I was asked to join a home NL-only redraft league this year after being out of the league for the past two seasons. I had the second pick in the draft, and I knew going into the draft that the guy with the first pick was taking Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Prior to the draft, I went back and forth between picking Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, and Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez with the second pick. It came down to McCutchen and Goldschmidt, and I went with McCutchen, as he is as steady and consistent as they come. He is a hitter you can rely on to hit .300 with 20+ home runs, 90 runs scored, 90 RBI and 15-25 stolen bases every season. Based on early season stats, I made the wrong call.
Back in spring training, McCutchen sat out several games due to "lower body soreness". What is lower body soreness? Well, it turns out he was dealing with a cranky knee and it has carried over into the regular season. The bad knee has impacted him at the plate so far, as he is hitting just .188-.279-.292 with 2 home runs, 12 runs scored and 13 RBI. Not a good start for one of the best hitters in the game. But, looking at his .203 batting average of balls in play, one can argue that he has been unlucky to date.
The slow start is a real concern, especially knowing he is playing on a bad knee. So, I wanted to see if the slow start is normal for McCutchen, or if the knee was really the issue. Looking at his player page on FanGraphs, and drilling down into his career splits, I see that McCutchen has hit well in April over his career. In 624 career plate appearances in March and April, McCutchen has hit .260-.345-.419. So, he doesn't hurt you out of the gate, but he doesn't start out fast by any means.
Digging deeper, I see that he hit .289 in March and April in 2014. In 2013 he hit .247, in 2012 he hit .302, but in 2011 he hit just .219, so there have been seasons where he has gotten off to a slow start, and he usually ends up putting up the .300-90-20-90-20 season we all expect from him by the end of the season.
Can he get there this season?
I admit I have my concerns, as all power hitters need healthy legs to hit for power, so we may see a drop off in the power department. His batted ball data tell us that he is hitting more ground balls and fly balls in the early going, with a huge drop off in his line drive rate. Last season, 19% of his batted balls were line drives. This season, only 9.9% are line drives. Line drives usually drop in for base hits, and many times, they go for extra bases, so McCutchen will have to work through the knee injury, and make some adjustments at the plate, but the line drives should return. And as he hits more line drives, the batting average will improve, as will some of his power.
What should his owners do with McCutchen? Well, you can't drop him, as he is too talented to drop. Do you trade him? No. You won't get first round value in return. Do you hold onto him? That is your best scenario at this point and here is my reasoning.
There is no telling if the knee injury is a short term thing or will require surgery down the road, or that he will be able to be the same player he was in the past as he plays through the injury, but taking a look at his ZiPS rest of season projections, ZiPS projects him to hit .281-.373-.478 with 19 home runs, 78 runs scored, 72 RBI and 15 stolen bases for the rest of the season.
That's pretty damn good. Yes, I know projections don't factor in players playing through injuries, but at this point, his injury isn't serious enough for him to be placed on the disabled list, and he is talented enough to play through the injury. Using his history and ZiPS projections as our guide, McCutchen should turn his season around in the coming weeks, and should end up meeting your first round expectations.