Andrew McCutchen’s Injury is a Huge Blow

In 2013, Andrew McCutchen was the best player in the National League, and he was rewarded with the NL Most Valuable Player award. In 2014, he and a few others are essentially even for the title of “best NL player,” non-pitcher division, at least among those who were healthy and not on awful teams. (Caveats included because Troy Tulowitzki has been outstanding, but doesn’t have much impact on the pennant race, is on the disabled list and has almost no chance of winning the MVP.) Combine the two years, and he’s easily been the best that the National League has to offer, and although the defensive metrics don’t seem to like him as much this year, he’s out-performing his 2013 on offense, thanks to some additional power.

On Sunday, he injured his left side, with scary statements like “he needed help from someone else to just zip up the travel bag at his feet” tossed around; he’s likely to be placed on the 15-day disabled list, and could miss several weeks in total. At the time this was all coming out before Tuesday’s loss to Miami (note: this was mostly written before the loss and not updated since the idea is to include McCutchen’s full absence, not one game into it), the Pirates were 1.5 games out of first place in the NL Central, but still only in third, since the Cardinals are in second ahead of them. They were a half-game behind the Giants for the second wild card spot, and just 1.5 games ahead of Atlanta in that chase.

Wins could not be more valuable to the Pirates than they are right now, and they just lost one of the five best players in the game. This is really, really bad.

But how bad? We’ll get to that in a second, because it’s clear that no one can write a story on McCutchen’s injury without at least touching on the events that led up to it. The short version, for those who spent their weekend not following the immature acts of tough guy ballplayers: On Friday, up 9-4 in the ninth inning, Pittsburgh’s Ernesto Frieri hit Paul Goldschmidt in the hand, fracturing a bone and likely ending Goldschmidt’s season. Frieri has been atrocious this season, and with no known bad blood between the teams, almost certainly did so unintentionally. The next night, in one of the more cowardly acts you’ll ever see, the Diamondbacks waited until a four-run deficit in the ninth and a 2-0 count — after an outside slider — to put a 95 mph Randall Delgado pitch into McCutchen’s spine.

On Sunday, McCutchen played into the eighth, hitting a game-tying sacrifice fly. He then immediately grabbed his side, to the point that Pedro Alvarez and a trainer had to help him down the stairs from the dugout:

mccutchen_injured

In the original draft of this post, this portion talked about how it was at least plausible that being hit in the back one night and coming up with a strained oblique (which is what this really looked like) the next night could be unrelated. We could infer, but not say for sure. Pirates fans could be angry at the Diamondbacks, but no one could be certain. Now, it’s come out that McCutchen actually fractured a rib — he has  *deep breath* “an avulsion fracture involving the costochondral cartilage of the left 11th rib” — and so what can I say other than: Have at it, Pittsburgh. It certainly seems like your season has been irreparably altered by a gutless act from a terrible team with a bad reputation, even if there’s at least some opinions that say otherwise.

Anyway, regardless of the cause, the Pirates now need to try to win without their best player for some amount of time, but this is where it gets complicated, because we don’t yet know how much time. The Pirates haven’t even placed him on the DL yet, instead activating Starling Marte and placing Pedro Alvarez on the bereavement list. Every rib injury is different, as is each player, so it’s a bit difficult to try to speculate here.

Tulowitzki missed nearly a month with a rib injury last year; Hanley Ramirez fractured his eighth rib on a Joe Kelly fastball in the first game of the NLCS last year, and still managed to play in five of the six games. (He was completely ineffective while doing so, and of course, the NLCS provides a different sort of time frame when your backup is Nick Punto.) David Wright missed three weeks last spring with a rib injury, but that’s the exact opposite of Ramirez, since there’s no reason at all to rush it in March. Jason Giambi missed a month earlier this year with a rib fracture. Ryan Sweeney missed two months last year. Jacoby Ellsbury had his entire 2010 ruined by rib injuries. Earlier this year, Juan Lagares missed three weeks with a strain, not a fracture.

