Wednesday, September 4, 2013
The multitalented McCutchen
By Buster Olney
Andrew McCutchen is one of the most talented people you’d ever meet, with such a high volume of skills that you wonder if he is a modern-day Faust -- the fictional character who traded his soul for mortal perfection.
What we know McCutchen for best is the baseball, of course. He’s one of the best in the world at that, given his current standing as a National League MVP candidate; he can hit, he can hit for power, he can run, he can throw, he can defend.
But here’s the thing: In preparing the E:60 piece that ran Tuesday night, producer Frank Saraceno and I heard that McCutchen is really good at impressions. So, without any heads up, I asked him to run through a series of these, without any kind of preparation -- and he was absolutely dead-on in imitating everybody from Albert Pujols to Derek Jeter.
Here's a look at some of his best impressions. His Pittsburgh teammates say that if a rookie is summoned from the minor leagues, McCutchen can imitate them -- their batting stances, their mannerisms -- after only a couple of days.
I heard that he has a lot of musical ability, and performed at the wedding of teammate Neil Walker. Pedro Alvarez forwarded the video to confirm this, and while our piece didn’t include the whole episode of McCutchen as wedding singer, I promise you: McCutchen can flat-out sing.
He is a good writer. We saw some of the poetry he put together in high school, tributes to his mom, and it was all really well done.
And after I heard that McCutchen had some drawing ability, I handed him a notepad during spring training and asked him -- again, without any warning -- if he could give me a Pirates logo. Which he did, in just a few minutes.
In the run-up to the airing of the E:60 piece, I tweeted this video Tuesday afternoon of McCutchen drawing the logo.
Todd Radom is an artist who has done hundreds of logos and uniform designs, and a close friend, and after I tweeted out the link to the video of McCutchen drawing the Pirates logo on request, Todd offered his assessment of the outfielder's work on Twitter:
Then Todd sent out this tweet, to McCutchen, whom he has never met.
Todd had no expectation that McCutchen would even see his tweet, or even respond. But it wasn’t long before McCutchen answered:
Hours later, he went back to his other work, as the No. 3 hitter in the Pirates’ lineup, and clubbed his 18th homer in a historically important win.
He’ll get back to the other stuff later, after his baseball career is over.
The Pirates won for the 81st time Tuesday, after Gerrit Cole battled back. The magic number for clinching a playoff spot -- not the division, a playoff spot -- is down to 14 for the Pirates, who can clinch a winning season tonight.
Jason Grilli is back, but not yet in the role of closer.
Around the league
• A perfect storm is gathering around Phil Hughes right now, and it’s threatening to wreck his journey into the free-agent market.
Some elements are within the right-hander’s control, of course. If he went into free agency after a strong year, then the dominoes that would fall would be predictable: The Yankees would give him a tender offer of $14 million, he would decline it, get multiple offers for a lot of money, and New York would get a draft pick when he walked away.
But instead, Hughes’ performance has collapsed in the second half -- and he was demoted from the rotation to the bullpen Tuesday. The 27-year-old Hughes won’t get a chance to rebuild his free-agent value before the season is over.
The Yankees could still tender him an offer, through this logic: If he declines it and is signed by another team, they would get a draft pick -- and if he accepts, well, then they get Hughes on a one-year, limited-risk deal. For a small-market team, this would be an unacceptable gamble, because paying a pitcher who has had the type of season Hughes has had $14 million would be out of the question. But the Yankees have made a habit out of signing veterans Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte and others to one-year deals because they like the value.
So for the big-market Yankees, it’s within the realm of possibility. If the Yankees think Hughes could come back and pitch better in 2014 on a one-year deal, a tender offer would make a lot of sense.
If the Yankees give Hughes a tender offer, it would almost certainly chase away at least some potential bidders for him, and maybe all of them, because they would not want to surrender a top draft pick for a pitcher who has struggled as much as the right-hander has this year.
• The conversations between the Padres and Will Venable about a multiyear deal started after the All-Star break. "Everything progressed smoothly," said Venable’s agent, Rex Gary. "Will wants to stay in San Diego, he’s happy there, and the Padres think highly of him."
Venable talked with Bill Center about the contract.
• Watched a lot of the Reds’ win over the Cardinals Tuesday, and came away with these thoughts:
A. Homer Bailey, who dominated St. Louis for seven innings, is completely locked in right now, having learned how to change speeds. Bailey was really, really upset when he was lifted.
From ESPN Stats & Information, how Bailey dominated:
1. Relied on off-speed pitches: Cardinals hitters were 0-for-15 against Bailey's non-fastballs. He threw a fastball on 38 percent of his pitches after entering the start throwing fastballs 62 percent of the time.
2. He got hitters to chase: If you pull up the heat map of the strike-three pitch locations of Matt Holliday's at-bats versus Bailey (0-for-3, three strikeouts), two of them are basically not even visible because they are so far out of the strike zone.
B. Billy Hamilton, who racked up 230 stolen bases the past two years in the minors, could be another weapon for the Reds in the rest of this regular season and into the postseason. There are unanswered questions among some evaluators about whether Hamilton will be a good enough hitter from the left side, in his continued development as a switch-hitter, and whether he’ll be consistent enough to be a productive everyday player in the big leagues.
