PITTSBURGH, PA - Andrew McCutchen #22 of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a two run home run in the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants during the game. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Mike Stanton is the kind of player you'd expect in the 2012 Home Run Derby. Andrew McCutchen is not, which makes him the perfect replacement.
I'm a simple man. I like simple things. Giancarlo Stanton hitting baseball as hard as he can? That's a simple thing. Brutal, yet elegant. A simple reminder of why we were attracted to baseball in the first place. And Giancarlo Stanton would have made the 2012 Home Run Derby mandatory watching like no one since Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire.
Unfortunately, the human body is not a simple thing. Stanton will miss the 2012 Home Run Derby after having surgery to remove loose bodies from his knees. This is a troubling development all around for Stanton -- what happens if they find loose bodies on the knees of the loose bodies, and what happens if they find loose bodies on the knees of those loose bodies??? -- but it's a little discouraging that we don't get to watch him against a batting-practice pitcher tonight.
There's still a hero, though. There's still someone for whom the world can unconditionally root.
Andrew McCutchen is still just 25. I know it's 2012, and we're supposed to be agog over the youth of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, both of whom would have formula sprayed on them if they led their teams to the playoffs. But it's still impressive that McCutchen is at an age when some players are just getting established, yet we were already used to him being a fantastic player before this season even started. And in 2012, he's entered the Konami code and become some sort of mecha-weapon.
That's Andrew McCutchen's line. The bold means that he's leading the National League in slugging percentage. Sure, some of that has to do with his high batting average, but a lot more of it has to do with him entering the All-Star break with 18 home runs -- just five off his career high. And it was McCutchen who was named as Giancarlo Stanton's replacement in the 2012 Home Run Derby.
It's worth remembering that McCutchen is not a large man. Here's a picture of him in front of a standard ketchup bottle:
Well, maybe McCutchen isn't freakishly small. He's not someone like Jose Altuve, who kind of had a Salacious Crumb thing going on when he'd greet Carlos Lee at home plate, but for a guy in the Home Run Derby, McCutchen is definitely on the smaller side. He's listed at 5'10", which probably means he's closer to 5'8".
But it didn't used to be so unusual for players under six feet to be prodigious power hitters. Willie Mays was listed at 5'10". with Mickey Mantle just over that. I have no idea if they used to fudge the heights back then, but even if they didn't, there are still some good compact comparables for McCutchen. Rickey Henderson nearly hit 300 home runs, and he was a similar size to McCutchen. Joe Morgan was even shorter.
If you're wondering what McCutchen's secret is, the main component to his success is probably how he's all good at baseball and stuff. But to get into technical terms, it has to do with his pitch recognition and his short, compact, and amazing swing. Here's his longest home run of the year (446 ft. estimate), which also happened to be his first:
Slowing that down a little for a GIF:
It's a flawless swing -- that's on the cover of the textbook they sell to college students who are happy to sell it back later for 20 percent of what they paid, which allows them to buy booze. The quiet followthrough makes the power seem more unexpected than it actually is.
Another thing about McCutchen's power is that it's still developing. Again, that home run up there was his first of the season. It also came on May 8, well over a month into the season. Since then, he's hit 18 home runs in 215 at-bats, good for a .391/.439/.730 line. He's been the hottest player in baseball. More than that, he's been one of the more powerful. He isn't in this derby because he's a novelty.
So if Stanton is the archetype, the beast, the exact image of what a home-run hitter should be, Andrew McCutchen is something of a throwback. He's a classic player -- not short, just retro. Because with a few obvious exceptions, it's not like the parks were smaller back in the day. It's not like smaller players had to hit the ball 350 to center to get a baseball to leave the park fifty or a hundred years ago. They still hit dingers back then. Some of the players hit a lot of them. McCutchen wouldn't have stood out.
He'll stand out on Monday night, though. When Stanton went down, you figured another hulking galoot was going to replace him. Instead it was a waterbug like McCutchen, whose home runs come from the physics of a pure swing more than a gigantic frame. It's a welcome addition and a great way to break up the monotony. It's also a great way to get someone in the Home Run Derby. Because if you can't root for Andrew McCutchen in the 2012 Home Run Derby, I'm not even sure why you follow sports.