No player was more valuable than McCutchen
Superstar's all-around excellence led Pirates to first winning season since 1992
There are many valuable players in the National League, among whom Yadier Molina and Paul Goldschmidt definitely are two of the more valuable.
But most valuable? Andrew McCutchen, beyond a doubt.
McCutchen will take home the NL's Most Valuable Player Award on Thursday -- the winner will be revealed at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.com -- simply because he had far more influence on driving the Pirates into the postseason than Molina had on getting the Cardinals there or Goldschmidt had on ... well, getting the D-backs to .500.
McCutchen, popularly identified as the face of the Bucs, is also their engine, heart and soul.
He is also an elite baseball player. There is a reason his peers have selected him as NL Outstanding Player each of the past two seasons in their union's Players Choice program. When in a groove, which for him can be weeks-long, McCutchen hits the ball consistently harder than anyone else contemporary players or media have ever seen.
McCutchen was also an NL MVP finalist last season, when -- in the view of many -- he actually was more deserving of the award than he is now. In 2012, McCutchen simply was a bigger individual force on the Pirates than this season, when he was surrounded by a stronger cast. But that is merely a relative observation, a case for the fact he should be clearing shelf space for a second NL MVP Award trophy.
McCutchen's 2012 grip on the honor was loosened by the Bucs' late-season fade. This -- in a roundabout way -- merely bolstered his value in '13. Likewise, the Pirates' 94-win season strengthened his candidacy.
If being most valuable is tied to influencing a team's success -- and, really, that's essentially the definition of the award -- consider the compounded testimony of the Pirates' past three stretch drives, the Augusts and Septembers that decided their fates.
• 2011: Pirates go 18-38; McCutchen hits .227.
• 2012: Pirates go 18-38; McCutchen hits .253.
• 2013: Pirates go 29-26; McCutchen hits .360.
The correlation of those sets of numbers was evident to manager Clint Hurdle.
"We knew where we stood coming out of July the previous two years," Hurdle had said as the calendar flipped to September, recalling the Bucs' strong standings heading into August 2011 and '12 before late-season fades. "So, after what we went through then, I love what Cutch is doing now. He's on base every time you turn around, hitting the ball hard. I applaud people doing things they weren't able to do before."
McCutchen's fingerprints were all over the Pirates' first winning season since 1992: The Bucs were 42-18 when he got two or more hits, and they were 13-1 when he scored at least two runs.
There was a very good reason PNC Park's stands reverberated with chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" in the final weeks -- besides, that is, the overall excellence that made McCutchen deserving of the salute. At home, McCutchen minted victories the way Denver mints coins.
Thirty-six times, McCutchen banged two or more hits at home, and the Bucs won 29 of those games. All along, he stained his uniform on spectacular diving catches and dented the center-field wall with gravity-defying, soaring grabs.
McCutchen engraved his name on the Bucs' turnaround season, all right. Now, it will be engraved on the 2013 NL Most Valuable Player Award trophy.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.