It is risky, and often a pointless to endeavor, to try and peg who the key players will be for either the American League or the National League in the MLB All-Star Game. Acknowledging as much, a combination of factors points to some interesting points when it comes to Pittsburgh Pirates’ center field Andrew McCutchen.
McCutchen is the defending National League MVP and looks like he is on his way to another award-worthy season with a .324/.420/.575 line at the All-Star break to go along with 15 stolen bases, 17 home runs, and 61 RBI. His wRC+, a stat which measures runs per plate appearance, is at 179 (with 100 being league average). That number trails only Mike Trout in all of baseball and leads the National League.
Furthermore, McCutchen is batting lead-off in Tuesday night’s game. In a game in which some of the best hitters on either side are subbed out early to get more guys involved, that means McCutchen will have a good chance to log at least one extra at-bat and possibly more. That stands to be a potential advantage for the NL, acknowledging the fact that this is just one game and he could just as easily go 0-for-the-night at the plate.
But if anybody stands a chance to have an impact against the tough pitching of an All-Star Game, it just might be McCutchen. With a Heat Map as a visual guide, we can see that he has been one of the best hitters in baseball since June 1st (courtesy of Mark Simon of ESPN):
— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) July 15, 2014
Managers have loosened the practice of pulling all of their starters early over the last few years because the midsummer classic now counts for home-field advantage in the World Series. If Mike Matheny decides to leave players in longer, McCutchen could very well be one of those guys. If he is, it will be a boost to the NL and a reflection of the fact that he has been one of the league’s best players thus far in 2014.