As of May 23, 2017 it certainly looked like Andrew McCutchen, the star outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was trending down in his career performance. From 2012 through 2015 McCutchen was considered one of the best players in baseball, accumulating a slash line (batting average/on base %/slugging % of .313/.404.523, winning one MVP award and finishing in the top five the other three seasons.
Andrew finished the 2015 season on a bit of a down note, hitting only .211 in his last 17 games, but it seemed like the typical funk any batter goes through in the course of a season. Then came 2016 season. It was a miserable year from start to finish. McCutchen's slash line was .256/.336/.430 and his range in the outfield was diminished.
When he started 2017 it was even worse. Through his first 45 games the slash was .200/.271/.359. Going back to his slump at the end of 2015, McCutchen was hitting .242 in 822 at-bats. This looked like something more than just a temporary slump. It looked like he'd established a permanent, and lower, level of performance.
Since May 23 something has happened. Over the past 57 games he's batted .389. Where he had walked 17 times and struck out 34 in 187 plate appearances before that date, he's walked 37 times and struck out 36 in 227 plate appearances since then, with a Ted Williams-style on base percentage of .489. The outfielder had 14 extra base hits in 170 at bats as of May 23; he's amassed 30 in 190 at bats since then, with a slugging percentage of .721.
Is the current McCutchen just someone on a hot streak who will revert to his performance of earlier in the season? Has he made some adjustment at the plate? What is going on here? Or is it just one of those things?
And then we have Jose Altuve, Houston's diminutive second baseman, who is not recovering from a down period but simply getting hot.. Last year, Jose was batting .311 on May 27, before embarking on a 73 game span through August 20 during which he hit .402 (a streak I wrote about at the time).
(Altuve with Aaron Judge)
This year Jose was at .291 on May 26. In the 53 games since he's hit at a .430 pace (with .485 on base and .655 slugging), including a 24 game streak where he average .510 (52 for 102). Hitting safely in 49 of 53 games, Altuve's had 15 contests with 3 or 4 hits, and smacked two hits in another 15 games. Let's see how long he can keep it up.