After hearing about the awesomeness of Baseball Reference's Play Index tool for years, I finally decided to cough over the $30 and try out a one year subscription. So far, so good.
My first research topic: is there a precedent for Andrew McCutchen's disastrous 2016 season?
For those that might not be aware, the Pirates' center fielder and franchise cornerstone is having the worst season of his career. Beyond that, he is the WORST center fielder in baseball (among the 16 that would currently qualify for the batting title) with a WAR of -0.3. That's worse than Rajai Davis, Denard Span, and Billy Hamilton.
And what makes McCutchen's 2016 season all the more remarkable is how consistently great he was for the first seven seasons of his career. From 2009-2015 McCutchen was the best outfielder in all of baseball, accumulating a WAR of 38.2, five All-Star appearances, four Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove, and an MVP in 2013.
So, I pushed off the shore into the deep seas of the Play Index to get an answer to my question: Is there a precedent for Andrew McCutchen's disastrous 2016 season?
There are a few different ways to answer this question and two in particular that I used:
- Has there ever been another player that has completely dominated for the first seven years of his career only to crash and burn in year eight?
- Has a player with a negative WAR season ever made the Hall of Fame?
Let's take a look at those one at a time.
Has there ever been another player that has completely dominated for the first seven years of his career only to crash and burn in year eight?
Short answer: Not really. McCutchen ranks 30th all time in collective WAR for a player's first seven seasons (38.2). That comes out to slightly more than 5 WAR per season. Among the 50 players who have averaged 5 WAR per year through their first seven seasons, McCutchen is the only one to have a sub-0 WAR in their eighth season. The only other player on that list to have a sub-2 WAR eighth year is Ryan Braun. In 2014, Braun had a WAR of 1 with a slash line of .266/.324/.453. A bad year for Braun, but still better than league average in both OBP and SLG. McCutchen currently sits at an OBP of .313 and SLG of .406, both below league average.
Has a player with a negative WAR season ever made the Hall of Fame?
Yes, 23 players have made the Hall with a single season WAR below 0. However, out of those 23, 17 occurred when the player was over the age of 30 and five were under the age of 24 (McCutchen turns 30 this off-season). That leaves Lloyd Waner's age 27 season (-0.2) in 1933 as the only negative WAR of a Hall of Famer in his prime. Waner, another Pirates outfielder coincidentally, was a decent player but never eclipsed 4 WAR in a season (McCutchen has done so five years in a row).
To summarize, no other player has fallen so hard in what should be their prime as Andrew McCutchen. His excellence through his first seven years in the big leagues is remarkable, but unless he rebounds in the final two months of 2016, McCutchen will stand in a class by himself.