McCutchen's super season capped with NL MVP
Center fielder was driving force of Pirates' winning campaign, return to playoffs
A little over a month ago, Andrew McCutchen had signed off on the Pirates' 2013 season with a bull's-eye summary:
"We're the team that won. The team that made the change."
For being the spiritual and performance guide who led the Pirates out of a 20-year wilderness, McCutchen on Thursday was named National League Most Valuable Player.
The Pittsburgh center fielder was the overwhelming choice of the 30-member voting panel of the Baseball Writers' Association of America over co-finalists Paul Goldschmidt of Arizona and Yadier Molina of St. Louis. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera repeated as American League MVP.
With two voters from each of the 15 National League cities, McCutchen drew 28 of the 30 first-place votes; the St. Louis-based writers gave Molina the two other first-place nods.
The instant he was identified as the award's recipient on MLB Network's announcement show, McCutchen, seated in a media room at PNC Park, grinned broadly.
"I'm very happy," he said. "If I could get up and dance, I probably would."
The co-executive producer of next spring's MLB-MTV partnership show then did the next best thing: He broke some dance moves while sitting on his director's chair, flashing two thumbs up.
McCutchen thus adds the epilogue to the Rip Van Winkle era of the Pirates, who awoke from their own 20-year snooze, with a final bookmark to that last winning season of 1992, when Barry Bonds earned the franchise's previous MVP Award.
It was a stunningly one-sided triumph in what had been anticipated as a close race. On points, McCutchen took a 409-242 win over Goldschmidt (Molina had 219), an outcome that surprised him.
"I thought it'd be closer, with Goldschmidt's numbers and what Molina did behind the plate to develop all those young pitchers," McCutchen said. "Even though I seemed to be the favorite, I had to give those guys a chance to win. And I want to congratulate them for being finalists, I'm also happy for them."
McCutchen was honored for his unrivaled impact on a team that crashed the postseason party with a record of 94-68 -- an improvement of 15 games over 2012 and of 37 games over the 2010 season, his first full in the Majors.
He recognized the weight of the team's success on this personal honor "considering the numbers I had, all around, were down from last year."
McCutchen batted .317 (compared to .327 in 2012), had 21 home runs (31), 27 stolen bases (20), 84 RBIs (96), scored 97 runs (107) and played 157 games of all-out defense.
The first sign that it could be a special season for the Pirates came early, and it came from McCutchen. That sign, yes, was the "Z."
The Bucs were 1-5 when they pulled into Arizona's Chase Field and McCutchen urged his teammates to revive the "Z," for the Zoltan outcast in "Dude, Where's My Car." The players rallied around that hands-made sign of solidarity, which had been a fixture in 2012, and the team took off.
McCutchen's leadership extended from pop culture to pop from the batter's box.
Ever consistent, he raised his play to the exceptional level when most needed, in August, by a team haunted by the swoons of the previous two Augusts.That month, McCutchen batted .384, sparking chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" in PNC Park.
So three years after his team had lost 105 games and his confidence had been shaken by a personally dismal August, the Pirates high-stepped to 94 wins and McCutchen became a runaway MVP.
Quite a journey.
"It's hard to even talk about it," McCutchen said. "From the way it was here to the way it is now ... it'll take some time to put it into perspective. To see the change in the team and in me personally, it definitely means a lot to me. It means all the effort put forth and all the sacrifices made are starting to pay off.
"The change in this team and in this city ... it means a lot, and I'm happy to be a part of it."
Those "MVP!" chants ignited by McCutchen's August fire got into his head, but couldn't take him out of his selfless game.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't start thinking about the MVP at some point. Hearing those cheers was awesome, and it definitely entered my mind," McCutchen said. "But I'm not a selfish player. I continued to just try to be the best I could for my team."
Molina's platform was built on respect and reputation. Goldschmidt had the standout numbers. But McCutchen was recognized more for driving teammates on than for driving them in. His 84 RBIs are the fewest for an NL MVP (in a full season) since Kirk Gibson -- saluted as a similar driving force on the Dodgers -- earned the 1988 award after a 76-RBI campaign.
This is another seminal benchmark in the Pirates' renaissance. When Bonds received his '92 MVP trophy, he was already a free agent on his way to San Francisco. McCutchen earned his in the second year of a six-year contract. He isn't going anywhere, except on to greater heights.
McCutchen's coronation is sure to revive the age-old argument about the correlation between individual stardom and team success, whether it is possible to be "most valuable" on an also-ran.
Despite those better numbers across the board in 2012, he finished a distant third in the MVP vote after the Pirates had faded out of postseason contention.
Of course, Goldschmidt can now relate to that. With 36 homers and 125 RBIs, he had by far the most impressive offensive resume in the league; swap the Pirates' record for that of the D-backs (81-81) and there is little doubt Goldschmidt would be in the winner's circle.
McCutchen is the seventh player in franchise history to earn an MVP Award, a list that began with Paul Waner in 1927. Subsequent winners have been Dick Groat (1960), Roberto Clemente (1966), Dave Parker (1978), Willie Stargell (1979, co-winner with Keith Hernandez) and Bonds (1990, '92).
"To be mentioned with and be a part of that elite group is definitely an honor," McCutchen said.
Bonds ranks as the team's lone two-time winner. For the moment.
2013 NL MVP VOTING
|Andrew McCutchen, PIT||28||1||1||409|
|Paul Goldschmidt, ARI||15||9||1||3||2||242|
|Yadier Molina, STL||2||8||4||6||6||1||2||1||219|
|Matt Carpenter, STL||6||5||4||3||9||1||1||1||194|
|Freddie Freeman, ATL||5||7||8||8||1||1||154|
|Joey Votto, CIN||2||8||7||3||4||1||2||149|
|Clayton Kershaw, LA||8||4||4||5||4||1||146|
|Hanley Ramirez, LA||1||1||2||1||2||3||3||3||58|
|Carlos Gomez, MIL||1||3||6||2||3||43|
|Jay Bruce, CIN||1||1||3||2||3||30|
|Craig Kimbrel, ATL||1||1||3||3||27|
|Shin-Soo Choo, CIN||1||1||1||4||3||23|
|Jayson Werth, WAS||1||2||2||6||20|
|Andrelton Simmons, ATL||2||4||14|
|Yasiel Puig, LA||2||1||10|
|Hunter Pence, SF||1||1||2||7|
|Troy Tulowitzki, COL||2||1||5|
|Allen Craig, STL||1||1||4|
|Adrian Gonzalez, LA||1||1||4|
|Buster Posey, SF||1||3|
|Adam Wainwright, STL||1||3|
|Michael Cuddyer, COL||3||3|
|Matt Holliday, STL||1||2|
|Russell Martin, PIT||1||1|
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.