Andrew McCutchen's league-best eye and extra work making the Phillies a better team

Andrew McCutchen's league-best eye and extra work making the Phillies a better team

This was the Andrew McCutchen game. 

The Phillies would not have snapped their three-game skid without his bat, his arm or his eye.

McCutchen was on the field at Citizens Bank Park around 3 p.m. Friday doing extra work. Specifically, he wanted to hit slow curveballs off the pitching machine to slow himself down, to force himself to stay back and utilize the whole field.

"Felt like I've been muscling up quite a bit on the ball as opposed to waiting," he said.

It's not that McCutchen has been unproductive lately. He's been a consistent table-setter for the Phillies. He has a .371 on-base percentage and is tied with Bryce Harper for the National League-lead in walks with 33. 

The hits have not fallen as regularly. McCutchen entered the Rockies series hitting a career-low .239. He had stranded almost 88 percent of the runners on base during his plate appearances. He has maintained his disciplined approach at the plate whether he's leading off an inning or coming up with two men in scoring position. Earlier this week, he said he has to constantly remind himself in those high-leverage situations to think aggressively, regardless of whether that means swinging at the first pitch.

In the third inning Friday, with the Phillies down two runs, McCutchen came to the plate after pitcher Cole Irvin worked a 10-pitch walk. Unsurprisingly, McCutchen worked the count full. The only player in the majors who's worked more three-ball counts than McCutchen is teammate Rhys Hoskins. 

On pitch No. 6, McCutchen crushed a 97 mph fastball from Jon Gray for a two-run home run to left-center. It was one of three consecutive two-out rallies the Phillies started in a high-character 5-4 win (see observations).

The prior half-inning ended when McCutchen threw out Mark Reynolds at the plate.

Had to be one of his most satisfying games of the season.

"I try not to think too much about the outcome, I try to think of my approach and if I can repeat it over and over and if I'm seeing the ball well, feeling like I'm under control," McCutchen said. "Today, I felt under control. Some things you can't control, like strikeouts. But for the most part, I felt really good today. It was good to show up and get the results with how I felt."

No player in the majors has chased fewer pitches outside the strike zone than McCutchen. He came into Friday's game having chased 17.3 percent of pitches, a half-percent better than Mike Trout for the MLB lead and about 10 percent lower than his rate in his prime years with the Pirates.

McCutchen is a different hitter now than he was then. He hit .299 with power in his first six seasons and picked up extra hits with his legs. Now, his game is built more around making pitchers work and maintaining a high OBP.

His eye has just gotten better and better and better.

"The guys are throwing harder. I don't know if a lot of guys are throwing smarter, they're throwing harder though," McCutchen said. "So for myself, I have to make that adjustment. If I don't, I'm gonna be striking out a lot. That's my approach, stay within myself, especially with velocity and how it's gone up over the years. 

"You've really just got to hone in on your own zone. That's what I try to do. If you go outside the zone, it's really hard to succeed like that. The swing's gonna be there, the hits are gonna come, I just have to be stubborn in my approach."

Earlier in the week, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler told a story to describe McCutchen's unique knowledge of the strike zone. When the Phils were in Kansas City, McCutchen came back to the dugout after an at-bat and discussed it with Hoskins. McCutchen, Kapler said, showed Hoskins with his hands how far outside one of the pitches was, then showed him how much closer to the outside corner another pitch in the at-bat was. When the Phillies reexamined that at-bat after the game, McCutchen's inexact hand measurements turned out to be exact.

The Phillies, so far, are getting the player they thought they were getting for $50 million over three years.

"McCutchen was incredibly comfortable at the plate today," Kapler said. "Very relaxed, very easy, in control of all of his plate appearances, including the one where he struck out.

"It's really gratifying to see a guy go out pregame, work on something specific, and immediately apply it."

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At the Yard podcast: Zeroing in on Joe Girardi, free agency, 2020 outfield


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Phillies looking toward the Bronx in future-shaping week

AP Images

Phillies looking toward the Bronx in future-shaping week

Phillies officials begin an important work week Monday, one that will have a significant impact on the team's future.

On Monday, the club will host Joe Girardi at Citizens Bank Park in a second interview for the team's open manager's job.

Girardi met with team officials last Monday in the New York metropolitan area. He is the third candidate to receive a second interview for the position. Dusty Baker and Buck Showalter visited Philadelphia for second interviews on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

The Phillies have a narrow focus in their search for a new skipper; they are seeking someone with previous big-league managerial experience. Girardi, Showalter and Baker, with 53 combined years of big-league managing experience and seven manager of the year awards, are the only candidates for the position and it is possible the team could make a hire this week. Thursday could be a target for an announcement as the World Series pauses for an off day between Games 2 and 3.

The Phils could make another important announcement this week. Multiple sources around baseball say the Phils have completed their search for a new amateur scouting director and that Brian Barber is the guy they are locked in on. Barber is a highly regarded national scout for the New York Yankees. His hiring by the Phillies could be announced this week. Barber will replace Johnny Almaraz, who last month stepped down as the Phillies' director of amateur scouting.

Of course, Barber isn't the only man with Yankees roots in the Phillies' sights. Girardi won four World Series rings with the Yankees — three as a player and one as a manager — and is believed to be the Phillies' preferred candidate for manager. 

In addition to having a wealth of experience in running a game with his instincts and intuition, Girardi is well versed in the use of analytics in roster building and game management. Phillies ownership has committed millions to building an analytics department and the club is looking for a manager who can blend a traditional approach to running a game and a team with an approach that uses data and analytics. Girardi managed the Yankees from 2008 to 2017 and in that time the team became an analytics powerhouse.

Girardi is also a candidate for the New York Mets managerial opening. It is not clear if the Mets are prioritizing previous big-league managing experience like the Phillies are. The Mets have interviewed Girardi as well as a number of candidates who have not managed in the big leagues, such as Carlos Beltran and Eduardo Perez.

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