The Philadelphia Phillies made the biggest splash of the 2018-19 offseason when they signed Bryce Harper to the largest free agent contract in the history of professional sports. And yet, there is another former MVP on the Phillies roster that will actually be more important to Philadelphia’s success this season.
Indeed, Andrew McCutchen–who was one the first signings made by general manager Matt Klentak–is the player that can really make Philly go, much like Dexter Fowler was a major catalyst for the Chicago Cubs in their 2016 World Series run.
Making just under $16.7 million in AAV on this current contract, McCutchen could be one of the most undervalued players in the game by the time October rolls around.
Cutch can still handle the bat
The narrative surrounding McCutchen is that his value has plummeted due to age, despite the fact that he is still just 32 years old.
Although he may not be the same player that he was from 2012-15, McCutchen has posted consecutive seasons with a wRC+ above 120, which is far better than any Phillies outfielder managed to do last season.
Not to mention, he has hit at least 20 homers in each of his last eight seasons and is just two years removed from a 3.7 fWAR season, which is the same value that Bryce Harper registered last season.
While Cesar Hernandez was serviceable as a leadoff man in 2018, his .722 OPS is lower than any singular season in McCutchen’s career. Additionally, McCutchen still managed to steal 14 bases and has a similar sprint speed to Hernandez, according to MLB Statcast.
Remember that McCutchen was one of the only productive hitters for an utterly paltry San Francisco lineup last season, and he still managed to be productive at the top of the lineup.
Now, Andrew McCutchen has all kinds of protection behind him, from Segura on down. Especially if Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera continue to produce at the dish, opposing pitchers will really have no choice but to pound the zone against McCutchen. This has paid dividends so far, as McCutchen has already homered twice this year.
Having a guy that can produce an .800 OPS and steal up to 20 bases at the leadoff spot is a real luxury for any team, but it is that much more important for a Phillies team that is filled with run-producers and sluggers.
Addition by subtraction?
One of the most important elements of the Paul Goldschmidt trade to St. Louis was displacing Jose Martinez and Matt Carpenter from first base in exchange for a Gold Glover at the position.
McCutchen’s defensive prowess has declined, but he should be much improved as a left fielder instead of playing center on a nightly basis. And, like Goldschmidt, his arrival removes Rhys Hoskins from the position.
Hoskins produced -24 Defensive Runs Saved and a -11.3 Ultimate Zone Rating in left last year, according to FanGraphs, but now moves back to his natural position at first.
Removing one of the worst outfielders in baseball in 2018 from that role is sure to have a drastic impact, particularly considering that Andrew McCutchen could be a plus outfielder playing half of his games in a much smaller Citizens Bank Ballpark.
Considering the talent level that the Phillies possess, it is important to remember that they are the fourth-youngest team in the majors.
Similarly, very few players on the roster have postseason experience. McCutchen, meanwhile, has seen plenty of ups and downs, from both personal and team standpoints.
Bryce Harper has always been one of the most intense players in the game, but there was always a feeling that Max Scherzer and Jayson Werth were the real leaders of those Nationals teams in Washington. With McCutchen on board, he does not have to sweat out the leadership demands quite like, say, Manny Machado.
So while Harper will always be the high-profile guy in Philadelphia, it is Andrew McCutchen who is likely to be the X-factor for the Phillies this season.