Clearly, we don’t know what the outcome is going to be. Since I started writing this post, the characterization of his injury has changed three times, which isn’t really how you want things to go when you start writing, so let’s play with some pure speculation. The Pirates have 51 games remaining. Let’s say McCutchen misses half of them, which is in the 3-4 week range that sounds appropriate.

Before this, the Pirates were going to have Marte / McCutchen / Gregory Polanco in the outfield, left to right. Now, Marte slides to center, where he played in the minors, and where he probably would be in the majors if not for McCutchen. There’s not likely a defensive downgrade there; there might even be a small upgrade. There’s no change in right field. Left field, now, likely becomes something of a platoon between Josh Harrison and Travis Snider. (That’s what it’s been for the last two weeks with Marte out, but wouldn’t have remained that way if Marte wasn’t needed in center.)

Let’s do this the quick and dirty way, with projections, and the fact that ZiPS and Steamer’s rest-of-seasons projections work differently — Steamer is showing an update for projected playing time, but ZiPS, for the moment, is not — helps us.

ZiPS ROS (i.e., what would have been)

  • McCutchen: 2.0 WAR
  • Harrison: 0.7 WAR
  • Snider: 0.1 WAR

Steamer ROS (i.e., what may be now)

  • McCutchen: 1.0 WAR
  • Harrison: 0.7 WAR
  • Snider: 0.5 WAR

That makes a certain amount of sense. If we assume McCutchen is out for half the rest of the season, then half of his production goes away, cutting his ROS WAR from 2.0 to 1.0. Harrison doesn’t change much, since he was basically playing every day anyway; Snider gains slightly because of a gain in expected playing time, but he’s clearly not McCutchen’s equal or anything like it.

Of course, there’s another aspect to this. If McCutchen were in center, and Marte were in left, then Harrison wouldn’t be on the bench. He’d probably be the starting third baseman, since Alvarez’ defensive issues had escalated to the point that a move to first base was seriously being considered, even before the personal issue that put him on the bereavement list.

The more time that Harrison plays in left, the less time he’s at third. That’s more time for Jayson Nix, who was signed on Sunday after being released by Tampa Bay, and went 0-3 against Miami on Tuesday. We’ll call him replacement-level. It’s more time for Brent Morel, who has made four recent starts at third; he is also, at best, replacement-level.

It’s a domino effect that takes plate appearances away from McCutchen and redistributes them to Snider, Morel and Nix, three guys who are about as close to replacement-level as you can find. If you buy into the projections and if McCutchen misses half of the rest of the season, maybe it only costs the Pirates a win. Of course, given how tight the Pittsburgh playoff situation is — their playoff odds headed into the first game without McCutchen were 51.8%, or essentially a coin-flip — that one single win could have massive repercussions. It could be the difference between the playoffs, and nothing.

Again, we’re speculating, because right now, it’s impossible to say for sure what McCutchen’s health outlook is. He could be back next week; he could miss the rest of the year. He could come back at full strength; he could rush it and be limited, like Ramirez was for the Dodgers, and the Pirates could try to make a waiver deal to compensate. No matter how it turns out, though, it’s hard to think of a more damaging situation for a playoff team. A club with no margin of error just lost the best player in the league. It’s not often that turns out well.

We hoped you liked reading Andrew McCutchen’s Injury is a Huge Blow by Mike Petriello!

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Mike Petriello used to write here, and now he does not. Find him at @mike_petriello or MLB.com.

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cactusdave
Guest
cactusdave

I’m not an advocate for retaliation, but I think this line of reasoning that says hitting someone was “unintentional” misses the point very often.

The Cardinals “unintentionally” took Hanley Ramirez out of the NLCS last year. Then a week or so ago they plunked him twice and Puig once all “unintentionally”.

Well guess what. They INTENTIONALLY elected to pitch the Dodger players inside. If you’re going to have your pitchers pitch inside, they need to have some command and control of their inside pitches such that the result isn’t regularly putting the other teams players out of the game.

