Last year Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen had his breakout year. He posted 31 homeruns, hit .327, and brought in 96 runs. He finished third in MVP voting and probably would have won the award had the Pirates not collapsed. Pirates fans were spoiled. Andrew put up video game numbers for the first time in his career. He took the shape of our savior, our superstar. Even during the collapse, he was the light at the end of the tunnel. The symbol of a more promising future.
One year later, the Pirates find themselves in a three-horse race for the NL Central. The pitching staff has been spectacular, and McCutchen’s bat isn’t the only one in the lineup that can produce. Pedro has mashed an NL best 31 homeruns and has 85 RBI, 12 more than McCutchen. Marte and Walker are hitting well in front of McCutchen, and guys like Mercer, Sanchez (both of them), Tabata, Martin, and Jones have all come up big on several occasions this year. So why is it that Andrew is the odds-on-favorite to win the NL MVP this year? Ask any Pittsburgher and they would likely tell you that they believe McCutchen is having a “down” year. The truth is that McCutchen won’t put numbers up like he did in 2012 every year. In fact, there is a decent chance he never does it again. He isn’t a Miggy or Pujols (circa 2010). He won’t ever hit .360 with 40+ homers and 150+ RBI. What he will do is consistently produce. His approach at the plate may not always be flashy but it’s effective.
This year’s McCutchen has actually improved in a lot of ways over last year’s. In 2012, McCutchen struck out 132 times. This year, his total currently sits at just 81 with just 32 games remaining, while his base-on-balls total (60) is on pace to equal and maybe even surpass last year’s mark of 70. His dWAR is 1.1 this year; his dWAR was 0.2 last year (I know that sounds hard to believe but it is true). He also already has 26 stolen bases this year, 6 more than last year’s total.
The truth is, Andrew McCutchen is a better player this year than he was last. He is a smarter baserunner, defender, and all-around teammate. Last year’s McCutchen become notorious for not being able to hit the breaking ball when down in the count, especially in the second half of the season. That problem essentially disappeared this year. Also, there’s this neat little tidbit of information:
McCutchen’s main competition for MVP comes from Clayton Kershaw, who is also having a spectacular season, but is it MVP worthy? For a pitcher to win MVP, he usually needs to have a lot of wins. Kershaw currently only sports 13, a respectable but not spectacular number. Kershaw definitely has the ERA and WHIP to be an MVP candidate, but the low win total could be a turn-off for a lot of voters. If the Diamondbacks make the playoffs, Paul Goldschmidt could suddenly become a popular pick and Allen Craig is a great player not a lot of people are talking about, but McCutchen still has to be the favorite. MVP is an award given to the player who is most valuable to his team, not just the “best” player. Despite the emergence of multiple offensive options for the Pirates, no one can argue that we would even be close to a playoff push without him.
I’ll go on the record with McCutchen as my MVP pick. There just isn’t a lot of competition for the award this year and Andrew is red-hot right now. I will add a sidebar though, noting that Goldschmidt could and probably will take the award should the Diamondbacks somehow make the playoffs.