McCutchen is in Good Company with Move to Right

It was hard to be surprised by the news of Andrew McCutchen moving from his center field home of eight years to make room for Starling Marte and his stellar glove. What did surprise me, and ultimately what drove the story nationally, was everyone’s reaction to how “selfless” McCutchen was in accepting the news from Clint Hurdle. What did you expect? McCutchen is one of the classiest individuals in sports, let alone baseball. He is a team first guy who has always come out and said he values the way people remember him as a person more so than as a baseball player. This is just another piece of evidence pointing towards the character of the Pittsburgh favorite.

McCutchen’s character and positive impact on the game cannot be emphasized enough, but that is a story for another day. While so many stories were being written about McCutchen’s past and his success, and at times sheer dominance, I wanted to figure out what was ahead.

You hear all the time about guys who make position changes in the field and it ultimately helps their game all around. When you take a below average fielder like McCutchen , and the numbers prove it, out of one of the most important defensive roles, it is reasonable to assume some burden will be lifted and that player will ultimately excel in other aspects of the game. It is also fair to assume that McCutchen’s atrocious defensive play last year could directly relate to his struggles at the plate. After posting -28 Defensive Runs Saved and a UZR of – 18.7, it seems as though McCutchen’s switch to right field could only be a positive.

Since I can’t project how McCutchen’s defense will improve, if at all, in right field and what kind of effect it will have on him at the plate as well as the base paths, my curiosity got the best of me. I began wondering about how past players had handled a situation like this. The first guy that came to mind was Carlos Beltran who was primarily a center fielder for the first 13 years of his career before making the switch to right with the Mets in 2011. Then I went a little more old school with the great Duke Snider who was primarily a center fielder for the first 12 years of his career before splitting time at all three outfield positions in 1959. After that, he bounced around for five seasons with the majority of his starts coming in right field. I was surprised to see how many notable players made this exact switch from center to right. However, there was one that stood out among the rest.

Andre “The Hawk” Dawson is a lot of things in the baseball world; a hall of famer, an MVP, a perennial all-star, a multi-time gold glove and silver slugger award winner, and a center fielder turned right fielder. The similarities between McCutchen and “Awesome Dawson” are striking. McCutchen has been in the bigs for eight seasons, Dawson’s first eight full seasons were in center, before switching to right in 1984. Unfortunately, there are very few advanced defensive stats available for Dawson, but his undoing had more to do with his copious amounts of knee surgeries rather than his poor defensive ability, he had 12 knee surgeries by the time his career ended. His Fld% was always close to or slightly above league average and he did not make a lot of errors.

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Let’s compare offensive numbers between Dawson and McCutchen through their first eight full seasons, respectively.

Dawson McCutchen
Games 1036 1190
AVG .287 .292
OBP .331 .381
SLG .489 .487
HR 165 175
RBI 583 637
SB 209 160
Accolades ROY, 4x GG, 3x SS, 3x AS MVP, 1x GG, 4x SS, 5x AS

The similarities offensively are undeniable. Let’s look at Dawson’s next nine seasons with a primary position of right field.

Dawson
Games 1274
AVG .277
OBP .322
SLG .486
HR 234
RBI 842
SB 101
Accolades MVP, 4x GG, 1x SS, 5x AS

While Dawson’s switch over to right was due in large part to his injury concerns, McCutchen’s was primarily performance related and a HUGE part of it is the outstanding defense of Starling Marte.

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Carlos Beltran was up and down after his positional switch, Duke Snider never quite returned to his consistent all-star form after his, and Andre Dawson continued his hall of fame path and won an MVP after his. Only time will tell if McCutchen will return to his all-star form post-positional switch, but it is always fun to find comparisons like this, especially to hall of famers. My prediction, McCutchen will thrive in his new role and bounce back in 2017 and beyond. Who knows, maybe nine seasons and about five more all star trips are in his right field future. 

What are your predictions for McCutchen’s future? Comment below, thanks for reading!

Stats Courtesy of: fangraphs.com and baseball-reference.com

Image courtesy of: mlb.com

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