If a manager can’t recognize this and continues to insist that his pitchers who can’t control their stuff effectively, continue to pitch inside and risk the other team’s players, then it’s time to make friends with reality by way of a payback pitch that says enoguh is enough.

Rick James
Guest
Rick James

The onus here isn’t on the Pirates for accidentally hitting someone, the onus is on the DBacks for throwing a ball at someone on purpose. This eye for an eye bullshit needs to stop. They didn’t throw at McCutchen because the Pirates were pitching inside, they threw at McCutchen because they’re vindictive assholes.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

This line of reasoning is nonsense. When you pitch inside the pitcher’s intent while holding the ball on the mound is to get the batter out. What Delgado did was take a lethal weapon to the mound and purposefully decide to try and hit/injure another player. There is a huge difference between pitching inside (which is a necessary part of the game) and purposefully committing assault. This is then compounded by the tactics that Gibson chose to use (not hitting Cutch early, setting him up with pitches away).

In this case its even more ridiculous to blame the Pirates for Goldy. He moved his hands forward and in at the pitch that hit him. The line of thinking that an accident should be repaid with purposeful assault in archaic nonsense. Its akin to someone accidentally hitting your car (because they aren’t a great driver) then you getting out and punching the guy.

arc
Guest
arc

“lethal weapon”; “committing assault”

I want to agree with you, but this kind of hyperbole doesn’t make it easy.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

It is not hyperbole. A baseball at 95 mph is a lethal weapon, there are numerous instances. That ball hit him in the spine, he easily could have broken a vertebrae and been severely injured.

Hitting someone with a hard projectile at high velocity is assault, how else would you describe it? If I throw something at you really hard and hit you, I would be charged with assault. We have seen this “sports don’t count” get challenged legally in hockey recently, with several instances of assault being prosecuted.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

BTW, the Pirates are not above criticism in this area, just last week the sent Justin Wilson up to retaliate against the Dodgers after they hit two Pirate batters (in that case he hit the 1st guy immediately). The practice as a whole is stupid and ineffective. If you want to get this stuff out of the game you need suspensions and fines.

bill
Guest
bill

It’s only hyperbole because of how you view it in a baseball game. It’s not part of the game so it is no different than if you hurled a rock at some stranger on the street. It’s assault. If your contention is that the threat of a retaliatory beaning will prevent deliberate beanings, I submit that sending Gibby to jail for a few months would be more effective.

Kram
Guest
Kram

Not seeing why this would be hyperbole… seems like pretty accurate descriptions to me

arc
Guest
arc

Ok, awesome. Not hyperbole then. So since I’m just crazy and the fact that it happens in the course of a professional sports game is in no way different, the lot of you want to see the pitcher arrested & prosecuted under state and and/or federal law to be imprisoned for between 5 and 20 years, correct?

Certainly you wouldn’t tell me that you are *not* being hyperbolic but then tell me that this is also not as serious as the terms you are using to describe it, which come with said penalties.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

I’m unclear on why the context of sport matters so much in your opinion? Context rarely matters in other regards when it comes down to purposefully attempting to injure another person. For example, if I intend to hurt another person by hitting them because they slept with my girlfriend I don’t get out of the consequence of the action. There is no “he had it coming” defense.

arc
Guest
arc

Could you answer me directly, please? Are you advocating that the pitcher be arrested and prosecuted for assault with a deadly weapon?

If yes, that’s fine. Your position makes sense to me.

If no, then why are you pretending not to understand how the sport makes a difference? You literally are the one telling me it makes a difference, since you think it is assault with a deadly weapon but don’t think it should be handled the way assault with a deadly weapon is handled.

Bobby Ayala
Member

The context matters because throwing a baseball 95 mph in the general direction of a guy is a regular and natural part of a baseball game, and if someone gets hit one would have to prove intent to prove it a criminal act. But if I went out to the mall and started throwing 95 mph baseballs in the general direction of TJ Maxx shoppers, it’s not a regular and natural part of their shopping experience, therefore the act itself is criminal and intentions are irrelevant.