But he is a savant on the bases, in his confidence and his execution, and when he was inserted as a pinch runner Tuesday night, he not only stole second base, he did so with relative ease, against a quick-release pitcher who hadn’t allowed a steal in his first 54 games in the big leagues, and a catcher who is regarded as one of the greatest throwers in the history of the game. Yadier Molina’s throw to second was off target -- but, of course, Hamilton deserves some credit for that, because of the anxiety he can create now, and will continue to create.
I e-mailed a long evaluator this morning to ask for his stop-watch assessment of the play. His response:
"The so called average is 3.3-3.4 seconds for a pitcher and catcher to get the ball to second base. I watched it and I had it around 2.9 to 3.0, but if the throw was on the base and down I think they would have gotten him. Average pitcher is 1.3 to home and average throw from a catcher to second is around 2.0. You can tell they were rushing it; hitters will see a lot of fastballs when [Hamilton] is on first base."
Billy Bates was used as a pinch runner for the Reds in their pursuit of the championship in 1990 and had some nice moments, and baseball history will always have a place for Herb Washington. But Hamilton is a one-in-a-lifetime base stealer, because of his baserunning arrogance -- and that’s a good thing -- and his instincts and his speed.
C. Aroldis Chapman lit up the radar gun at 103 mph repeatedly in closing out the Cardinals Tuesday, so that when he threw a slider to Allen Craig, he made one of the best hitters in the NL look as if he had no clue.
Dusty Baker talked after the game about Hamilton and his pitching.
• Josh Donaldson made one of the best plays of the year in Oakland’s loss to Texas. Martin Perez pushed the Rangers back into first place.
The Athletics made some mistakes.
Playing Ian Kinsler is questionable under certain circumstances for the Rangers, writes Evan Grant.
• Jon Lester was outstanding, and the Red Sox pinned a second loss on Max Scherzer. Will Middlebrooks got a big hit.
AL wild card
• A late rally rescued the Yankees, writes Jorge Arangure Jr.
• The Royals just keep on winning, and hanging in the race.
• K.C. summoned Carlos Pena to the big leagues.
• Ubaldo Jimenez hoisted the Indians onto his back.
• Justin Masterson will miss at least one start, which is basically confirmation that he won’t be healthy the rest of this year, a really tough break for Cleveland.
• Matt Moore gave the Rays a badly needed lift.
Dings and dents
1. Bryce Harper is dealing with hip soreness.
2. Sandy Alderson reiterated that the decision whether to have Tommy John surgery is entirely up to Matt Harvey.
3. Johnny Cueto is changing his mechanics.
4. Jason Heyward was cleared to hit off a tee.
5. Dexter Fowler’s knee froze him.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Mets still have not had a serious Ike Davis conversation, writes Joel Sherman.
2. The Brewers summoned a pitcher from the minors, as Todd Rosiak writes.
3. Jeremy Hellickson is ready to go.
4. Dan Runzler was among those designated for assignment.
1. The Nationals won ugly.
2. Evan Gattis was back and clubbed a home run, and helped cut the Braves’ magic number to 10.
3. The Astros faded.
• It’s time for the Phillies to assess talent, writes Marcus Hayes.
• Ruben Tejada was the target of blunt assessments by his manager and GM. From Ray Glier’s story:
In an interview on WFAN, [Sandy] Alderson detailed some of the reasons. "You know, one of the problems with Ruben is, it’s like pulling teeth," he said. "Extra batting practice, extra this, extra that, doesn’t happen unless someone else is insisting on it. And that’s what we need to see. We need to see a commitment to improvement."
Asked about Tejada before Tuesday’s game with the Braves, Collins was equally critical.
"It’s not about whether or not he can play," Collins said. "He can play here. He’s got to do some other things that need to get done here."
Alderson and Terry Collins are smart people and know how to veer around questions they don’t want to answer, so in this case, they took these head on -- clearly to impart a message they want to get across.
• The Marlins have been perfect in September.
• Justin Ruggiano made amends.
• Francisco Liriano is having a season for the ages, writes Travis Sawchik.
• Hunter Pence is modest.
• Kirk Gibson is losing the Midas touch, writes Dan Bickley.
• The innings count of Patrick Corbin is rising, writes Nick Piecoro.
• The Dodgers just don’t lose anymore, as Ricky Nolasco continues to be a really good player.
• Joe Girardi plans to ask Mariano Rivera in the winter whether he definitely wants to retire.
• A wiser Kyle Drabek is back in the big leagues with Toronto. Ricky Romero is back, too, as Brendan Kennedy writes.
• Miguel Cabrera was back on the field.
• The meteoric rise of a Tigers draft pick continues, writes Lynn Henning.
• Glen Perkins had a rare blown save. We’ll have him on the podcast today.
• Adam Dunn talked again about possibly retiring, something he has brought up repeatedly. And we can venture a guess that he’ll talk about it some more.
• The Mariners’ James Paxton is ready for his debut.
• Arte Moreno is negotiating.
• Major League Baseball has selected its A-Rod arbitration team.
• The World Series will start Oct. 23.
• Chase Utley responded to a TV thing.
• The Pirates’ futility spanned a 20-year tour of duty, writes Gene Collier.
And today will be better than yesterday.