McCutchen and lineup protection

The Pirates star is seeing plenty of good pitches in an awful lineup

Updated: May 25, 2012, 9:21 AM ET
By Dave Cameron | FanGraphs
Andrew McCutchenJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesAndrew McCutchen is having an incredible year even though there is no one on the Pirates to "protect" him.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are threatening all-time records for offensive ineptitude. They are scoring just 2.86 runs per game and posting a .266 on-base percentage, which would tie the 1908 Brooklyn Superbas for the lowest mark any team has posted since 1900. And yet, surrounded by teammates who are performing at historically inept levels, center fielder Andrew McCutchen has been brilliant.

Through his first 41 games, McCutchen was hitting .338/.391/.543 and racking up 20 percent of the team's home runs and runs scored totals by himself. Already a budding star, McCutchen is posting career highs in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage, and he's doing it with the worst surrounding cast anybody has had in quite some time.

The Pirates' rotation of "cleanup hitters" -- which has included Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Casey McGehee -- has combined to hit .199/.258/.280 when batting behind McCutchen. With this kind of protection, you might think McCutchen would be on a career-high pace for walks and rarely seeing a pitch anywhere near the strike zone.

You would be wrong. McCutchen is actually seeing more pitches in the strike zone this year than in any other season of his career. Here are the Pitch F/X data for percent of pitches he has seen in the zone over the past four years: