After Aaron Judge went down with a wrist injury in late July, the Yankees curiously didn’t pick up an outfielder. In fact, they considerably thinned their outfield depth chart prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, dealing away Billy McKinney and Tyler Austin. With Clint Frazier and Jacoby Ellsbury on the shelf along with Judge, the Yankees subjected their fans to a dangerous amount of Shane Robinson during the month of August.
Finally, just before the waiver deadline, Brian Cashman dealt for Andrew McCutchen, and our long
national tri-state-area nightmare was over. The Yankees hoped McCutchen could provide reasonable production over the season’s final month as Judge healed. McCutchen’s performance was more than reasonable, as the 31-year-old put together one of his finer stretches of the past few seasons to close out 2018.
2018 Statistics: Overall: 155 games, 682 plate appearances, .255/.368/.424, 20 home runs, 65 RBI, 83 runs, 30 doubles, 2.7 WAR, 120 wRC+
NYY: 25 games, 114 plate appearances, .253/.421/.471, five home runs, 10 RBI, 18 runs, two doubles, 0.8 WAR, 149 wRC+
2019 Contract Status: Free agent
McCutchen’s play at the plate was obscured somewhat during the season’s first five months by his home field in San Francisco. Playing at a park that notoriously stifles power, McCutchen’s statistics didn’t look gaudy, but his 115 wRC+ with the Giants indicated he was still a quality offensive performer.
There was no doubting his hitting once he came to New York. McCutchen stroked five bombs in the season’s final month and posted a 149 wRC+ with the Yankees. His power returned once he escaped San Francisco, and McCutchen quickly entrenched himself in the Yankees’ outfield down the stretch.
McCutchen was good enough to eat into longtime starter Brett Gardner’s playing time by the end. Once Judge returned, Aaron Boone’s preferred outfield included Judge, McCutchen, and Aaron Hicks, with Giancarlo Stanton generally at the designated hitter slot.
It was heartening to see McCutchen close the season so strongly, as the former NL MVP had declined precipitously from his peak. With a quality 2018, McCutchen put himself in line to at least secure another multi-year deal, if not the monster contract he may have expected when he was among the game’s very best.
Whichever team signs him, whether it’s the Yankees or not, should be encouraged by some of the signs McCutchen showed this year. He posted his lowest swinging strike rate (8.2%) of the past seven seasons, likely driven by the lowest chase rate of his career. He also posted his best average hit velocity (90 mph) of the past three seasons, per Statcast.
McCutchen recovered a good portion of his ability to hit the ball with authority, albeit without quite returning to the heights he established three or four years ago. He also demonstrated a new level of plate discipline that bodes well moving forward. Where he did not seemingly improve, though, was on defense, at least according to Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric. After rating McCutchen was just a tad below average in 2017, Statcast put McCutchen 82nd out of 87 qualified outfielders in 2018.
The Yankees don’t seem likely to retain McCutchen despite his successful stint in the Bronx, not with the outfield again looking crowded in 2019. Regardless, McCutchen acquitted himself extremely during his brief time with the Yankees. He performed at high level, and made the Yankees more fun to root for, if only for a month.