Andrew McCutchen watches his single off Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija during the first inning of a baseball game Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
by Mike Fitzpatrick
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – There was a time when MVP awards were practically passed around the Pittsburgh clubhouse, from one generation to the next.
Dick Groat and Roberto Clemente in the 1960s. Dave Parker and Willie Stargell in the late ’70s. Barry Bonds twice in the early ’90s.
And now, Andrew McCutchen appears poised to pick up that torch.
The dynamic center fielder was the centerpiece of a long-awaited turnaround for the Pirates, back in the playoffs for the first time in 21 years. Pittsburgh’s charming revival after 20 straight losing records, the longest drought in any of the four major pro sports, has been the feel-good story of this baseball season.
So if McCutchen’s statistics weren’t quite enough to warrant Most Valuable Player honors in the National League, the warm-and-fuzzy sentiment might have pushed him over the top.
His performance alone was plenty – especially when defense and baserunning get factored in as much as they should.
Hardly a clear-cut choice, though.
McCutchen has legitimate challengers in Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina and Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Maybe even Cardinals leadoff man Matt Carpenter, too.
Together they evoke all the classic questions when it comes to MVP debates.
Goldschmidt is the slugger with prodigious power numbers for a .500 team. Should he beat out worthy candidates headed to the postseason? Is it fair to downgrade him simply because his teammates didn’t provide enough help?
“Goldschmidt’s probably more deserving than anybody if they were winning,” Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said. “But then you have to weigh, is he that much better than anybody else?”
Goldschmidt led the league in RBIs (125), slugging percentage (.551), total bases (332) and OPS (.952). He shared the home run title with 36 and finished tied for third in runs (103). He even stole 15 bases and supplied a steady glove.
“This guy’s been a one-man wrecking crew at times for them,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. “How many games has he won in the ninth?”
But there’s no getting around it: MVP voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America tend to lean toward playoff participants.
Kershaw dominated on the mound for the NL West champions, compiling the lowest ERA (1.83) for a major league pitcher in 13 years. He started 33 of 162 games, however, so could he possibly do enough to outdistance the best everyday players?
Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander won the AL MVP award two years ago, but no NL pitcher has won since Bob Gibson in 1968.
Molina’s contributions to the Cardinals, who had the NL’s top record at 97-65, are more difficult to quantify. He had an excellent season at the plate – a .359 on-base percentage with 12 homers, 44 doubles and 80 RBIs in 136 games – but it’s his presence behind the dish that makes him a serious contender.
Almost universally regarded as the game’s best defensive catcher, Molina did a masterful job handling St. Louis’ young pitching staff. He shuts down opponents’ running games with his rocket arm and textbook technique.
So how do you attach a specific value to all that?
Kershaw led the NL in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) this season, according to baseball-reference.com. McCutchen was tied for second, Goldschmidt was fifth and Carpenter tied for sixth.
Molina was not in the top 10. Still, he has vocal supporters.
“I like Molina, and this is just because I know what he does defensively, how he runs their pitching staff,” Roenicke said. “I know what he saves those guys in runs behind the plate. No other position can do as much defensively as he does.”
The biggest argument against McCutchen lies in his power numbers: 21 homers and 84 RBIs. But he makes up for that with Gold Glove defense, brilliant baserunning (27 steals, 97 runs) and a .912 OPS in 157 games.
Third in MVP balloting last year, McCutchen didn’t lead the league in any of the major offensive categories this season – but he ranked among the top six or seven in most of them. His all-around play is what makes him the MVP.
“It’s going to be one of the tougher calls,” Bochy said.
We’ll go with warm and fuzzy.
A look at the other big awards:
AL MVP: A two-man race all year, even though Mike Trout had another amazing season for the disappointing Angels. Baltimore bopper Chris Davis led the league in homers (53) and RBIs (138), preventing a repeat Triple Crown for Miguel Cabrera. But the Detroit slugger deserves his second consecutive MVP after playing through several injuries to post the highest OPS in the majors (1.078) and lead his team to its third straight AL Central crown. “They’re neck and neck,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said.
NL Cy Young: Kershaw takes home his second prize in three years.
AL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, hands down. He went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts for Detroit.
NL Rookie of the Year: What a freshman class! The bumper crop included pitchers Shelby Miller (Cardinals), Hyun-Jin Ryu (Dodgers) and Julio Teheran (Braves) to go along with Los Angeles outfielder Yasiel Puig, Atlanta slugger Evan Gattis and more.
“There’s better rookies this year I think than I’ve ever seen,” Roenicke said. “Some of these pitchers coming up and doing what they’re doing their first year … these guys are unbelievable.”
At the top of the heap, however, was Miami right-hander Jose Fernandez. He finished second in the majors in ERA (2.19) and went 12-6 for a team that lost 100 games and scored 85 fewer runs than any other club in the big leagues.
AL Rookie of the Year: Not nearly as deep a field as in the National League. Rays outfielder Wil Myers gets the nod.
NL Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle of the Pirates gets rewarded for a patient rebuilding job, beating out Atlanta’s Fredi Gonzalez.
AL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin in Oakland, last year’s winner, remains the game’s most underrated skipper. But it’s impossible to overlook the turnaround Terry Francona produced in his first season with playoff-bound Cleveland.
AP freelance writer Ian Harrison in Toronto contributed to this report.