Bucs wasting McCutchen's prime

Figuring out how Pittsburgh can make the most of its superstar

Updated: February 15, 2013, 9:21 AM ET
By Zachary Levine | Baseball Prospectus
Andrew McCutchenJoe Sargent/Getty ImagesThere is not a more lonely superstar in baseball than Andrew McCutchen.

    It was yet another losing season for the Pirates, but at least they displayed a reason to believe things would start getting better soon. Sure, it was just one star and sure he stood alone in a lineup of virtual nothingness, but he was on the cusp of his prime and there were prospects on the way, including a No. 1 overall pick on the mound. Things were looking up on the Pirate Ship despite a brutal finish to an otherwise promising year. This streak of losing seasons had to come to an end sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Anyone who has been following baseball closely knows the story. But do you know the year?

The year was 1998. Sounds more familiar than that, right? The player was Jason Kendall -- a young up-the-middle star in his 20s, and don't lose sight of that in the myopia of his sad career denouement. (The No. 1 pick, by the way, was Kris Benson.)

The analogy is obvious to state, but it shouldn't be taken as a predictor of future peril. Just because the Pirates went nowhere after that squad doesn't mean a thing for Andrew McCutchen's team heading into 2013 and the streak beyond its current 20 years of losing.

What it does illustrate is the potential for -- and one example of -- a team wasting its star's prime, which the Pirates are in danger of doing with McCutchen. The now 26-year-old outfielder stood alone in the batting order among a squad of disappointments, unproven talents and 4-A types, compiling 4.9 WARP while none of his teammates poked their heads above 2.0.

McCutchen is the only player since Baseball Prospectus' WARP data originates in 1950 to be his team's only hitter with more than 2.0 WARP in three consecutive years. Or any three years for that matter.

There are three ways for the Pirates to go about remedying this situation amid the backdrop of some pitching prospects on the way and few elite bats in the system, and right now they are choosing the wrong one. Let's break them down.

Zachary Levine

Baseball Prospectus