Pirates outfielder McCutchen captures National League MVP
The physical tools always have been there for center fielder Andrew McCutchen: speed, power, quick hands, strong wrists, the patience to wait for a pitcher to make a mistake and the ability to instantly recognize when it happens.
To become a truly elite player, the kind who wins MVP awards, McCutchen needed more. It wasn't enough to be the brightest star in the Pirates' clubhouse. He needed to become its leader.
“We talked (last winter) about him embarking on that,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “And Andrew has grown into that role.”
His physical tools enabled McCutchen to win the National League MVP Award. His leadership let him earn it.
On Thursday, McCutchen became the sixth league MVP in Pirates history since the award was introduced in 1931. He received 409 points — netting 28 of 30 first-place votes — in balloting conducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
“Years ago, if you'd have told me I could do this, I might have been a little skeptical because I didn't really know what I was capable of doing,” said McCutchen, 27. “It took me some time to really believe in myself. Now it's starting to show.”
Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt finished second with 242 points. St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was third with 219 points, including two first-place votes.
McCutchen joins former Pirates winners Barry Bonds (1990 and '92), Roberto Clemente (1966), Willie Stargell (1979), Dave Parker (1978) and Dick Groat (1960). In 1927, Paul Waner received the NL MVP Citation, a precursor of the official BBWAA award.
“That's unbelievable to be part of that elite group,” McCutchen said. “It's an honor for me to be there and be mentioned with those guys.”
To kill time before the announcement, McCutchen spent part of the afternoon playing video games with Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who won the American League MVP.
“The PlayStation 4 releases (Friday), but I got mine a day early,” McCutchen said, grinning. “I didn't do a lot, but I did enough to keep my mind off (the award).”
During the season McCutchen was all business. On Sept. 24 the Pirates clinched their first playoff berth since 1992 and celebrated in the visitors' clubhouse at Wrigley Field. Before the first champagne cork was popped, McCutchen reminded his teammates there was more work to be done.
It was one of several times this season McCutchen spoke up, something he hesitated to do earlier in his career.
“I've never been a real vocal type,” McCutchen said. “I'll say something when I feel it needs to be said. I know people will listen when I have things to say because we all respect each other.”
McCutchen got off to a slow start and was batting .247 at the end of April. From that point on, however, he hit at a .336 clip — that highest rate among NL players with at least 450 at-bats in that span.
McCutchen finished with a .317 batting average (seventh-best in the league) and set career highs in doubles (38) and on-base percentage (.404). He became the sixth player in franchise history to hit 100 homers and steal 100 bases in his career.
“He is the most dynamic player, or at least among the top three, in baseball,” Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said. “His speed is unbelievable. He hits for a high average, gets on base all the time, scores runs and his defense is second to none. He's the leader of that team.”
McCutchen batted .333 (7 for 21) during the playoffs. The Cardinals, who edged the Pirates in the NL Division Series, knew they had to contain McCutchen.
“He had an MVP type of year,” Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran said. “The Pirates are where they are because of his numbers and the type of player he is.”
McCutchen is among 10 major leaguers nominated for the 49th annual Hutch Award, which honors a player who demonstrates courage, dedication and honor in the face of adversity in his personal and/or professional life. The winner will be announced Jan. 30.