Q&A: Andrew McCutchen, Thoughtful Superstar

Andrew McCutchen is chasing a batting title — he leads the National League with a .369 average — as well as an MVP award. The 25-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder tops the senior circuit in WAR and ranks second in OPS and runs scored. More importantly, he’s the catalyst for a team contending for its first playoff berth in two decades.

McCutchen talked about his approach to the game — and what it means to wear a Pirates uniform — last week at Wrigley Field.


McCutchen on why he plays baseball: “It’s what I want to do and it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Ever since I was 5 years old, it’s been the sport I really love. It’s really that simple. I could do other things, but not only can I play this game, I love playing this game. That’s been the case ever since I was a very young age.”

On baseball history: “History means a lot. You pay attention to what happened back in the day, from the early years all the way to where we are now. That’s especially true when you’re playing somewhere like we are today, in a ballpark like Wrigley Field. It’s the oldest park in the league and the more you know about it, the more you’re going to appreciate it. History is definitely a big part of this game.

“One of the reasons I appreciate being in a Pirates uniform is the greats who have worn it in the past. There was Bill Mazeroski hitting the walk-off home run to win the World Series. There was Roberto Clemente wearing the number 21. There was Pops: Willie Stargell. There was Dave Parker: Cobra. To think about all the players who have worn this uniform, being a part of this franchise means a lot to me. A lot of great players have played this game, and I’m just happy to be a part of the black and gold.

“I haven’t really thought about [his place in Pirates history]. I feel that history is history, so just by being here — just stepping onto the field — makes you part of history. I just take it as it comes, do what I need to do, and play hard.”

On spending his entire career in Pittsburgh: “I’d definitely like to do that. Not too many guys in the game are wanting to move from team to team. It would be awesome to be with one team for my whole career. Not too many people get to have that opportunity. I mean, look at Derek Jeter and what he’s done. He’s played for that franchise his whole career, and I’m sure he wants to stay there and not go anywhere else. I’m sure he wants to be there in those stripes — in those pinstripes — for the rest of his life. It would be the same way with me. I couldn’t really see myself going anywhere else at this point. I just really love it here.

“Trades are part of the game and people go from place to place. If you’re in arbitration, or are going to be a free agent the next year, it’s possible those things can happen. You can’t always depend on being in one place the whole time, even if that’s what you want.

“Guys who have been around — and have played for different teams — always say that it’s not that great getting traded. At the same time, you know it’s the name of the game, so you make the best of it.”

On playing for a winning team: “We’re doing a lot better job than we have ever since I’ve been here, so it’s definitely a different atmosphere. It’s a different vibe. It’s great to show up at the ballpark to get ready to win a ball game. That’s what it’s been like every day this year.

“It’s easier to do anything when you’re winning. When you have any job, it’s a lot easier when things are going well. That’s just the way it is. When you’re losing, you’re challenging the mental part of your game — the mental toughness of your game — when you go out there. That’s something I know, because I’ve been through it. You can feel the change in your mental approach when things are going well. That’s obviously a plus, so it’s been a lot of fun.”

On staying within himself: “Regardless of how the team is doing, I’d never say that I’m out there doing anything for myself, but I went through it last year. We were struggling to score runs, so you’re trying to get the big hit. You’re out there trying to do too much, maybe trying to hit a home run instead of just staying within yourself and in the middle of the field. It’s definitely harder when you do that. You have to stay with your approach and play your game.

“This year, I’m trying not to do too much. That’s been the biggest thing for me. I know what I can do and I’m staying within myself. I’m feeling pretty good with where I’m at.

I’ve changed a few things up — my stance — and told myself not to do too much. As far as specifics, as a hitter, you don’t really talk about what you’ve done. We don’t like to give secrets away, or anything like that, because an opposing pitcher may be reading up on you and say, ‘Oh, OK.’

“For the most part, the mental part of the game… like I said before, it’s just staying in the middle of the field and not trying to hit a home run every at bat. Just go up and work the gaps.”

On accentuating the positive: “For the most part, I’m not a big, big video guy. That works for some people, but for me it doesn’t work as much, because I don’t like to be focused on certain things. If something is going wrong, you don’t want to look at what’s going wrong, you want to look at what’s going right. That’s how a lot of hitters get in trouble when they’re struggling. They look at all of their bad at bats, and at what they’re doing wrong, instead of being focused on that one game where they went three-for-four with a couple of doubles and a homer. That’s the game I want to focus on. I like to pay attention to the stuff I do right.

“Pitchers, coaches and scouts are going to try to find out your weaknesses, and there’s nothing you can do about that. All you can do as a hitter is stay within yourself and know your strong points. If you stick with those and don’t adjust to them, that should work for you.”

On what it would mean to win a batting title: “It would mean a lot. It would be good, because it would show that the changes I’ve made over this past year have been [successful]. But that’s all stuff for your shelf, and I’m not too focused on that right now. I’m focused on trying to help the ball club win and go to the playoffs.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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i really like how he answers the question about his place within the historical pirates organization. while he’s quick to point out that history is history (and here i suppose he’s talking about the last 20 years)…he nonetheless acknowledges he’s in the continuum of the pirates club greats that include some pretty special players.

good stuff.