If sports context didn’t matter, every time someone tackled someone in football it could be viewed as assault. Heck, you could file a civil case claiming emotional damages whenever an opponent beats you. Context always matters.

Diogenes
Guest
Diogenes

“I want to agree with you, but this kind of hyperbole doesn’t make it easy.” I call BS. Your subsequent response makes it clear that you don’t want to agree and, in fact, disagree. Which is fine. That’s your position. And I didn’t hear anyone calling for prosecution, they just said that throwing a projectile at 95mph is potentially lethal (or do you disagree?) and that doing something potentially lethal is certainly part of the definition of assault. Prosecution is your paper tiger.

Moonwatcher
Guest
Moonwatcher

Baseball not a lethal weapon? Tell that to Ray Chapman.

arc
Guest
arc

“I call BS. Your subsequent response makes it clear that you don’t want to agree”

No it doesn’t. I agreed with the central point he made, but not with the way he made it.

“I didn’t hear anyone calling for prosecution”

Of course not. The fact that I asked if they would presupposes that none of them had already said they would. What do you imagine you’re clarifying here?

I called his language hyperbolic and that characterization was challenged. But if it is *not* hyperbole to refer to a hit batsman as assault with a deadly weapon, then it’s very clear that an arrest & prosecution are warranted.

The onus is on anyone who says it is those things to explain why we should not then act as if it is those things.

Alternately, any of you could simply concede that, as most of the rest of the world understands, it’s very obviously different and the use of those terms was hyperbolic.

Diogenes
Guest
Diogenes

So you’re saying that a baseball traveling at 95mph is not lethal?

arc
Guest
arc

Like hundreds of other things that aren’t lethal weapons, it can be. Meeting that criteria isn’t a sufficient condition for the status of *lethal weapon*, which is the term actually in question.

Your commitment to sidestepping the things I actually say in favor of this rhetorical game is amusing.

What’s clear is that none of you really believe that this is assault with a deadly weapon. You don’t want it treated that way. You just want to be able to *talk* about it that way when you feel it might help to make your point.

Hyperbole.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

Arc, I never said it shouldn’t be handled as such. In an earlier post I mentioned that we have seen sports rules and the legal system intersect in hockey in recent years. It is assault plain and simple, if you want to stop it let people prosecute. Like any crime, the burden of proof will be difficult, but civil courts have been very friendly to plaintiffs.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

Bobby, you are trying to mix the very two types of events that has led to this situation. Event 1 – Goldy getting hurt, a clear accident that comes with normal risk of sports. Event 2 – an intentional event that has no place in sports.

This is not unlike the hockey goon who is sent out to physically attack a guy because he legally checked a team’s star player. Its the same neanderthal mentality.

Diogenes
Guest
Diogenes

Just like Mike Tyson’s fists, right?

I mean, come on, what’s your point. “Like hundreds of other things that aren’t lethal weapons, it can be.” Well, no weapon is lethal 100% of the time, not even a gun. Does that mean that there aren’t lethal weapons?

Agreed, a baseball, generally speaking, is not a lethal weapon. A baseball aimed at someone and thrown at 95mph at someone is. Just like a bullet thrown at someone is not a lethal weapon, but one shot through a gun is. Context matters.

But at this point, it seems to me that you just want to debate some minutiae about the definition of hyperbole, not understanding the difference between hyperbole and being provocative. In other words, this is pretty pointless.

Arc Your Back
Guest
Arc Your Back

Yeah, I’m guessing the easiest way to convince you that you might be wrong about that is to go ahead and have you stand in there and take one in the spine.

And then get back to us, no pun intended.

Diogenes
Guest
Diogenes

I thought that, but didn’t think I should be the one to go there.

Arc
Guest
Arc

“It’s not hyperbole; it’s just being provocative”. Yeah, and *I’m* the one pointlessly equivocating.

Let’s see if you will dodge this question for a third time: do you want to see pitchers prosecuted for assault with a deadly weapon, which carries a sentence of 5 to 20 years? It’s an extremely simple question if the issue is as clear as you say.

The reason the lot of you avoid this is that you’re caught in your own bullshit. You refuse to concede that a beanball is very obviously different (and this that calling it such is hyperbole) but you also want to be able to jerk yourselves off with that alarmist language to make your points.

If you don’t want prosecutions, you’re conceding that your “provocative” language is exactly what I said it was: hyperbole.

If you do want prosecutions with 5-20 year prison sentences for MLB pitchers, you are laughable but logically consistent and I stand corrected.

KG
Guest
KG

Silliest hyperbole argument ever.

Bobby Ayala
Member

This argument seems based on the idea that you all “know” that throwing at McCutchen was intentional. No matter what you believe, you don’t “know” anything unless you’re Delgado, or Gibson, or whoever the D’Backs catcher is these days– the difference between a strike and a beaned batter could be 6 inches, could be a ball slipping a millimeter out of pitchers hand as he releases. You’re inferring a lot based on your opinion, but you don’t know anything. The point is when you start saying “let’s prosecute” you’re really saying “anyone who might accidentally hit a batter might get prosecuted if we deem it was intentional,” which isn’t right. Who’s going to decide intent and put some pitcher who may have made a mistake in jail? This is a silly argument and anyone who believe pitchers should be prosecuted probably shouldn’t watch sports.

J.Henry Waugh
Guest
J.Henry Waugh

Why, your car thinking statmenet is about as “American as apple pie” …..perhaps nowadays less fisticuffs are more legal lawsuits.

Rainmaker
Member
Member
Rainmaker

For a stats website, its alarming that no one bothered to look at the Pirates stats for Hit Batters. Hint they LEAD THE LEAGUE with 61(!) Hit Batters this season, a whopping 12 Hit Batters above the next team, and well above the league median of ~35.

It seems pretty clear that the Pirates advocate a strategy of pitching inside, which can be argued to the extent they’re beaning people so far this season, is likely to lead to injury. So the Pirates pitch inside and hit the Diamondbacks best player, ending his season, what other avenue would the Diamondbacks have to combat that strategy? The only effective method I can think of is showing the Pirates you’ll retaliate for that strategy.

In a vacuum, I agree, if a guy lets one slip, there shouldn’t be payback; in context, with a team that leads the league in Hit Batters and is actively risking player safety, there should be payback. I kindly ask you get off your high horse…

TWNDAI
Guest

So what, if a team doesn’t have great control they should willfully sacrifice the inside part of the plate to avoid accidents? How about if they have a number of pitchers who throw really fast? Should they do the same? There’s no logical stopping point.

This situation’s pretty simple: the big, flashing, GLOWING line of demarcation and human decency is whether or not the team is trying to pitch inside to win the game, or whether or not they’re out for petty revenge. He should stay right on that high horse.

Rainmaker
Member
Member
Rainmaker

“avoid accident”? When you’re that many standard deviations from the mean, they are no longer accidents….you are actively trying to hit people. You’re “GLOWING” line gets much fuzzier then.

TWNDAI
Guest

The raw numbers are small enough (we’re talking dozens, not hundreds) that I find the gap a lot less compelling. But the question is the same: why not apply the logic to teams with faster throwers, too? I don’t see any sensible delineation other than the most obvious one: one team’s trying to win, the other team’s trying to hurt people.

In other words, one of the teams here isn’t even playing baseball any more.

John Elway
Member

TWNDAI – this Mile High horse agrees completely.

Just neighing.

#KeepNotGraphs

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

For a guy appealing to stats, your comment is lacking in the “proof that they intentionally hit people” department.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

There is a huge difference between hitting a guy with a curveball that doesn’t break and hitting a guy with preconceived intent. I have no issue with pitching inside, its a valid approach to achieve the goal of getting hitters out.

SprayingMantis
Guest
SprayingMantis

18 of those are Charlie Morton curveballs (well, not all of those were breaking balls, but it seems like a good deal). If the DBacks wanted to hit Cutch with changeups it would be different.

