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Monday, March 5, 2012
McCutchen boosts hitting, earning power

It’s a remodeled Andrew McCutchen who is poised to sign a six-year, $51.5 million contract extension with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The new deal – the biggest put together by the Pirates since catcher Jason Kendall’s six-year, $60 million contract signed in 2000 – brings McCutchen into line with outfielders Justin Upton and Jay Bruce, fellow members of the 2005 draft class. Upton was the No. 1 overall pick, McCutchen the 11th and Bruce the 12th.
Andrew McCutchen

Upton got a six-year, $51.25 million contract in March 2010 and in the offseason after the 2010 season Bruce signed a six-year, $51 million deal.

McCutchen’s extension also comes in the wake of what seemed to be a conscious decision in 2011 to sacrifice contact for increased power. It resulted in an increase in his strikeout numbers, an increase in his walk rate and an increase in the rate at which he swung and missed. It also came with a definite increase in his power – 23 home runs in 2011 after hitting 16 in 2010.

The Pirates have tied up McCutchen through his remaining arbitration years and at least two years of free agency. There’s a club option in place for 2018 that would pay him $14.75 million.

So what do the Pirates get for their money? Maybe more than fans outside of Pittsburgh realize. According to the Wins Above Replacement data supplied by Fangraphs, McCutchen’s 5.7 WAR rating was fifth among National League outfielders in 2011 behind Matt Kemp (8.7), Ryan Braun (7.8), Justin Upton (6.4) and Shane Victorino (5.9).

And in terms of the Pirates, McCutchen’s 5.7 was the franchise’s third best in the past 10 years after Brian Giles’ 7.1 in 2002 and Jason Bay’s 6.1 in 2005.

McCutchen’s adjustments weren ‘t limited to the plate in 2011. He began to position himself deeper as the Pirates center fielder and the results were striking. Pittsburgh gave up doubles and triples on 14 percent of the balls hit to center, left-center and right-center in 2010. A deeper McCutchen in 2011 cut that percentage to 10 percent and helped him improve his runs-saved rating from minus-8 in 2010 to plus-5 in 2011.