Reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen was in the middle of yet another fantastic season by old school and new school numbers before he was forced to sit after an avulsion fracture of his 11th rib.
There is no time table on the Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder’s return, and while Bucco fans clearly are concerned about their team’s playoff chances without McCutchen, there is still reason to believe the Pirates can stay in the N.L. playoff race.
The Pirates beat the Miami Marlins 7-2 at PNC Park on Thursday. Gregory Polanco drove in four runs to help propel the Bucs. Polanco also made a terrific throw from right field to throw out Jarrod Saltalamacchia at third base in the fifth inning. Edinson Volquez was brilliant as he lasted seven innings and allowed no runs on just one hit.
The Pirates rank third in the N.L. in runs, and while McCutchen has a lot to do with that, the Pirates fortunately have also been able to rely on second baseman Neil Walker and utility man and All-Star Josh Harrison‘s bat to keep the offense afloat. Walker, according to FanGraphs, is leading all N.L. second baseman in Weighted Runs Created+ (wRC+). This stat represents runs contributed per plate appearance that are adjusted for parks and leagues.
One hundred is average and Walker is actually seven up on New York Mets‘ Daniel Murphy. Walker has been able to rank highly in this particular sabermetric stat because he has been hitting the ball well (.278), hitting the ball out of the ballpark (14 home runs) and has scored 52 runs. So while it is great that he ranks first in wRC+, his traditional numbers are also impressive. He is also injured, but his injury does not seem to be as severe as McCutchen’s.
Harrison came out of nowhere in having his breakout year that has pushed him to a 2.7 WAR according to Baseball Reference. He adds a little bit of everything to manager Clint Hurdle’s lineup as he has smacked 10 homers, stolen 18 bases and is hitting .308. Shortstop Jordy Mercer has been one of the best offensive SS in all of baseball since the beginning of July, and is showing no signs of slowing down. He has accumulated a 2.2 WAR this season. He could also add a little pop in McCutchen’s absence.
Catcher Russell Martin is also having a fine offensive season. His OBP of .415 in 71 games would place him right in the thick of the leaders if he had more games under his belt. Still, it is likely he will not drop off much from that statistic and he could help bridge the gap offensively until McCutchen returns.
Losing McCutchen will definitely hurt the Pirates because he leads the team in basically every single important offensive category, but if this mix of hitters can contribute the way they have recently, the Bucs can buy some time until McCutchen recovers.