Andrew McCutchen Is Flipping Patient

Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of his storied career, Andrew McCutchen has stood there and watched ball four go by 1,075 times. I watched something like 750 of those pitches on Thursday, and then I cut them down into supercuts. I hope to God I never to see another ball four. I was watching for something specific. I noticed the other day that McCutchen flips his bat a lot, which caught me off guard. If you’re a Pirates fan, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about, but I suspect people outside Pittsburgh might be startled by it, too. After all, McCutchen is a veteran who tends toward a more traditional playing style. That’s not to say that he plays without any flair or that he doesn’t have a sense of humor (he definitely does), just that he’s on the staid side of things. In fact, in October of 2017, McCutchen tweeted his disapproval of the trend.

The issue is not that McCutchen has necessarily changed his mind. He doesn’t really flip his bat when he hits a home run. He’ll do it on rare occasions, but most of the time, he handles his homers with a quiet cool. He finishes his home run swing one-handed, with the bat held low, and he simply drops the bat head toward the ground and lets go of the handle in a smooth continuation of that move. It’s a classic look, and though it’s hard to imagine that McCutchen doesn’t know he looks cool while he’s doing it, it doesn’t come off as an affectation.

Instead of home runs, McCutchen flips his bat when he earns a walk. I’m not the only person to notice this. A Ke’Bryan Hayes fan account started a Twitter thread of McCutchen’s bat flips back in May of 2023, adding a video each time he did it for the next two weeks. In July, the Pirates posted a compilation video on TikTok with the caption, “Either pitch to Cutch or risk getting bat-flipped on.” If you think about it, for someone who really loves bat flipping, the walk is the perfect time. First of all, just about everyone walks more often than they homer, which means more chances to party. Second, while a walk is good for the batter and bad for the pitcher, it’s not a big enough deal that the pitcher will feel like you’re rubbing their nose in it. Third, nothing is expected of the batter after a walk. There’s no risk of flipping your bat dramatically and then realizing that you should have been running around the bases because the ball isn’t carrying like you thought it would.

That said, McCutchen does flip his bat after a walk so consistently that he actually runs into a similar problem. On close pitches, he definitely wants to flip his bat. But if he isn’t sure whether he’s going to get the call, he’ll feign confidence by starting toward first base. However, the bat belies his apparent certainty. Rather than tossing it as he normally would, he simply carries it with him in case the pitch is ruled a strike and he’s called back to the plate, sometimes hunching over a bit like a kid who’s afraid he’s about to be yelled at. Once he does get the call, he finds himself trapped in the tiny farce created by his false confidence. It’s too late to toss the bat, so he simply walks over and hands it to the bat boy as if that was his plan all along. If his team is in the third base dugout, there’s no bat boy to receive a handoff, so McCutchen simply takes enough steps to make it seem like he wasn’t awaiting the outcome of the umpire’s call, then stops and bends over, as if the point of the little jaunt was to place the bat in a certain location, like there’s this super cool patch of grass he noticed earlier and thought the bat would really enjoy it.

McCutchen didn’t start his career flipping his bat during walks. I know this because I watched every ball four that McCutchen took from 2016 to 2024, and then I went back further. Because walks don’t usually make highlight reels, I scoured YouTube for full-game videos of Pirates games from 2009 to 2015. When I found one, I’d check our game logs to see whether McCutchen drew a walk that day. If he did, I’d check Baseball Reference’s play-by-play page to see when in the game it took place, then I’d skip around the video until I found it. All of this is to say that I’m looking forward to having a nice, long rest this weekend. Here’s the second walk of McCutchen’s big league career, an intentional walk, along with one minor bat flip that he did in 2010. It was the only real example of a bat flip that I could find before 2015.

Watching all these videos, I started to wonder whether the people who make McCutchen’s bats are aware that he treats them so roughly. Surely bat makers must have some opinion about the product they work so hard to design and manufacture. I decided to call Louisville Slugger to ask about it. “You know, I don’t know,” said a very nice woman named Linda. “You’ve reached our bat warranty department.” Apparently, the main number on the Louisville Slugger website sends you to the wrong person entirely. Oh well. There’s definitely one bat company that doesn’t mind: Chandler bats, which is owned by noted bat flipper Yoenis Cespedes.

On the other hand, I also noticed that McCutchen doesn’t seem to be interested in showing the pitcher up at all. He doesn’t look out at the pitcher or back at the catcher. He’s also conscientious about his bat flipping. Even when he tosses the bat quite far, he goes out of his way to toss his shin and elbow guards to the same spot so that the bat boy who has to pick everything up doesn’t have to make multiple trips. For McCutchen, I imagine it’s a bit like a game of bocce. Toss your bat, then try to land the body armor right next to it.

These days, McCutchen flips his bat constantly. Over the rest of this article, I will take you through how, over the years, his craft has blossomed into something truly spectacular. If you’re old enough to remember Dave Winfield, you also remember that he was the player most likely to make you realize that a baseball bat was a mere piece of wood. In his massive hands, and next to his 6’6” frame, the bat looked like a toothpick. Today, McCutchen is the player most likely to remind you that the bat once was and soon again will be nothing more than kindling. Unlike Winfield, the 5’11” McCutchen doesn’t do so by virtue of sheer mass; he does so by executing his bat flips so often, so effortlessly, and with so much style that you start to think that the rest of the game is incidental to the tossing of the lumber. He’s constantly adding to his arsenal, and after 11 years in the big leagues, he can make all the throws. Like any true artist, McCutchen is constantly playing with the form, constantly reinventing himself. It seems like each year he comes up with another way to toss the bat, another way to reinvigorate the act and keep would-be competitors off his tail.

Even before he started flipping his bat regularly, McCutchen loved to make a meal of inside pitches, dramatically tossing his bat any which way whenever the ball felt close enough that he could reasonably justify some histrionics. The first of these clips is from all the way back in 2011.

When McCutchen was really feeling theatrical, he wouldn’t just dodge the ball and toss the bat away. He’d lift it clear over his head and toss it in one motion, letting it land right behind his feet, like he was trying to figure out how to to the opposite of chopping wood.

In 2016, McCutchen started bat flipping ball four in earnest, but only for a little while. You know how sometimes you use a curse word and it just feels amazing, so then for the next week you go on bender, cursing way more than you would normally? McCutchen got caught up in the bat-flipping equivalent of cursing for a limited time. In August, he started playing with a bat flip of his own invention. As he started toward first base, McCutchen would toss the bat a few inches in the air with his left hand, then swat it toward the dugout with his right hand. I call the move the Ping Pong Serve.

However, he quickly stopped flipping his bat by the end of the month. By the September came around, not only was he no longer flipping his bat, he appeared to be taking great pains to put it on the ground as softly as humanly possible. He would gently place the bat behind him, touching the head to the dirt first, then bending over to drop the knob from the lowest height he could. Given the remarks he’d make the following season, when you watch the tape, it almost looks like he’s trying to atone for the sins of August, like each extra ounce of care is an act of penance in a brand new, bat-based religion.

In 2017, the year he demanded that the game purify itself from the insidious corruption of bat flipping, McCutchen practiced what he preached. I’m not going to show you any video, because the entire season would just be a montage of McCutchen gently placing his bat on the ground. He did flip his bat a couple times during one road trip in May, but aside from that, he really did walk the line. However, he also seemed to sow the seeds of his future flips. He started flicking his bat head downward quickly, only to slow himself down and lay it gently on the ground. The current flip is seemingly just a continuation of this ancestral ur-flip.

Everything changed in 2018. It was a year of upheaval for McCutchen. Rather than let him walk at the end of the season, Pittsburgh traded him to San Francisco in January. But the Giants never even reached three games above .500 and they flipped McCutchen to the Yankees at the deadline. At the beginning of the season, McCutchen was on his best behavior. Perhaps he was trying to make a good impression on his new city, or perhaps after so many years as a Pirate, he was relishing the chance to finally live on the right side of the law. Either way, once he took ball four, he placed the bat on the dirt with the same loving care you’d use to place a newborn baby on the dirt, if that were a thing that people did. And then at the end of April, with the Giants mired five or six games back in the division, he had another short bout of the flips. However, he largely recovered his decorum after a few weeks, and went back to babying the bat.

In August, something snapped. Right when the Giants fell all the way to 20 games back in the NL West, McCutchen’s true bat flipper finally came out. He was shoving the bat toward the first base dugout and flipping it behind him toward the third base dugout, effortlessly sending it pinwheeling across the field like, well, a pinwheel I guess. The bat flips grew even more intense in New York. Andrew McCutchen was officially a bat flipper. Below is every ball four he took in 2018 in chronological order. You can watch him start out subtly, dabble in the dark art of bat flipping only to back away, chastened, then finally jump in with both feet.

