Andrew McCutchen went into the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ latest contest as the worst hitter in their everyday lineup. Clearly, what he needed was a slump-buster.

Or three.

Yes, it’s true. Anyone who missed the Pirates take on the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on Tuesday missed McCutchen going deep in the first, second and sixth innings of a 9-4 win. Before talking about what this means, we must first honor these dingers by applying our eyes and ears:

McCutchen awoke Tuesday morning with only two home runs in 2016, putting him behind 45 other National League hitters. His three-homer game (the second of his career) has shrunk that list to seven players, a tidbit I’m contractually obligated to follow with: “So, he had a good day at the office.”

But more importantly, there’s what McCutchen‘s big outburst means for the Pirates.

The Pirates haven’t been lacking for offense in the early goings this season, as they went into Tuesday’s contest ranked fifth in the National League in runs and third in OPS. But they were doing all of that without McCutchen‘s typical MVP-level production. His .684 OPS was the lowest among Pittsburgh’s eight regulars.

Now, the 29-year-old’s OPS is up to .826. That puts him on his way to getting back to the level of his 2015 season (.889 OPS), and the next step could be getting back to his 2012-2014 levels (.939 OPS).

There aren’t many reasons to doubt McCutchen will build on his three-homer explosion. Beyond him being who he is, there’s the reality that it’s usually about this time of year he begins to heat up.

You’d have to ask the man himself if he has some sort of personal grudge against April, but McCutchen‘s numbers certainly suggest he’s not a fan. The .754 career OPS he has in the season’s first month is fine by normal standards, but not by his. That mark is over 100 points worse than his OPS in any other month.

Despite all of this, the only time McCutchen has had an early-season slump actually worth worrying about was last season. The .636 OPS he finished with last April was bad even for him, and it looked ominous in light of how he had been slowed by a left knee injury in spring training.

In a piece for Just a Bit Outside, Jeff Sullivan highlighted how McCutchen‘s left knee woes were barring him from his usual explosive weight transfer when he swung, thus sapping his power. And though he eventually started hitting again, it’s fair to wonder if he ever felt 100-percent healthy.

But as McCutchen recently told John Perrotto of USA Today, that’s all water under the bridge now.

“I couldnt prepare how I wanted to prepare. I had to compensate for certain things. That’s all that was,” he said. “But my body is in good shape, so I’m in good shape. Don’t have to worry about it now. As long as you feel good, you go out there and play good.”

For this to sound like more than McCutchen just saying what everyone wants to hear, he needed to do one thing: hit the ball hard.

It’s a simple request, but a look at his career isolated power (slugging percentage minus singles) and soft- and hard-hit rates shows it’s something he generally struggles with early in the season:

McCutchen had been doing even worse than usual in these departments out of the gate this season. He entered Tuesday with just a .133 ISO, a 25.9 Soft% and a 29.6 Hard%.

Well, hitting three home runs is a good way to make everything better. McCutchen‘s ISO has soared all the way to .237, and the exit velocities (per of his three dingers are sure to help his batted ball rates:

  • First HR: 111 mph
  • Second HR: 103 mph
  • Third HR: 104 mph

The Coors Field effect has to be taken into account, granted, but even that doesn’t diminish McCutchen‘s outburst too much. Maybe his third home run is only a double in other parks, but ESPN Stats and Information can show the other two were absolute bombs that probably would have been gone anywhere:

Now that McCutchen is apparently back to crushing the ball again, there’s really only one thing left on his to-do list.

With a rate of walk percentage of 12.7, McCutchen has been drawing about his usual amount of free passes. His strikeout rate of 22.3 percent, however, is several steps above his usual rate, which is no bueno. Until he mixes in some contact with his power and patience, he’s not quite himself yet.

Still, one thing at a time isn’t a bad way to play it. And if the Pirates had their druthers, they’d probably rather have McCutchen hitting the ball hard first and foremost anyway.

That was really the only missing link in their offense, after all. It began play on Tuesday ranked 28th in MLB in strikeout rate, second in walk rate and tied for seventh in stolen bases. If something happened that could boost their 24th-ranked ISO, their offense would be complete.

Right on cue, Andrew McCutchen happened. And since he’s probably not going away, pitchers had better study extra hard before facing the Pirates.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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