Pittsburgh Penguins great Mario Lemieux once said he only concerned himself with winning Stanley Cups and scoring titles, because nobody votes on those.
There’s a certain simplicity (and sanity) to that approach, as worrying about what a given voter thinks about one’s MVP credentials is a fool’s errand. All athletes can control is producing at a top level, thus helping their teams have success.
Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen did just that in 2013, and he was rewarded Thursday night with National League MVP honors by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. As my colleague Matt Shetler noted, it was the culmination of a breakthrough year for the Bucs, as their 94-win season has been further feted by individual recognition this fall.
In the past two weeks, Francisco Liriano won comeback player of the year, McCutchen earned his second Gold Glove, Neal Huntington finished runner-up in executive of the year voting and Clint Hurdle was dubbed the NL’s top skipper. All of those awards are subjective, based on the whims and prejudices of a limited panel of voters, but it’s always nice to know others are noticing.
It’s especially heartening in the case of McCutchen becoming the first Pirate MVP since Barry Bonds in 1992. While the landslide nature of the results – “Cutch” took 28 of the 30 first-place votes – belied what was a close race with Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt, it indicated that the fifth-year Bucco has made a lasting impression with his all-around excellence.
Although McCutchen has but an average throwing arm, he brings four of baseball’s traditional “five tools” to the ballpark every day. He hits for average (back-to-back years well above .300), hits for power (two straight seasons slugging better than .500), runs the bases well (27 steals and above average in the wider scope of baserunning) and defends expertly (frequently spectacular and among the top center fielders by any advanced metric).
McCutchen is also quite durable, playing more than 150 games in each of the past four seasons despite playing at full tilt in a taxing position. In short, the Pirates’ 2005 first-round pick pretty much has it all, and now he has the hardware to match his ability.
He should consider himself lucky he doesn’t play in the AL. For the second straight year, the MVP voters got it wrong by honoring Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera over Angels dynamo Mike Trout. Like McCutchen, Trout excels in every aspect of the game, while Cabrera only contributes in one way, with his admittedly fierce bat.
Big hitters have gotten the glory ever since the days of Babe Ruth, but games are won in the field and on the bases, too. For as good as McCutchen is at age 27, Trout is even better in most categories at 22. But just like last year, when Cabrera’s antiquated “triple crown” made headlines, the Anaheim youngster was determined to be the AL’s second-best while outpacing all of baseball in overall Wins Above Replacement.
It makes one wonder why the scribes don’t value the all-around great in the AL, while in the NL they laud McCutchen’s athletic abilities.
Oh well, one out of two ain’t bad. Fans of the Pirates and well-rounded baseball can rejoice, for they have their platonic ideal in McCutchen.