The Pittsburgh Pirates are dead last in the National League Central at 18-23 on the season 5 ½ games behind first and losers of 6 of their past 10 overall.
In addition, veteran outfielder Andrew McCutchen is not hitting well to begin the season. Following Thursday’s win, the veteran’s batting line is .220 with 6 home runs and 19 RBIs.
McCutchen, who last October turned 30, suffered through a difficult season in 2016 slipping to .256 at the plate. Even though he hit better in the past two Pittsburgh wins, the trend downward is difficult to ignore.
McCutchen and his coaches are trying to determine what has caused his slump at the plate. He has seen his rate of hard contact drop and his rate of ground balls increase.
Hitting repeated ground balls is a sure fire way to drag offensive numbers down and that is just what has taken place after 39 games of the regular season.
However, the unanswered question of why McCutchen has struggled to hit with authority and with lift on the ball is what worries the Pirates.
He is not injured, his mechanics do not seem bad or even his timing, and if it were any of those they in theory could be fixed.
What worries some in the organization is if McCutchen’s bat speed is dropping. It is very difficult to fix that unless a lighter bat is used or his swing starts earlier, but generally once bat speed is lost it continues and rarely if ever returns.
It might be premature to thinks a batter of the talent of McCutchen would lose his bat speed at just 30, as he remains in his prime, but that has happened before. Andruw Jones at 29 hit 41 homers and by the age of 31 was finished as an everyday player.
During the offseason, Pittsburgh was shopping for players that they could trade McCutchen for and a couple times it appeared a trade was imminent. However, nothing transpired and the veteran is still with Pittsburgh.
This is the worst start during his entire career which also drags down his value in a trade. If he keeps his poor start up, exercising his club option of $14.5 million for 2018 could become very difficult for the Pirates to do.
McCutchen did have two hits in each of his past two games Wednesday and Thursday against NL East leading Washington, but that must continue otherwise the front office will have some difficult decisions to make at the trade deadline or at season’s end.