McCutchen signed with the Phillies in 2019, and although injuries limited him to just 59 games, he ran a career-high 16.4% walk rate and flipped his patient heart out. He also picked up a new signature bat flip, going all in on a move he’d started using with the Yankees the year before. In a movement that’s similar to shooting craps, McCutchen would simply shove the bat straight out toward the first base dugout with little to no spin on it. Because he was simply pushing the bat, it wasn’t really tumbling, and the viewer was really able to appreciate the way it landed with a satisfying bellyflop thud.

During the short 2020 season, McCutchen started adding a little bit of English to the toss, backspinning the bat just enough that it would rotate 180 degrees, and therefore getting the best of both worlds: tumbling end over end while still landing flat with a thud.

McCutchen continued added to his bag of tricks in 2021. Those tricks also started getting more showy. First, he’d drop the bat suddenly after taking a borderline pitch. It’s a show of bravado that shares some DNA with the Soto Shuffle: I’m so certain this pitch is going to be called a ball that not only am I going to put down the bat and head to first base, I’m going to mic drop it. Incidentally, he also did this once in 2010, long before his bat flipping days began.

Second, he started flipping the bat a shorter distance, sometimes a yard or two past the left-handed batter’s box, sometimes directly into the box, right at the moment ball four passed him by. He was especially fond of doing so when the pitch was inside, right under his hands. Of all the bat flips in his arsenal, this might be the one that could most easily be construed as showing the pitcher up. Although it’s not as fancy or theatrical, McCutchen tosses the bat directly in front of the eyes of the catcher, pitcher, and umpire with an alacrity that demands attention. Sometimes the catcher is about to throw the ball back to the pitcher, and has to stop his motion in order to avoid hitting the bat. Originally, McCutchen would kind of push the bat upward with both hands, like a cartoon character who’s carrying a stack of presents too big and unwieldy to set down, so they just tumble them all onto a chair.

Later in 2021 and through 2022, McCutchen started getting a bit more distance on the toss and releasing the bat more quickly. On inside pitches, he’d rotate away from the pitch, then turn back and release the bat in the same motion, as if turning away from the pitch was actually just the loading mechanism for his bat toss. It’s a bit silly, trying to turn a defensive reaction into something that looks planned and natural, but it’s also one of the ways that great athletes make even the most mundane acts look graceful. The real grace, though, belongs to the bat, which hits the ground and dances with the hypnotizing unpredictability of a kite in the wind.

Last season was the big year, because McCutchen was back with the Pirates. In Pittsburgh, the home dugout is on the third base side, and because the visitor’s dugout is on the third base side in most other stadiums, the vast majority of the time he could execute what became his signature move: flipping the bat behind him with a snap of the wrist. McCutchen had been practicing this for years, starting in 2016. This supercut, which is roughly chronological, shows McCutchen honing this skill over time. He wasn’t yet a master. Sometimes he’d attempt to flip it with his right hand rather than his left, to mixed results.

McCutchen really perfected the move last year, flicking the bat with casual disdain and a shocking combination of velocity and spin. Sometimes he wouldn’t even look behind him as he threw it. Sometimes he’d emphasize the wrist motion at the last second like a basketball sharpshooter holding their form after a pure three pointer, imparting an extra jolt of backspin.

Sending the bat flying out of the frame, it tumbles across the field like Ozzie Smith on Opening Day, eliciting very nearly the same amount of joy. It is a thing to behold. Occasionally, he turns the bat at an angle, so that rather than tumbling, it helicopters its way toward the dugout.

And that just about brings us up to date. Below is a supercut of all of McCutchen’s walks from this season. He hasn’t shown anything completely unprecedented just yet. We’ll just have to see what innovations he brings as the season progresses.





Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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Darrenmember
27 days ago

The amount of effort that went into this piece is extraordinary.

Nutting Tusiheremember
26 days ago
Reply to  Darren

I can’t help but think that the inspiration for such a detailed study over the years traces back to the absolutely superb piece that Cespedes Family BBQ did on Chris Resop’s crotch grabs a decade ago.