered on by their home fans, and this is especially true for McCutchen.

Cutch is hitting .350 when playing in front of the Pirates faithful and has hit five of his nine home runs at PNC Park. Eighteen of his 25 doubles have come in his home ballpark as well.

Away from home, McCutchen's game has been a slightly different story. According to ESPN, the outfielder is hitting .256 away from home and has scored just 20 runs in away ballparks while scoring 34 at home.

Despite the fact that his sample size is smaller in other ballparks—which means that he has less of an opportunity to fail or have his stats eventually even out as they will in his 81 games at home—the only ballpark where McCutchen has a higher batting average than his .350 mark at home is Milwaukee's Miller Park, where he is hitting .385.

 

Fifth lesson: He is popular across the nation

It's not a surprise that McCutchen's fantastic play on the field and genial nature off it have made him a popular star in the Steel City. In fact, his fan-maintained All-Star campaign, #VoteCutch, was one of the most visible and omnipresent Twitter handles when compared to other stars throughout the league supported by the fans on social media outlets.

What wasn't expected was the attention he got in the offseason. No. 22, with the help of more than 100,000 fan votes in his support, was named as the cover athlete of MLB 13: The Show at the beginning of this year, finishing more than 10,000 votes ahead of second-place finisher C.C. Sabathia of the New York Yankees.

A Pirate beating a Yankee in a popularity contest? That's not something you'll see every day or anytime soon. Good thing McCutchen's play on the field backs up his popularity outside of PNC Park's bleachers.

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