May 23, 2017.
After going 0-for-5 in a loss to the Atlanta Braves, Andrew McCutchen saw his batting average slide to .200. One sports writer claims he’s hit “rock bottom” and says the 2013 NL MVP has been “the worst player in a Pirates uniform this season.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a fan who disagrees with him.
Sixty-four days later, McCutchen is a huge reason why Pittsburgh’s still in the playoff hunt.
He had a torrid June, hitting .411 with 12 extra-base hits and 23 RBIs en route to NL Player of the Month honors. He’s currently sporting a .289 batting average and a .379 OBP to go along with 18 home runs and 61 RBIs. His OPS of .886 ranks second among qualified NL centerfielders.
How did Cutch manage such a massive turnaround?
STACK caught up with the five-time All-Star during the offseason. While McCutchen had no clue he would start the 2017 season so poorly, he spoke like a man equipped to handle the peaks and valleys of professional baseball.
“A lot of guys try to focus on things that are wrong during a slump. I do my best to focus on what’s right. We try to correct what’s wrong, what’s wrong, what’s wrong—sometimes, that creates more wrong. I try to do more of what’s right. Or if I’m looking at what’s wrong, I back it up with what’s right. The more I can do that, (I’ll) slowly get out of it. You’re going to go through it. Baseball is a game of failure. You go 3-for-10, .300 hitter, you’re a Hall of Famer. So you’re failing and succeeding at the same time. You can’t do that in any other sport. You gotta learn how to deal with failure and don’t feel bad for yourself or pity yourself. Just go out there and play it. That’s all I try to do on a daily basis. I know no one’s feeling bad for me,” McCutchen told STACK. “Staying positive, you have to stay positive through it all.”
Imagine how easy it would’ve been for Cutch to fall into a downward spiral after his horrendous start. After an offseason of hearing his name in trade rumors, he had performed so poorly that even his hometown fans had begun booing him. That’s brutal. But he took his licks, stayed positive and continued to work.
Another factor in Cutch’s turnaround? His training routine. He simply works too hard to let himself hover around the Mendoza line for 162 games.
Much of that work is done at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Under the guidance of strength and conditioning specialist Will Townsley, McCutchen’s routine includes a heavy dose of single-leg exercises and core work. That single-leg training helps McCutchen stay balanced inside the batter’s box, and the core work helps him generate awesome amounts of rotational power. “It’s essential to what we do as baseball players. We need our core, we need our lower-half, we need to have all that working together and clicking on all cylinders,” McCutchen told STACK.
One particularly unique aspect of Cutch’s offseason routine is the work he does in IMG’s “Mind Gym.” It’s a classroom above the academy’s weight room that’s filled with high-tech gadgets designed to challenge an athlete’s hand-eye coordination, peripheral vision, reaction time and depth perception. Obviously, such skills can make a big impact at the plate. The better a batter can track pitches, the better he can barrel them up. From the start of the season through May 23, McCutchen hit line drives on 15.3% of his batted balls. From May 24 through today, McCutchen hit line drives on 27.7% of his batted balls. The extra work McCutchen put in inside the Mind Gym was bound to pay off, and he proved patient enough to reap the rewards.