McCutchen one of best in MLB in 2-strike counts
Two-strike counts spell doom for most hitters. Their backs against the wall, batters expand the strike zone, take defensive swings and often slink back to the dugout after punching out or making weak contact.
Major leaguers are batting .178 and slugging .274 with two strikes this season, according to Inside Edge, which provides data-driven scouting reports and analytics to major league teams. James McDonald, for comparison's sake, is hitting .156 this season.
Those general rules don't apply to Andrew McCutchen and his lightning-quick wrists.
The Pirates' MVP candidate is tied for second in the majors in two-strike batting average (.276) and home runs (14) and leads in slugging percentage (.509) through Friday's games.
“You're still looking to be short and quick to the ball (with two strikes),” McCutchen said. “With the hands that I have, I'm able to let the ball travel a little deeper than somebody with a long swing. Just protect the zone, and work with my hands.”
McCutchen didn't always protect the zone so well. He batted .154 and slugged .225 with three home runs in two-strike counts last season. That performance prompted swing tinkering that Pirates hitting coach Gregg Ritchie credits for McCutchen becoming such a tough out.
“It's a huge difference,” Ritchie said. “It has allowed him to get a cleaner path. He has opened up a little bit, and he has dropped his hands to a comfortable slot, which is basically the top of the strike zone, and it has simplified things.”
“That's why I did it.” McCutchen said. “I just wanted to find something that kept me more consistent at the plate.”
McCutchen's more open stance has helped him become an all-fields slugger. Of his 14 two-strike home runs, six have been to the middle or opposite fields.
“When I was first drafted, I couldn't even hit the ball to the right side of the field,” McCutchen said. “Gregg and I worked ever since I was drafted, and it has come over time that I'm able to drive the ball with power to the right side. I'm starting to trust it more and more.”
“He's not lying,” said Ritchie, who served as the organization's minor league hitting coordinator from 2006-10. “He had tremendous pull juice and quickness. Most of his doubles, triples and homers were from center field to the left foul pole.
“And of course the two-strike average wasn't as good because you can't cover and you're too quick to the pull side.”
McCutchen has done most of his two-strike damage on fastballs. He has hit 11 fastballs over the fence in such situations, all of them thrown within the strike zone. Despite that success, McCutchen continues to see about the same amount of two-strike fastballs (52 percent) as an average MLB hitter (53 percent), according to Inside Edge.
That doesn't surprise McCutchen or Ritchie.
“It's out of my control,” McCutchen said. “The only thing I can control is being prepared for that at-bat and doing everything I can to be ready to hit. I don't focus on fastballs, sliders or changeups coming. Whatever comes, I just need to be ready to hit.”
McCutchen's patience means pitchers won't get many lousy swings on pitches thrown off the plate, Ritchie said.
“He has a knack for recognizing pitches early out of the hand, and he stays off a lot of bad breaking balls and hits a lot of hanging breaking balls,” Ritchie said.
McCutchen has chased just 31 percent of two-strike curveballs and sliders out of the zone, well below the 41 percent MLB average.
Dodgers left-hander and 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw challenged McCutchen with a slider over the plate on Aug. 15 at PNC Park, serving up a 430-foot shot that landed in the center-field shrubbery.
“There's just less holes — less ways to get him out,” Kershaw said. “He's covering more pitches, and he's raking left-handed pitching.”
Just don't expect Kershaw to back down next time.
“It's a good battle,” he said. “You just have to attack him with your best stuff and make your pitch. You just kind of go up there and say, ‘Here it is.' ”
“Some of the pitchers out there say, ‘Hey, it's mano y mano — you've got your good stuff, and I've got my good stuff. Let's see who wins,' ” Ritchie echoed. “And Cutch wins a lot.”
David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates third baseman Ramirez’s last ride is about winning a ring
- Gameday: Pirates at Twins, July 28, 2015
- Pirates notebook: No sign of improvement for RHP Sadler
- Cole collects MLB-best 14th win as Pirates take series against Nationals
- Making splash at MLB trade deadline not always in buyers’ best interest
- Pirates minor league report: Moore a breakout star in Morgantown
- Starting 9: Pirates help and the illusion of help
- Pirates notebook: Cervelli cherishes All-Star gift from teammate Burnett
- Pitt football notebook: Boyd returns from monthlong suspension
- Nationals pound Burnett, Pirates
- Pirates hit 3 homers off Scherzer in 7-5 win