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Andrew McCutchen: Don't Go Overboard in 2013

Alex Kantecki reviews Andrew McCutchen's breakout season in 2012 and forecasts his fantasy value going forward.

Dilip Vishwanat

Andrew McCutchen had an MVP caliber season in 2012: a .327/.400/.553 triple slash line with 31 home runs, 96 RBI, 107 runs and 20 stolen bases. It was by far the Dreaded Pirate's best offensive year: a 7.4 WAR season, or the seventh best individual season of 2012 according to FanGraphs. Alas, it's probably not enough to actually win the NL MVP. That honor is likely going to a San Francisco Bay catcher still playing meaningful baseball right now.

McCutchen jumped from the "very good" tier to the "elite" tier in 2012. In no other season had he reached higher than a 5.8 WAR (that was in 2011), and the 31 home runs were eight more than his previous high of 23. Only two other players reached 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Those two players (Mike Trout and Ryan Braun), coincidentally, are top contenders for MVP honors.

It's nearly impossible to say anything bad about McCutchen and the only thing I can think of is that even with his "elite" status, it still hasn't been good enough to put the Pittsburgh Pirates over the top (or over .500 for that matter). He needs help in that lineup, and by that I don't mean another midseason acquisition of a Travis Snider type. But that's not in his hands.

McCutchen is likely going to be somewhere around a top five selection in 2013 drafts based off his breakout season, but it's very possible 2012 will end up being his best year ever. When I draft in the top five, I'm not only looking for a true superstar, but I'm looking for a player who can without a doubt sustain superstar numbers. I think McCutchen, who finished the season as the fourth highest rated player on ESPN's Player Rater, won't repeat.

As is the case in many similar circumstances, McCutchen's breakout campaign corresponds with a number that has almost no chance of repeating itself:


2009: .327

2010: .311

2011: .291

2012: .375

(Career: .326)

McCutchen was among the league leaders in BABIP (top four, to be exact) after failing to notch a season with a BABIP over .327. His .375 BABIP was a remarkable .084 increase from 2011, which is one of the highest increases of any major leaguer this season. Those expecting McCutchen to repeat those numbers again are being foolish.

After posting a ridiculous +.400 BABIP well into July, that number came crashing down to .321 in August and .278 in September/October. McCutchen hit just nine of his 31 home runs in the last two months after smashing 22 in the previous three (McCutchen hit zero home runs in March/April).

He also managed to hit more home runs despite hitting fewer fly balls (34.3 % in 2012, 38.1% career), which is also unlikely to repeat itself. The fact that he hit fewer fly balls helps explain the higher BABIP, along with a better line drive percentage (21.9% in 2012, 19.9% career).

The other big part of McCutchen's game of course is steals. I fully expected McCutchen to steal at least 25 bags this season, but he fell five short. His previous career high of 33 in 2010 is his most of any season in the majors or minors, minus a 34 steal season in 2008 in Triple-A.

McCutchen suffered through his worst season on the base paths with an ugly stolen base percentage of 62.5%. He was caught a total of 12 times, the second most in the majors behind Starlin Castro and Michael Bourn, who both were more efficient on the base paths. In fact, out of any player with 20 or more stolen bases, McCutchen was the least efficient.

Before the season started, I remember reading a bold predictions Q&A that the most likely candidate - although still extremely unlikely - to go 30/40 like Matt Kemp did in 2011 was Andrew McCutchen. After witnessing McCutchen's best season to date, I'm 99.9% certain he'll never reach those numbers, and that elusive 30/30 season isn't going to come easy either.

One more thing: remember when the equally as talented Justin Upton was a sure thing after his 31/21 breakout season in 2011? He went on to go 17/18 in 2012. I'm not saying McCutchen will fall that low, but for me, I'm not betting on a repeat season from him in 2013.