With 31 home runs and a .327/.400/.553 triple slash, Andrew McCutchen was a veritable breakout superstar in 2012 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, having established himself as one of the very best outfielders in the league.
His 7.4 fWAR season was enough to give Ryan Braun a serious run for second place in the NL MVP race, and at 26-years old, the Pirates star could just be entering his first of many such races in his career.
To win it, however, McCutchen will have to show the baserunning tool that propelled him to 33 steals back in 2010.
That number has understandably dropped a bit as Pittsburgh relied on his bat to drive in runs, but considering that Braun was a 40-30 player in a similar situation, 20 steals in 2012 is a number that the Pirates’ offensive dynamo can improve on.
McCutchen attempted 32 stolen bases last season, but his 62.6 percent success rate could stand to see improvement. This was particularly evident in the second half, when he was caught more often (eight CS) than not (six SB).
According to Tom Singer of MLB.com, a renewed focus on baserunning is exactly what McCutchen is working on this year. The 26-year old will be right in the middle of the lineup again, but that won’t stop him from trying to set a new career mark in stolen bases in 2013.
How he plans on getting there? With a blast from the past.
Getting to 33-plus steals isn’t a matter for speed for the toolsy outfielder; that ability is alive and well. No, the secret is in his mental — and technical — approach. The outfielder says that he wants to get back to “having the confidence to get there and not worry about going the other way”, and that he used to be not “afraid to go whenever.”
And, of course, there’s no better way to overcome that hesitation other than head-on — literally.
See, McCutchen is going to be sliding face-first this season, something that he hasn’t done since earlier in his career. As he says, it “kind of helps [him] get there a little quicker, instead of having to pull [his] momentum back to slide feet-first.”
Sure, ball players are taught not to do that because of the increased risk of injury, but worrying about that kind of thing may be what caused McCutchen to run less to begin with.
That said, it’s not as though he’s not preparing himself for the change. The Pirates star will be wearing a wrist guard to alleviate the added risk of injury, and he feels “confident” that the new approach will help him really further refine his MVP-worthy form.
Can McCutchen top 30-40 in 2013? I’m sure the Pirates can’t wait to find out.