Whether or not you think the Philadelphia Phillies improved enough this offseason, they stand to benefit greatly from in-house by the return of Andrew McCutchen.
He really set the bar high.
And while McCutchen couldn’t maintain his 1.000 batting average (bum!), he made himself very comfortable hitting atop the Phillies’ order. He batted leadoff in 59 of the team’s first 60 games. He was taking a ton of walks to set the table for the rest of the order, and he was on pace for a season of about 25 home runs and well over 100 runs scored.
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McCutchen was providing exactly what the Phillies wanted on the field, and he had already taken a big leadership role.
Then, on June 3 in San Diego, it all ended in an instant when McCutchen tore his ACL in a rundown. Fingers were pointed at Jean Segura for not running out the pop-up that led to the freak injury. But whatever the case, McCutchen’s season was over. And since it came shortly on the heels of Odubel Herrera‘s suspension, the Phillies were down two outfielders in short order.
From that point on, it was scramble mode for the rest of the season.
Leadoff duties were split by the likes of Scott Kingery, Cesar Hernandez and others, none of whom could replicate McCutchen’s success. And the Phillies tried nine different players in left field, from Jay Bruce to Corey Dickerson, with a little Brad Miller and Nick Williams sprinkled in for good (or bad) measure.
Point is, the Phillies’ neat and tidy plan to field a consistently strong lineup in 2019 got blown up before the season was even close to halfway over.
Now, McCutchen is working hard to make it back in time for Opening Day. The 33-year old veteran is already down in Florida doing his best to overcome the first major injury of his 11-year MLB career. And even though the Phillies might be planning to take it easy with him, especially early in the season, the former MVP obviously doesn’t know the meaning of the term.
As such, I for one am not going to doubt McCutchen’s ability to bounce back. You have to figure that he’ll be given a somewhat lighter workload in the early going, so he can probably only be penciled in for about 130-135 games. But if can show the same kind of durability that he had for a decade before 2019, the Phillies will benefit greatly from his presence.
It should be a safe bet to expect 25 home runs from McCutchen, a number that he has reached three times previously in his career. Granted, he’s not a young player anymore, but he does have 14 bombs in 66 career games at Citizens Bank Park. If he maintains those kinds of numbers and shows even moderate power on the road, the 25 homers will be attainable.
If Joe Girardi plans to keep McCutchen in the leadoff spot, he won’t be presented with a ton of RBI opportunities, so it would probably be foolish to expect him to drive in any more than about 70. But McCutchen is a prime candidate to score well over 100 runs, assuming that the players hitting behind him don’t fall off a cliff this year. And especially if he keeps walking at last year’s prodigious rate and comes close to his .378 on-base percentage, the sky is the limit.
It will be interesting to see if McCutchen tries to steal any bases, given that he’s coming off a knee injury. He only attempted three steals in his 59 games last year, so it might already be gone from his game. Couple that with the fact that the Phillies don’t want to make any outs on the basepaths while the likes of Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto are at the plate, and it would be truly surprising if McCutchen came anywhere near double-digit steals for the year.
Still, that’s not what the Phillies need from him, and his value in other areas is more than enough to overcome the lack of a speed element to his game that used to be prominent earlier in his career. McCutchen showed last year that he is still dangerous at the plate. Pair that with his veteran leadership, and you have a big addition to the 2020 Phillies.