PITTSBURGH - APRIL 05: Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates smiles while coming off the field while playing the Los Angeles Dodgers during the Home Opener for the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 5, 2010 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 11-5. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Watching the Bucs' centerfielder in the Home Run Derby will be exciting for fans, but it could mess with the approach that has vaulted him to the top of the MVP race.
I love the Home Run Derby.
When I was younger, it was the one night every summer that my family dropped everything to sit around the TV to watch the same thing. When it came to Pittsburgh as part of the 2006 All-Star weekend, my brother and I scraped together $180 to sit in section 301 at PNC Park for it. Seeing Ryan Howard club one off the free flights sign on top of the Clemente Wall is always going to be one of my favorite sports memories. So I don't have anything against the derby. Not by a long shot.
But I don't like the idea of Andrew McCutchen competing in it
Not when manager Clint Hurdles attributes his centerfielder's struggles down the stretch last season -- he hit .216 with a .722 OPS after the All-Star break -- to trying to "change the game with one swing." And certainly not when statistical analysis shows players who participate in the home run derby tend to have a drop off in performance in the second half.
McCutchen has carried the Pirates offensively all season. His .359 batting average, 16 homers, 56 RBIs, 1.017 OPS and 4.5 offensive wins above replacement level have been necessary to keep the Bucs in the heart of the National Leagues Central and Wildcard races.
And how has he done it? Current Tigers manager and former Pirates manager Jim Leyland, who managed Pittsburgh in the early 1990s when Barry Bonds fueled the Bucs in similar ways, thinks it's his approach, according to Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"I don't know [McCutchen], but it seems to me like he has a more steady approach than Barry," Leyland said. "Barry would go a few games without a home run and think, 'I've got to hit some.' So he would change approach and hit some home runs, but his average would go from .320 to .280. I always told him, 'The home runs aren't going to come when you try to hit home runs. They'll come when you try to get hits. You'll square the ball enough that the home runs will come.'
"It looks to me as if [McCutchen's] presence and approach doesn't change. I never see him act differently, whether he hits a home run or strikes out. I don't see a lot of wasted emotion there. I think that's real good for a young player."
When you're in the home run derby, you can't take that approach. The goal is to hit a home run on every swing. And at this point, anything that remotely messes with McCutchen's approach, even subtly or subconsciously, is a bad thing.
Look, McCutchen is one of the game's rising stars. It'll be exiting for fans both in Pittsburgh and across the majors to see him on one of baseball's biggest stages, and he very well could come out of this and perform just as well in the second half of the season.
With the Pirates chasing their first .500 record in 20 years and McCutchen on pace for an MVP-caliber season, though, there's a lot more for the 25-year-old and his team to lose from his participation than to gain.
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