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles

BTW, the Pirates lead the league in being hit by pitches too.

Rainmaker
Member
Member
Rainmaker

Great article from Peter Gammon from more than a month ago: http://www.gammonsdaily.com/pirates-hit-by-pitch-mlb/

Short version — Pirates actively pitch inside more than any team in baseball, Clint Hurdle is quoted as saying he’s wants his pitchers to intimidate batter by throwin inside.

Arc Your Back
Guest
Arc Your Back

If Charlie Morton is skilled enough to ROUTINELY AND INTENTIONALLY drop a curveball on top of someone’s shoe, then he’s the greatest pitcher in baseball.

Otherwise, you need to have a better understanding of the distinction between intentional and unintentional.

Scott
Guest
Scott

Plenty of those hit batters have been 70 mph Charlie Morton curves.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

Do you not see the difference between intentionally throwing inside and intentionally throwing at someone?
Intent has been included in jurisprudence for centuries. It’s why premeditated murder is judged worse than killing someone in an auto accident. And you will note there are punishments for both.
Why do advocate the same punishment for two actions that are different at their core?

Rainmaker
Member
Member
Rainmaker

You apparently don’t understand jurisprudence very well. If you point a gun 15 degrees away from someone, pull the trigger, and the bullet somehow still kills them, you are still guilty of murder, whether you intended to kill them or not. You willfully engaged in an act that was likely to cause harm, the act caused harm, you are responsible for the consequences of that harm.

Actively employing the strategy to pitch inside, to the point that you lead the league by a wide margin in HBP, is endangering player safety. I fully agree that is part of the game, but also believe its the DBacks right to push back against it.

AC of DC
Guest
AC of DC

But it wouldn’t be premeditated, so the law would treat it differently, which is what he just said . . .

TWNDAI
Guest

Person A rushes home and accidentally hits someone with his car.

Person B, who knew the person who was hit, actively plans to track down a relative of person A and murder them to teach people not to hurry.

In this analogy, what Person B has done is *fundamentally different*. All rational moral agents understand this. I’m shocked this is even a discussion.

TWNDAI
Guest

Sports carry with them an inherent lack of safety. Everyone accepts this so long as the lack of safety overlaps with the stated purpose of the game. The issue is when people go outside of that purpose, and the harm is its own end.

This is why it’s perfectly fine to tackle someone very hard in the NFL, but not to step on their ankle while they lay on the ground. One is a part of the game that all participants understood when they agreed to play. The other exists outside of the game, and is not an immutable part of it.

It’s super discouraging that this explanation is necessary.

DavePomerantz
Member
DavePomerantz

MLB Rainmaker, it’s a matter of degree. What the Pirates do is bad – employing a strategy that is likely to injure your opponents, even if that injury is not the intention, is not cool. But intentionally injuring your opponent is a whole lot worse.

Rainmaker
Member
Member
Rainmaker

DaveP — I agree, it is just degrees. And I’m 100% OK with a 3-game suspension and normal fines. But its absurd to say this is anything but a normal, albeit ugly, part of the game. Its not the huge deal its made out to be, its not “gutless”, and it shouldn’t result in season-long suspensions for the player or coaches involved, as I’ve seen written about. Its a bummer Cutch got hurt, but it not a crime.

Doug Lampert
Guest
Doug Lampert

Actually no. If I’m at a gun range or out hunting and I shoot someone by accident it is NOT murder because pulling the trigger was not by itself a crime.

If I’m in an area where shooting at all would be criminal or have no legal reason to shoot, then if I kill someone it’s felony murder. If I shoot at someone intentionally, and kill them, it’s also murder. If I shoot as part of a legal activity and it happens to kill someone that’s an accident and not prosecutable.

The parallel should be obvious, but I’ll spell it out anyway. You don’t get to throw AT someone as part of baseball, that’s not allowed, if you intend to hit someone that’s assault. If you hit them by accident that’s an accident in the course of a legal activity and not assault.