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Giant Change: Analyzing Andrew McCutchen Against the NL West’s Top Pitchers

By: Stats Perform

Andrew McCutchen won an MVP hitting mostly against NL Central pitching while with the Pittsburgh Pirates. How will he do against some of the best pitching baseball has to offer in a San Francisco Giants uniform after getting traded out west?

Splits between a franchise icon and the only team he has ever known are rarely pretty. A growing base of Pittsburgh Pirates fans vowing never to return to PNC Park proves that point.

Alas, the Pirates no longer have the luxury of plugging Andrew McCutchen into the middle of the order every day after trading him to San Francisco, and pitchers such as Jon Lester, Adam Wainwright, Chase Anderson and Homer Bailey no longer have to deal with the former MVP in the NL Central.

On the flipside, there is a whole stock of pitchers out west brushing up on their McCutchen scouting reports. They will see plenty of the outfielder in the heart of the Giants’ revamped lineup, protected by the likes of Buster Posey and the newly acquired Evan Longoria.

Although Longoria has a limited sample size against the NL West, McCutchen has had plenty of looks at a handful of the elite pitchers the division boasts – with mixed results. Which pitchers are worried about McCutchen spending more time in a dugout opposite them? Who might be welcoming him and employing a formula to get him out that has worked in the past?

Here is a look into how McCutchen has fared against three of the division’s best — Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Alex Wood.

McCutchen vs. Zack Greinke

These two had extended looks at each other when Greinke was with the Milwaukee Brewers from 2011-12, and they’ve totaled 32 total plate appearances against each other since McCutchen came into the league in 2009. McCutchen is 8 for 30 (.267) against Greinke in his career, 23 points better than Greinke’s career batting average against (.244).

McCutchen hasn’t beaten Greinke with dribblers down the line or groundballs with eyes, either. Six of his eight hits in their matchups have been for extra bases, with one leaving Dodger Stadium in June of 2014 when Greinke was a member of the Dodgers. That’s an extra-base hit once every five at-bats for McCutchen, while Greinke has given up an extra-base hit once every 13 at-bats in his career.

McCutchen hit that home run in the third inning off a first-pitch fastball that caught too much of the plate. Two innings earlier, he hit a double to the warning track in deep left-center field on a first-pitch fastball.

Greinke attacked right-handed hitters with a first-pitch fastball just over 60 percent of the time in 2014, and McCutchen hit .409 off first-pitch heaters that year. That number was the high-mark of McCutchen’s career, but he’s hit under .315 on first-pitch fastballs just once. Throwing McCutchen fastballs in fastball counts is not a formula for success, to put it lightly.

However, Greinke has cut down McCutchen on strikes seven times, and the newest Giant is only 1 for 6 against him since the start of the 2015 season. In that time, Greinke has thrown eight fastballs across those six plate appearances, while mixing a lot more offspeed and breaking pitches.

McCutchen vs. Clayton Kershaw

You would assume McCutchen has had the least amount of success against one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, but you would be wrong. In fact, McCutchen’s .333 average in matchups with Kershaw is his seventh-highest against the 32 pitchers he has faced at least 25 times.

Like Greinke, Kershaw has relied on his fastball against McCutchen gotten burned. Six of McCutchen’s nine hits off the big lefty have been off fastballs, and two of those were first-pitch offerings.

It’s hard to narrow down to a small timeframe that McCutchen has owned Kershaw, because he’s had a hit in seven of the 10 games the two have matched up. Pitcher has gotten the better of hitter in their last two matchups, however, with McCutchen going just 1 for 6 with two punch-outs. A large part of that has been Kershaw moving away from the fastball and towards offspeed stuff. The past two games between the two are the only times in Kershaw’s career that he has thrown McCutchen more offspeed pitches than fastballs.

McCutchen vs. Alex Wood

Wood, a key member of the Dodgers’ starting rotation, has had more success against McCutchen than both Greinke and Kershaw. McCutchen is 4 for 19 (.211) against Wood with just two extra-base hits and six strikeouts.

The lefty has done a good job of balancing his pitch mix, firing fastballs just 46 percent of the time against McCutchen.

In their second matchup in September 2014, McCutchen had two hits (one off a first-pitch fastball) and a walk. Since then, he is 2 for 14 with five strikeouts. In those five at-bats, he has started with a fastball just twice, and struck him out with a curveball in all but one.

Wood has run into a little bit of luck against McCutchen as well. During the current 2-for-14 stretch, McCutchen has gone just 1 for 4 on first-pitch fastballs, combining one single with a fly out and two ground balls. The difference between Wood getting McCutchen out on those pitches versus Greinke and Kershaw failing to do so is just a couple inches; Wood has managed to keep the ball low and on the corners on those first pitches, while the other two have missed out and over the plate.

McCutchen has feasted on fastballs his entire career. Both Greinke and Kershaw learned that the hard way when the book wasn’t entirely written on how to get him out early in his career. It’s been very recently that both hurlers have gone more to their offspeed stuff to get McCutchen out and away from the fastball — much like Wood has done.

Whether McCutchen makes an adjustment to that shift remains to be seen, but he will have plenty of opportunities in his new home on the Bay.