I cannot imagine where the Pirates would be without Andrew McCutchen. That to me makes him the most valuable player in the National League this season. Yes, the Pirates have forged this exceptional season due to pitching and defense. But they have been (until some recent acquisitions) a weak hitting team. Except for Andrew McCutchen.
How weak a hitting team? Consider that the Pirates as a team have an offense that has been valued by Fangraphs.com at -14.8 batting runs. Andrew McCutchen's offense has been valued by that same site at 35.5 batting runs. That is second in the National League only to Votto of the Reds who is valued at 36.8 runs.
Starling Marte, McCutchen's teammate, has had a very good season with 4.2 fWAR. That is a surprise. But much of that is on defense, and while I am not discounting that, his batting runs are also the second highest on the team at 12.7. That is 22.8 batting runs behind McCutchen. They are the only two on the team in double figures.
I do not think this makes as much difference as some people say it does, but until recently, McCutchen had little protection in the batting order too. McCutchen has only driven in 76 runs, but that is not hard to fathom considering the first and second places in the Pirates batting order have a combined .334 on-base percentage. That is not that bad, but it is not that great either. And if one of those batters did get on, McCutchen was worked around. He has eleven intentional walks.
The major MVP candidates in the NL this season will be McCutchen, Gomez of the Brewers, Carpenter of the Cardinals, Votto of the Reds, Goldschmidt of the Diamondbacks and Kershaw of the Dodgers. That is who I see as McCutchen's competition. All have had valid seasons and arguments. But here is how I break it down.
Votto and Goldschmidt are the only two NL players with a higher wOBA than McCutchen, but it is just barely. All three have had positive defensive seasons. But McCutchen is only four or five points below those two in wOBA and he plays a much more important defensive position. So with all playing extremely well, the nod to me goes to McCutchen.
I love the season that Carpenter is having with the Cardinals. His offense from the top of that lineup drives that team. But his defense is only meh compared to McCutchen's and Carpenter has had a much better supporting cast.
I discount Gomez of the Brewers, perhaps unfairly. But much of his value is from his defense, which charts out of this world. If defensive stats were stronger and more reliable, I might buy into that more. And yeah, playing for a team that has no shot at being any good detracts things for me. It might be a bit of old-school thinking there.
Old school too describes my loathing for pitchers being considered for MVP. They have their own award. A pitcher winning the CYA and MVP is like the winner of Survivor also getting the hundred grand as the fan favorite. That isn't right to me. Kershaw is behind McCutchen in fWAR but ahead of him in rWAR. Let's face it, Kershaw, unless he pitches at Coors the rest of the season, is going to win the CYA. Harvey of the Mets had a real chance until he blew out his elbow.
Andrew McCutchen has for five years been the bright light in the murky world that has been the Pirates. Now that his team is having this exceptional season, it is time to celebrate him. He should be one of the faces of the game. And he is the National League's most valuable player.