Friday, June 15, 2012

ESPN World Baseball Classic Possible Roster. Would McCutchen Start?


So as I was sitting at work today I was taking some time to look on ESPN.com which is a place I don’t typically go to as much as I used to but I had a couple of minutes to kill and I wanted to see what was going on. What I found on the MLB page was pretty interesting. As you may know in 2013 the World Baseball Classic will form a 28 man roster full of some of the best that MLB has to offer.

Well in the SweetSpot blog they put together a hypothetical team of what team USA might look like under skipper Joe Torre. On the 28 man roster two Pittsburgh Pirates made it and they were outfielder Andrew McCutchen and closer Joel Hanrahan. For the purposes of this post we are going to look at the outfield prospects because if you clicked the link then you know it is going to be tough to be one of the three guys on that WBC that will patrol the outfield.

To say that this outfield crop is stacked is like saying that Mila Kunitz is good looking, which is a vast understatement. You have the 2011 National League MVP in Ryan Braun and the runner-up in the Matt Kemp. Along with them are Rangers centerfielder Josh Hamilton and a pair of youngsters in Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. For McCutchen to be included in this group really tells you all you need to know about the talent that he has and the season he is currently having. Obviously I know this is just from the guys at ESPN and they aren’t even the tops in the business in evaluating baseball but it is still something fun to play with and dream about because I would LOVE to watch an outfield like this.

After I got done reading the article and looking at the proposed lineups the first question that came to my mind was if McCutchen would get onto the field with that outfield with the talent that is there. As I Pirates fan I want to say no way that he doesn’t get on to the field. This year he is a 2.5 WAR player with a near .400 wOBA and he is carrying the Pirates team on his shoulders when nobody else in the offense that is competent enough to hit on a consistent basis. While I am a Pirates fan first and foremost I also like to think that I am a pretty level headed person when it comes to baseball as a whole and I have a really hard time putting McCutchen in a lineup with those guys.

While it is really a no lose situation when you have guys of that talent level it is an interesting debate because I can see where people say that McCutchen should be in an everyday lineup with that team and I can see where some may say that he should be a guy that comes off the bench. I can’t give you the answer to that but I can take a look into each person and where McCutchen might come out on that outfield depth chart.

Before we begin I want to preface that by saying that this is nowhere near the team for the WBC and even though some of these players might make the team there is no way of telling if this will be the outfield that plays for the USA, it is just a fun discussion to have. I also am going under the assumption that all of these outfielders are healthy and able to play on a nightly basis. Obviously guys like Kemp are hurt and that would keep him off the field but for this purpose let’s assume they are all 100%.

To begin with I think there are two players on this team that should be on the field no matter what and I don’t think there should be much debate on their everyday playing ability in this outfield. Those two players are Kemp and Braun and when you look at what they have done recently it is pretty easy to see why.

Kemp would be the first no brainer that is in my outfield if I was penciling in the starting lineup. As I stated before he was the runner-up for the 2011 NL MVP and absolute dominated pitching last year and this year before he went on the DL. Last season Kemp came one home run shy of putting him name in the 40/40 club and hit for a .324/.399/.586 line 115 runs and 126 RBI which were both tops in the league along with his 172 OPS+. This year Kemp has been limited to 36 games with a hamstring injury but he has killed the ball before going on the DL. In his limited action he had 12 home runs and hit for a .355/.444/.719 line. Pretty good, huh?

As much as I hate the Brewers and Braun I think he is a lock to be on the field. He won the MVP last year in a close race with Kemp and it was well deserved. Bran is a career .312/.372/.564 hitter since coming in with the Brewers in 2007 and he has been crazy good. Even with the problems he had in the off season with the drug testing he came back and is hitting .309/.386/.587 with 16 home runs. Braun isn’t a good fielder in left but the offense makes his subpar defense worth it and he needs to be on the field every single game if he is there for the USA at the WBC. While Braun does play in a home run park like Miller Park his home runs are no joke. Of his 16 home runs this season ESPN Home Run Tracker has all but four of those home runs going out of 20 or more parks. Nothing cheap about them.

After that two it is going to get pretty interesting. The two guys who I don’t think are on the field is Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Both guys are extremely young and while they have all the talent in the world I am not sure if I would rather have them on the field than McCutchen who has a proven track record of being a performer.

