With these entries, it is going to sometimes be difficult to leave people guessing as to which of the three options I'll choose, but some entries just need to be written, you know? Let's focus on one of the games best young players: Pittsburgh Pirate Center Fielder Andrew McCutchen. Coming up through the minors, McCutchen was a consistently highly ranked prospect, who was no lower than 50th on Baseball America's top 50 list prior to being called up. Despite only being 25, Andrew has accomplished a ton in his young baseball career already. Here's a quick peek at his first three years from an end-result standpoint:
1824 PA/ .276 BA/ .365 OBP/ .458 SLG/ 123 OPS+/ 78 SB (25 CS)/ 12.5 WAR (4.9 per 162 games)
Hopefully now your attention is focused on how good this kid is. But what if I told you that McCutchen's end results were vastly underrating his actual skill? Well hot dog, that might be worth something! Here's a quick look at a similar set of splits to what was shown in Part 1 of this series (hope for your sake you read it):
2009: 11.0% BB/ 16.8% K/ .185 ISO/ .327 BABIP
2010: 10.7% BB/ 13.6% K/ .163 ISO/ .311 BABIP
2011: 13.1% BB/ 18.6% K/ .198 ISO/ .291 BABIP
Hmmm....not a whole lot we can get from this, minus the fact that it's REALLY nice that McCutchen had career highs in BB% and ISO. The "meh" stat in there is the K% increase, but that shouldn't be a terribly big deal. The one stat here that makes me go "huh" is the steady decline in BABIP. In fact, with McCutchen's speed, the BABIP should remain constantly high. What could cause this? Well, LD% doesn't tell us much, but it was 2% higher than career norms in 2011, suggesting that BABIP should INCREASE, if nothing else. However, when taking a peak at other splits, it's apparent that McCutchen is growing as a hitter, so the decrease in BABIP could be the result of getting better as an offensive player. His GB% was 3% lower than his career norm (4.5% lower than the previous two years), and his FB% was 2% higher than career norms (almost 3% better than the previous two years). This means McCutchen is hitting the ball in the air more, which is good for someone with good power (a .200 ISO is indicative of the ability to hit the ball far). As a tag on to the FB% and ISO, McCutchen's HR/FB ratio shot up to 12.2% (3% better than the previous two years), suggesting that he probably is growing into his frame and getting stronger as a hitter (the fact that he'll be 25 on opening day next year would only suggest that possibility more).
Real Life Value to the Pirates
When looking into 2011 end results, one can't jump so quickly to jump to the "bad luck" argument when talking about hitters. The league got a lot worse at hitting overall in 2011 as pitchers continue to use info to get an edge on their opponents. For example, in 2010, McCutchen's OPS was .814 and his OPS+ was 121, and in 2011, his OPS was .820, but his OPS+ was up at 127. With this in mind, however, let's look at McCutchen's 2011 slash line:
678 PA/ .259 BA/ .364 OBP/ .256 SLG
The batting average may have dropped due to the increase in FB rate and a bit of bad luck (a bit), but the BB% and ISO helped keep the OBP and SLG up, which are both important. If McCutchen keeps his walk rate up, and gets a little more fortunate on his well-hit balls (his well-hit on base percentage was HIGHER than his on-base percentage, which indicates misfortune, especially for speed guys), he should be able to post an on-base percentage in the .385 to .390 range, depending on how much the league environment changes. Assuming that the power does not go away and that McCutchen in fact continues to get better as he gets toward the traditional peak range of 27-28, the ISO should go up. With an increase in BA and ISO, the SLG could jump to around .500 (once again, depending on how much the league environment changes). This would mean that McCutchen could approach an OPS near .885, but I would call that a ceiling. A more realistic expectation after accounting for run environment changes would be in the .850 range. Assuming a similar number of plate appearances and a rather constant replacement level for center fielders, this would likely put McCutchen in the 6.0 oWAR range. However, oWAR is only a part of being a good player. Defense matters, too.
Disclaimer: defensive metrics are spotty at best.
When looking at McCutchen's fielding ratings (primarily dWAR and UZR), the results are pretty similar. They suggest that he didn't do too well in his first two years, but showed significant improvement in 2011. From a lot of what I've read, McCutchen has terrific range in center field and should be a good to great defensive player as he gains more experience in the field. If defense is anything like offense, McCutchen should perform at a similar rate in 2012 to what he did in 2011. Since his 2011 dWAR was .7, I would assume a dWAR around .5 is realistic, especially for an outfielder with great range.
Overall, this puts McCutchen at roughly 6.5 rWAR as a 25 year old player. I would expect this to be a very realistic expectation for McCutchen, especially as he glides toward the ceiling many thought he would have as a player.
This is what everyone actually cares about. Since we are going based off of the traditional 5x5 offensive statistics, here is what McCutchen did in 2011:
.259 BA/ 87 Runs/ 23 HR/ 89 RBI/ 23 SB
That's darn good. Going into the year, a lot of places I saw had McCutchen in the 35-45 range. In a 12 team league, this would be the end of the 3rd round and into the late 4th round. Personally, I think this is underselling McCutchen a lot. This is a guy that, in what SHOULD have been a better year, hit 23 dingers, stole 23 bases, and scored/drove in just about 90 runs...out of the leadoff spot in a bad lineup. With all things considered, McCutchen has an extremely high fantasy ceiling. If the HR/FB rate wasn't a fluke and McCutchen continues to grow as a hitter, a 30/30 season is definitely not out of the question. Do Not be surprised, at all, if this is the 2012 we see from Andrew McCutchen:
.280 BA/ 100 Runs/30 HR/ 100 RBI/ 30 SB
You mean to tell me you wouldn't go after someone with that ceiling as early as the middle of the 2nd round? I know I would. However, I'm all about offering more realistic fantasy projections. Using fangraphs data along with data from my research project, this is what I would fully expect from Andrew McCutchen in 2012:
.275 BA/ 95 Runs/ 27 HR/ 95 RBI/ 25 SB
Not as nice, but really gosh darn close. That's at least worth the 25th pick in the draft. Here's what I would do if I was the guy with the first overall pick in the draft: take an infielder first and then aim for McCutchen in the late 2nd or early 3rd round. Would I laugh at someone who took McCutchen early in the 2nd round? Nope, not at all. After the first round, I'm all for taking guys solely based on their ceilings. The draft is all about locking up guys that have the most potential to be good, so taking McCutchen early is advised. If you have a mid-round pick (say 18th overall) and you are worried that McCutchen may not make it back to you, don't hesitate to take him unless someone with better potential has fallen into your lap. I think people can feel safe with the last projection I gave, but they should expect something close to the first one. I am super high on Andrew McCutchen, and I officially label him as a breakout candidate.