The Brewers Get Their DH in Andrew McCutchen

© Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Brewers, buoyed by their phenomenal pitching staff, easily won the National League Central in what was their fourth consecutive postseason appearance. But those four playoff teams all had the same flaw, one that led to October frustration: a weak offense that struggled to score runs consistently. The Brewers 2018 roster was the last unit to post a wRC+ at or above league average (they were right at 100); since then, they’ve put up marks of 97, 89, and 91. To address those run scoring issues, the Brewers have been focused on adding some firepower to their lineup this offseason. They traded for Hunter Renfroe and Mike Brosseau before the owners’ lockout, and on Monday, they reportedly brought Andrew McCutchen into the fold. (The details of his deal have not been disclosed as of publication.)

From 2009-17, McCutchen made a name for himself as a member of the division-rival Pirates. Traded before the 2018 season, he spent time that year with the Giants and Yankees before signing a three-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies prior to the ’19 season. He accumulated 2.5 WAR during his Phillies tenure, a stretch that saw him deal with a torn ACL and the pandemic. Entering his age-35 season, McCutchen has clearly declined from his peak, but he should continue to provide solid production for the Brewers as they shore up their lineup.

Last season, McCutchen posted an almost aesthetically perfect .222/.334/.444 slash line that ended up being seven percent better than league average. A career 12.2% walk rate gives him a solid offensive floor and his power production bounced back a bit after a slight dip in 2020. His plate discipline is a clear strength that hasn’t deteriorated. His 18.6% chase rate was the seventh lowest among all qualified batters last year. He did just post the highest strikeout rate of his career, with a corresponding jump in his swinging strike rate (up to 10%). But those additional strikeouts weren’t the result of poor swing decisions; instead, he had trouble making consistent contact, particularly with two strikes. McCutchen struck out 43.6% of the time when a plate appearance reached a two-strike count, a huge jump from the 35% rate he had posted over the previous four years.

When McCutchen did make contact, its quality was a bit diminished compared to what he was capable of previously. His hard hit rate dropped a few points, from 39.5% to 41.2%, and his expected wOBA on contact fell 24 points to .390. The biggest issue for him was his BABIP, which sat at a career low of .242 last year. McCutchen pulled the ball at the highest rate of his career and faced a defensive shift in 42.6% of his plate appearances. Opposing defenses had started to shift on him regularly beginning in 2018, but the last two years have seen a marked increase, and the two lowest BABIPs of his career just happened to occur in ’20 and ‘21.

It’s not all bad news, though. McCutchen posted his highest barrel rate since 2015 and his highest average exit velocity on elevated contact since ’18. Between the excellent eye at the plate and the rebounding power metrics, there’s reason to believe that McCutchen can continue to be a productive player into his mid-30s. The contact and strikeout issues are a red flag, as are his contact quality issues and his propensity to hit into the shift. All of those concerns are likely part of the package for an aging slugger like McCutchen. But one area where he continues to excel is mashing left-handed pitching. He posted a 168 wRC+ against lefties in 2021 and has posted a 157 wRC+ against them over the last three years. As a team, the Brewers posted just a 90 wRC+ against left-handed pitching in 2021, the fifth worst mark in baseball. Adding McCutchen and Renfroe to their lineup should give them a sizable boost in that area in 2022.

At this point in his career, McCutchen is probably best utilized as the Brewers regular designated hitter. Once an above-average center fielder, his defensive skills have declined to the point that he’s now a clear negative in a corner spot. Both UZR and DRS had him costing the Phillies between seven and eight runs in left field last year, while Statcast rated him one of the worst left fielders in baseball (-5 Outs Above Average). Prior to signing McCutchen, the Brewers’ presumptive DH had been Keston Hiura, but his issues at the plate made him more of a question mark than a sure contributor. McCutchen should see the bulk of the playing time at DH while playing the outfield sparingly. With Tyrone Taylor able to fill-in across all three outfield spots, the Brewers have plenty of options to keep McCutchen, Renfroe, Lorenzo Cain, and Christian Yelich fresh throughout the year.

With McCutchen and Renfroe solidifying their lineup, the Brewers are likely done making serious additions this offseason. Their pitching staff is largely intact from last year and should be good enough to help them cruise to a fifth consecutive postseason appearance. Hopefully, they now have a lineup with enough firepower to make that elusive deep October run.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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8 months ago

Yea I don’t like this. A league average hitter as your full-time DH? That’s just not good enough

David Kleinmember
8 months ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

Also he’s more of a platoon player these days they should have gone after Schwarber or make a stronger run at Cruz.

8 months ago
Reply to  David Klein

His wRC+ against right-handed pitching was 76.

Barney Coolio
8 months ago
Reply to  newsense

Who is “He”? I looked up the 2021 stats of Nelson Cruz, Kyle Schwarber, and Andrew McCutchen, and you must be referring to Andrew McCutchen.

In 2021, he mashed against lefties and was really anemic against righties. The difference is so extreme I am surprised his overall numbers were as good as they were.

Milwaukee must be aware of this. Perhaps they intend to play him primarily against lefties. What is his 2022 salary? It is probably premature to assume that McCutchen will be a David Ortiz style everyday DH.