NEW YORK -- Andrew McCutchen was back in the No. 3 slot of the Pirates' lineup in Wednesday's 11-2 loss to the Mets, a spot where he'd spent so much of his Major League career up until this season. The move, admittedly, was slight -- with manager Clint Hurdle merely flip-flipping McCutchen and Gregory Polanco in the order -- yet it also marked a clear deviation from Pittsburgh's early-season strategy.
The Pirates use advanced metrics to dictate their in-game maneuvers more than many teams in baseball, and have for a while. They were one of the earliest and adamant employers of extreme shifting and analyzing catching metrics, and they choreograph their offensive game plans based on several statistical models. One model led them, in Spring Training, to experiment with McCutchen in the No. 2 hole. The numbers suggested that as the optimal spot to put a team's best hitter, for he would receive 17 more at-bats per season there compared to hitting No. 3.
Other teams have followed this line of thinking, including the Angels with Mike Trout, but it also stands in opposition to the traditional line of thinking that says bat your best hitter third.
So for 64 games this season, the Pirates bucked a trend, of sorts. McCutchen made all of his starts this season in the No. 2 spot, where he'd previously hit only twice since 2010. He's struggled, slashing .234/.313/.397 while recently playing through some thumb pain. That didn't change suddenly Wednesday; McCutchen went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against a dominant Noah Syndergaard. Though to see if the change makes any significant impact going forward, the Pirates will have to examine more than a one-game sample.
"I'm looking to kind of leave it alone, make the move and leave it there for a while. It's based on 10 1/2 weeks of information," Hurdle said. "How can we tweak it moving forward to find a little more offense? I think this was a good place for me to start."
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @joetrezz. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.