Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why McCutch Is Back At Leadoff

What made Clint Hurdle move McCutch back to leadoff after just 11 games in the three hole? Well, the explanation can be made in two words: fly balls.

McCutch's plate discipline hasn't been hampered; his strikeout and walk rates early on mirror his career averages. But in the first two weeks+ of the season, his ground ball rate went from 42% lifetime to 26% this year, and his liner rate has dropped, too, from 19% to 13%.

And hey, that only leaves one place for the ball to go: in the air. He hits flies at a 40% rate historically, but he's at 61% this year. And the bad news is that 1/3 of those are infield pops; he's hit twice as many (21%-10% of his fly balls) this year as in the past.

It's a classic case of overswinging as he tries to adapt to a RBI spot in the lineup. It really shows in his BABIP (balls-in-play BA), which dropped from .313 lifetime to .194 in 2011.

His speed game suffered, too. He only swiped his first base yesterday, and has no bunt base hits (his infield hit rate is the same, but with fewer ground balls, you get fewer leg hits). And make no mistake, his wheels are disruptive once he gets them churning.

In fairness to Hurdle, McCutch's lifetime line batting first or third are almost identical; it was worth a look at stacking the top of the lineup. McCutch's OPS+ was 102 at the top of the order and 100 in the three hole. With the small number of at-bats, it may have evened out over the long haul.

But the skipper made the right call, and wasted little time doing it, by moving McCutch back to a run scoring spot where he can use his speed, shorten his swing and let the big boppers bring him home.

With the slower Neil Walker showing some pop and thriving in the middle of the order, it was a natural shuffle, and should help the attack produce some added runs now that both guys are in their more natural spots in the lineup.

(DJ Short of Hard Ball Talk did the original analysis; GW just fluffed it up some statistically and added a little local knowledge to the commentary. The lion's share of the stats came from Fangraphs. Thanks, guys.)

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