Originally written on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 7/21/12
Mlb-padres-pirates

As we approach the latter stages of the MLB regular season, individual players’ statistics start to take shape and we can begin really gauging what type of campaign they are putting together. I did this yesterday when analyzing the top 8 current contenders for NL MVP.

The man who came out #1 on that list also happens to be the hottest player in all of baseball. And he just so happens to play for one of the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of the best surprise stories of the year.

Photo courtesy the Post Gazette

Through his first 87 games played, Pirates’ star Andrew McCutchen has hit .369 with 22 home runs, 65 RBI, and 14 stolen bases while sporting a 1.072 OPS. And during the first few months of the season, McCutchen had to carry the Pirates on his back, as they were one of the worst teams offensively in all of baseball.

When teammates Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, and Garrett Jones among others began to hit, “The Cutch” only got better.

While he did have some success in April, hitting over .300, McCutchen has been consistently dominant ever since, hitting .360 in May, .370 in June, and an absolutely unbelievable .491 so far in July. It’s numbers like those that make you realize just how capable he is of having prolonged success.

While some may think that .369 (his current average) is way too high to maintain from here on out, McCutchen hit .365 through May and June, which were his two “middle months,” if you will. It’s the largest sample size of the season, and it suggests that he can keep up that pace over time.

In previous seasons, McCutchen was a player who would give you a solid batting average, tons of extra-base hits, and good production all while playing a great center field. Many people, like myself, guessed that he had a chance to break out and become an elite player, but nobody saw this coming.

So while McCutchen is in the midst of his unparalleled hot streak, it’s time to consider just how encouraging this breakout season could be for Pirates fans, as we compare Andrew “@TheCutch22″ McCutchen to some of the best outfielders the game of baseball has ever seen.

The Comparison

When doing this research, I really could’ve looked anywhere. I decided upon four of the game’s all-time best hitters: Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Henry Aaron, and Barry Bonds.

Now, I think it’d be smart to start off here by saying that I’m not predicting Andrew McCutchen to be the second coming of any of these guys. Frankly, I wouldn’t bet that he’ll even be anywhere close. Considering how great those players were, it just wouldn’t be smart to assume that much from Clutch. Too many things can happen in today’s game.

But nonetheless, McCutchen’s season, through the first three and a half months, has been quite remarkable, and it does match up to each of those guys’ breakout seasons, each in different ways.

Here are the numbers:

  • Willie Mays 1954 – AVG: .345, HR: 41, RBI: 110, OPS: 1.078
  • Mickey Mantle 1956 AVG: .353, HR: 52 RBI: 130, OPS: 1.169
  • Hank Aaron 1957 – AVG: .322, HR: 44 RBI: 132, OPS: .978
  • Barry Bonds 1993 – AVG: .336, HR: 46, RBI: 123, OPS: 1.135

As you can tell, some of McCutchen’s numbers could match up with these all-time greats, and some likely will not.

Let’s say, reasonably, that McCutchen finishes with a line consisting of a .345 AVG, 38 HR, 125 RBI, and a 1.000 OPS. Going with those numbers, the Pirates’ super star will have quite the memorable season on his hands.

When in your breakout season you’re rivaling nearly all of Mays’, Aaron’s, and Bonds’ numbers in their breakout years, you’re doing something right.

Why’d I put Mantle’s numbers in there? Well take a look at just how impressive his line was 56 years ago. I mean, they’re straight up monstrous. It offers some interesting perspective because while McCutchen likely won’t reach those numbers this year, he won’t be far off. Years like that, or even close to that, don’t happen too often.

McCutchen wants to make his case to be remembered with the greats. Photo courtesy Justin K. Aller via Getty Images

Now I’m going to reiterate: I am not predicting McCutchen to one day be in a class with any of Bonds, Aaron, Mantle, or Mays. But for an organization that has not really had anything worthy of great excitement in about 20 years, a franchise player like McCutchen is something to get legitimately excited about.

And the statistics are just icing on the case for McCutchen, because if he brings that franchise to the playoffs (they are 0.5 games behind the Reds currently) after such a long drought, he’ll be celebrated as the savior…if he’s not already.

So how about the Pirates go out and get someone to hit behind him? Then we’ll see what he really can really do.


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