At the 2012 All-Star Break, the Case for Andrew McCutchen for NL MVP
We are at the All-Star break, just past the half-way mark for the 2012 regular season. So naturally baseball fans are taking stock of the MVP and Cy Young candidates in each league. I was thinking about the National League MVP race the past few days, and until recently I wouldn’t have considered him the leader, but at this point I think one player is the front-runner: Andrew McCutchen, centerfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In this blog post, I’ll briefly make the case for him, and discuss a few other good candidates as well.
Whether you like it or not, often the MVP vote involves a mix of pure statistical accomplishments and the players’ roles and importance to their respective teams — and the amount of success those teams had in at least getting to the playoffs. Because of this dynamic in the voting (in most years), I think that as of now Andrew McCutchen is the NL MVP frontrunner.
Surprising I think to just about everyone, the Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place in the NL Central division. They have a 48-37 record for a .565 winning percentage. And its not because of a weak division really, as they aren’t the weakest division leader — the NL West and AL Central have leading teams with worse records. The Pirates may very well not win their division — they are only 1 game up on the Reds and 2.5 games up on the Cardinals. Even if they don’t win the division, they could still make the playoffs as a wildcard. Regardless, as of right now, they are in first place — so that aspect of the MVP consideration is a plus for McCutchen compared to some of the other candidates.
McCutchen is also a hugely important part of his team. The Pirates overall success has been so far based more on their pitching than their hitting. They have a 3.47 team ERA, good for fourth in the NL. They also have a 1.25 WHIP, tied for third in the NL. The starting staff is led by AJ Burnett (10-2, 3.68 ERA) adn James McDonald (9-3, 2.37 ERA), and the bullpen has several guys with ERAs below 3.00, and is anchored by closer Joel Hanrahan who has gone 23-26 in save opportunities and has a 2.38 ERA.
The Pirates fielding — at least based on errors-made — is only middle-of-the-league in ranking, so that doesn’t appear to have been a huge factor in their winning as often as they have.
The Pirates hitting, while I think improved a bit in recent weeks, has been mostly lackluster at best. They are collectively hitting .246, which is fifth-worst in the NL. Their collective OBP is a pathetic .300, tied for worst in the league. They do have 89 HR so far, which is above average this year. power sources for the Pirates include Pedro Alvarez who has 16 HRs — but a .231 average. Garrett Jones has added 12 HR, and is hitting .268. Several others have 6 or 7 HRs each, including Neil Walker who is hitting at a respectable .291 clip. But no other regular is batting over .252, and many are hitting significantly below that… except of course McCutchen.
Andrew McCutchen was already having a great season, but then really turned it on in the week before the All-Star break. He is currently leading the NL in batting average, hitting at a .362 clip. He has a .414 OBP and has 17 doubles, 5 triples, 18 HR, 58 Runs, and 60 RBI. He also runs well, and has 14 SB vs. 4 CS. He’s also a good fielder, playing centerfield and committing only 1 error so far this year. If you consider the Pirates success and division-leading position, and McCutchen’s critical role in a largely unimpressive lineup — this combination of reasons is why I think he is the front-runner right now.
McCutchen’s main competition at this time includes (not in any order):
- Ryan Braun – 24 HR, 61 RBI, 15 SB, .306 Avg… for the Brewers who are below .500
- David Wright – 11 HR, 59 RBI, 9 SB (but 7 CS), .351 avg., .441 OBP… for the Mets who are at .535 but in third place in the NL East.
- Carlos Gonzalez – 17 HR, 58 RBI, 11 SB, .330 Avg… playing for the horrible Rockies who are below .400 and last place in the NL West.
- Joey Votto – 14 HR, 48 RBI, .348 Avg, and a very impressive 35 doubles and .471 OBP… for the Reds who as I noted are right behind the Pirates in the NL Central.
- Carlos Beltran – 20 HR, 65 RBI, 8 SB, .296 Avg… for the Cardinals who as noted are also close behind the Pirates in the NL Central (he has offensive help from Matt Holliday — so votes for Cardinals right now would get split a bit)
The next tier would include the likes of Matt Holliday (who would draw votes from Beltran if we chose today), Melky Cabrera (Giants), Michael Bourn (Braves), Hunter Pence (Phillies), Ian Desmond (Nationals), and Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)… who now isn’t really a candidate because he’ll be on the DL for a while. With enough solid hitters as candidates, I don’t predict pitchers will get too much attention for the NL MVP… but the leading contenders right now would include R.A. Dickey, Matt Cain, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, and a few others (such as McCutchen’s teammate McDonald). Amongst relievers, Braves closer Craig Kimbrel is again dominating with 56 Ks in 33 IP and 25 saves. But it is very rare for closers, or even starting pitchers, to take MVP honors when there are solid hitters to consider.
So I’m not now predicting that McCutchen will end up winning the NL MVP — there is a lot of baseball still to be played of course, and lots of things can happen. But as of today, he’d get my vote.