Harper has only 41 games under his belt and the kid is only 19 years old. This isn’t the reason that he wouldn’t be on the field for me but I would probably want a little more experience on my side at the WBC. So far this year he has a .303/.384/.548 which when you consider the kid is 19 is pretty unbelievable to see. He only has seven home runs but when you watch him hit you can see the power is there and once he fully adjusts to the league he is going to be scary good. What is interesting about Harper is that he has reverse splits hitting. Against left handed pitching Harper is hitting .391/.451/.674 against left handed pitching while hitting only .266/.357/.495 against right handed pitching. While that number against right handed pitching is nothing to scoff at he probably isn’t ready to be a starter when you have a group of outfielders as ESPN outlined in the blog post. The last thing that I found interesting about Harper is that in late and close games (which is classified as plate appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck) he is only hitting .241/.361/.345 and although that is only in 29 at bats that is far off from what he has been able to do overall.

Trout is older than Harper but not much younger. At 20 years old Trout spent part of last season with the Angels and started this year with the big club and has been killing the baseball. In 42 games this season he is hitting .341/.401/.541 with six home runs and 16 stolen bases. He struggled last season hitting .220/.281/.390 in 40 games but it seems as if he was able to make some adjustments and turn into one of the best young players in the game and right now I might rather see him in the field than Harper if it came down to those two players. Trout is so young and has so little experience that I am not sure I would throw him out there over McCutchen as he has only 327 plate appearances. What really helps Trout’s cause is that he is an outstanding defender and is an also outstanding athlete so he is only going to get better in the coming years. What is scary about Trout is that he is still growing into the position and might not as complete of a hitter and isn’t regarded as a big power threat right now but can develop into that.

The guy I can see starting over McCutchen other than Braun and Kemp is Hamilton. This dude is just killing the ball right now and is doing things with the bat that little kids dream of in the back yard. He was the AL MVP last season and has a league high 22 home runs while driving in 62 (also best in the league). Oh, this is after only 60 games played, on average he is hitting a home run every three games and is slugging .674. In his six year career Hamilton is a .310/.368/.555 hitter with 140 home runs. Where a guy like McCutchen might play over Hamilton is against left handed pitching where he is a .284/.330/.488 hitter and has a pretty average 78 OPS+ in his career against left handed pitchers. Last season Hamilton struggled a good hit hitting only .260 against lefties so this might be the spot I think McCutchen can overtake since he is so good against left handed pitching.

McCutchen is a true talent that the Pirates haven’t had in a long time. He is the face of the franchise and has played some good baseball in his short career despite going through a pretty bad slump at the end of last season. As I talked about in the Hamilton case I think that he would be a starter against left handed pitching as he absolutely dominates it. In his career he is a .324/.401/.568 hitter while he strikes out a mere 7.3% of his plate appearances and is even better this year with a .466/.492/..793 line against lefties. Although it is a pretty small sample size (63 plate appearances) I think his career splits can back up that he smashes left handed pitchers. Aside from the dominance in part of his splits he is dominating the National League again this year with a .326/.384/.550 line with 11 home runs and 13 stolen bases. While he will never be in the 40/40 discussion I think there is an outside chance that he could break the 30/30 barrier which would be outstanding. His second half slump last season is going to give a lot of people pause when talking about this topic of playing him over a Trout or Hamilton but I think I might. Another thing that could help McCutchen getting into the lineup is that he can hit leadoff. While I think batting order is pretty overrated having a guy like McCutchen who has the speed would give him a look hitting leadoff. Of all the players we talked about here McCutchen has the second highest contact rate of 81.5% in his career since 2010 with only Ryan Braun having a better percentage at 81.7%.

Overall I think I have it narrowed down in my opinion on the lineup. As I said I think Kemp and Braun are on the field in every game, no matter what. The next group of guys is Hamilton and McCutchen and I think I would play Hamilton against right handed pitching and put McCutchen in against left handed pitching. I know that is how ESPN put it but after thinking about it and looking at the numbers you just can’t ignore the power that Hamilton gives you and the struggles that McCutchen has had over the past couple years in spurts would lean me to putting Hamilton in the lineup. McCutchen would get in there against lefties because he just mashes them. I think my next option would be Mike Trout because I think he has had just as good of season as Harper but he has a little more experience, although I won’t sit here and tell you that Trout is head and shoulders better than Harper because they are practically identical.

So there you have it. That is how I would do it, what about you? Leave it in the comments.

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