There’s been talk around the blogosphere about the Mets ponying up and making a deal for Andrew McCutchen. The former MVP winner fell on hard times in 2016 but most people are projecting a significant bounce-back year from McCutchen in 2017. But how realistic is that? Let’s look at a couple of different measures.
First, let’s start and see what Steamer projects him to do next year: — .283/.378/.470 in 675 PA. That’s a real nice line, which further translates to a 129 wRC+ and a 3.5 fWAR. Those are numbers that anyone would like to have on their team. The OBP and SLG numbers are a bit better, but in the same ballpark to what Curtis Granderson gave the Mets (.364/.457) in 2015. Still, it’s a ways off from his 2013-2015 peak, when he had a .308/.405/.512 line.
Now let’s look at some historical comps. Baseball-Reference tells us there are 21 center fielders in MLB history to amass at least 3,000 PA and post an OPS+ of 125 or greater from their age 23-28 seasons, what McCutchen did from 2010-2015. In fact, he has the eighth-best mark in this elite group and five guys ahead of him are inner circle Hall of Famers.
Let there be no doubt that what McCutchen did in those six years was great. But what we’re more interested in is future performance, not past results. So, once we remove McCutchen and the five inner circle HOF guys, what do we have left? Here are the remaining 15 guys, their three best OPS+ marks in their 20s, and what OPS+ they posted in their age 30 and 31 seasons, what the Mets would be acquiring if they were to trade for McCutchen:
|Player||3 Best||OPS Seasons||In 20s||Age 30||Age 31|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||171||171||165||133||124|
The worst mark of the top three in the 20s from this group of 15 is the 133 posted by Lynn and Monday. This same group in their age 30 and 31 years, a total of 30 seasons, passed that mark just eight times. The group put up 24 seasons with an OPS+ of 150 or greater in their 20s. The same group did it just one time combined in their age 30 and 31 seasons.
Here are the averages from this group:
Best OPS in 20s – 163
2nd Best OPS in 20s – 153
3rd Best OPS in 20s – 144
OPS Age 30 – 125
OPS Age 31 – 117
McCutchen was better than average in the OPS+ in his 20s, with top three marks of 166, 162 and 157. But we can’t ignore the 103 mark that he put up last year, in his age 29 season. Monday, who had the lowest OPS+ total of the group in his age 23-28 seasons, posted a 124 OPS+ in his age 29 season. McCutchen finished 16th out of 20 from our original group in OPS+ in his age 29 season.
Inner circle HOFer Joe DiMaggio was serving our country in World War II in what would have been his age 29 season. He had the fifth-highest age 23-28 season and the main reason to ignore these guys is that it would unfairly skew the results to include a zero in one of our age 30 comparison. The list was made to include players through their age 28 season to make McCutchen look as good as possible. If we did it through age 29, McCutchen would have been further away from DiMaggio than he was to Monday on the age 28 list.
Griffey and Snider, the two guys closest to McCutchen’s top three OPS+ marks in their 20s, put up OPS+ marks of 139 and 155, respectively, in their age 29 season, with Snider’s mark leading the National League. And even the two of them fell off in their 30s, as injuries kept them from reaching their stellar heights of their 20s.
You don’t want to overreact to one year of data but you can’t completely ignore it, either. Lynn bounced back nicely from an age 29 season even worse than McCutchen’s. But that 142 OPS+ in his age 30 season was as good as it got the rest of his career. And he had injury issues, as well.
We know that a general rule of thumb is that people perform better in their 20s than they do in their 30s. We also know that the older you are, the longer it takes to recover from injuries. McCutchen battled knee and hand injuries a season ago. Perhaps those are the sole reason for his down year and an offseason of rest will allow him to bounce back close to pre-2016 levels.
Everyone has their own comfort level with risk and all teams feature risk somewhere in their roster. My comfort level would be to value McCutchen as a 125 OPS+ type of guy, one who would make him a top-40 type of offensive player, rather than a top-10 type. This puts his peers as Charlie Blackmon and Dexter Fowler, rather than Mike Trout.
One thing not mentioned yet is defense. McCutchen was not a good defensive center fielder in 2016 and reports are that if the Pirates keep him, they’re leaning towards moving him to a corner. Of the 41 CFers to amass at least 350 innings in 2016, McCutchen had the second-worst UZR/150 with a (-23.2) mark. He was even worse out there than Yoenis Cespedes, who had a (-20.6) mark. His raw DRS of (-28) was easily the worst mark in the majors.
The idea of valuing McCutchen at his 2014 peak, either offensively or defensively, is simply one I cannot endorse. And the Pirates aren’t likely dealing him at a value equivalent to Blackmon, either. A courtesy call to see what the going rate would be is about as far as the Mets should travel down this particular road.