There has been some debate this year about who should be the MVP of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Do you go with the reigning MVP, and the leader in WAR, Andrew McCutchen? How about Russell Martin, who is right up there in WAR, and provides a ton of value with his game calling, pitch framing, and defense behind the plate? Or there’s Josh Harrison, who has been a huge surprise this year, and has filled in everywhere the Pirates needed him.

Over the last few days we’ve seen a small sample of how these three are all stepping up at times when the Pirates need them. Tonight it was Andrew McCutchen with a solo homer to give the Pirates a 1-0 victory. On Sunday it was Russell Martin with an RBI single up the middle, leading to the winning run. Martin also had the huge home run on Friday night, giving the Pirates a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning after the offense was quiet all night.

Josh Harrison has also had his moments in the last few weeks. A little over a week ago he tied the game 3-3 with a two RBI double against the Cubs in the fifth inning, sparking a six run inning. Then there was Friday’s game, which saw Harrison contribute ten assists at third base. You could take that for granted if not for the fact that Pedro Alvarez made everyone appreciate how nice a night of flawless defense at third base could be.

In any given year, one of these three players would be an easy choice for the team MVP, and a strong candidate for the NL MVP. But this article isn’t about splitting hairs and picking the best from the group. Instead, it’s to note just how rare it is to have three players performing so well.

I wanted to take a look at the best three player combos around baseball to see how the McCutchen/Martin/Harrison trio matched up. I quickly found that after tonight’s games, the Pirates’ group ranks first in combined WAR among position players. They combined for a 16.2 WAR. The next best came from the Angels, who combined for a 16.1 WAR thanks to Mike Trout (8.1), Howie Kendrick (4.1), and Erick Aybar (3.9).

I then included pitchers, to see how the Pirates ranked among all trios (no Pirates pitcher ranked in the top three in team WAR, which shouldn’t be surprising). There were a few other teams who jumped ahead of the Pirates, but they still remained high in the standings. The ranks were as follows.

1. Indians – 18.3 (Kluber, Brantley, Gomes)

2. Mariners – 16.9 (Hernandez, Seager, Cano)

3. Angels – 16.5 (Trout, Richards, Kendrick)

4. Pirates – 16.2 (McCutchen, Martin, Harrison)

If you were to pick the best three players from any team this year, then the Pirates’ trio would have given you the fourth-best results in baseball, and the best results in the NL. Think about that. No National League team can boast a trio of players that have been more productive this season than McCutchen, Martin, and Harrison. The closest team would be the Dodgers, who have a combined 15.3 WAR from Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, and Juan Uribe. Behind them is the Washington Nationals trio of Anthony Rendon, Jordan Zimmermann, and Jayson Werth, combining for a 14.9 WAR.

To recap, the Pirates have the best trio of position players in baseball, along with the best trio of players in the NL.

It might be difficult to pick the best of the group for the Pirates’ MVP this year, but it’s not hard to see that the group as a whole has made a huge impact. Maybe rather than debating which one should be the MVP, we can start referring to the collective group as the #MV3 (Side note: When looking up that tag, I noticed some people call Dwyane Wade “MV3” for some reason, although since I don’t acknowledge the NBA or basketball as a sport worth caring about, I’m going to go ahead and use the term for the Pirates).

Obviously it takes more than the best three player combo to be the best team. That’s probably why the Dodgers and Nationals are two of the best teams in the NL, while the Pirates are in the next tier behind them, despite having a better top three. The top three does allow a team to contend, and this trio has been a massive reason for the Pirates contending this year, along with their recent hot streak over the last few weeks. You hope that they keep this up throughout the playoffs, and that enough players from the rest of the team step up around them to give the Pirates a good chance at making a post-season run.

Links and Notes

**Pirates DSL Infielder Suspended For PED Use

**The Complete Pirates Fall Instructional League Roster, Including DSL Players

**Francisco Liriano Made $2 M in Performance Bonuses This Year

**Can the Pirates Lock Down Home Field in the Wild Card Game?

**Morning Report: Pirates Haven’t Had Much Success in Australia Yet

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13 COMMENTS

    • Curious how the Pirates top 5 of Cutch, Martin, Harrison, Walker, and Marte would stack up to others. Also, I think the Pirates would jump ahead of the other 3 AL teams ahead of them if Martin’s added value of game calling, pitch framing, and other defensive value not accounted for by WAR were included.

  1. Since MVP is a title that no one knows how you attain it, you could make a case for Huntington or Hurdle as the MVP. IMO, there should be solid guidelines for the selection. As far as the 3 mentioned, they are as good as any, but Volquez, Worley, Lirano could get votes also, without them we would not even be talking about the MV3’s.
    Fixing these couple issues would help.
    1. Should pitchers be an MVP candidate?
    2. Who should really vote for the MVP? Players, Coaches, GM’s. Please don’t say fans, writers or media of any kind.
    3. What is the criteria to make it as an MVP? Should player stats alone decide the winner? Should sabermetrics decide the winner? Should it be a combination of stats and sabermetrics.

    • Each team knows who is it’s and so the voting should start at the team level – each teams picks it’s MVP – could be pitcher, could be position player.

      Sabermetrics takes over after each team votes.

      Yes pitchers should be an MVP candidate, but wins / losses should not be used as a measuring stick of a pitcher’s success. There are too many other factors at play (defense, run support, etc.).

      For a pitcher, I would start by looking at innings pitched, strikeouts per inning, and WHIP. I might also look at some measure of how hard a pitcher is hit (SLUG% – BA% against?), some measure of a pitcher’s fielding prowess (fielding percentage, % runners caught stealing, etc.), and maybe even a pitcher’s batting / base running success in the NL.

      If that sounds like putting pitchers at a higher level of scrutiny, my answer is they should receive a higher level of scrutiny.

      Ultimately, a batter has absolute control over his own destiny. It is only him in the batter’s box. A pitcher has 8 other guys working with him.

  2. Good article Tim, but saying that the pirates have the 3 best players in the NL based solely on W.A.R. might be a little exaggerated.

    • Even not looking at WAR, they still can easily say they have 3 position players that rival any other trio. 2 of them hit over .300, all of them play at least league average defense or better. You get a possible batting title guy, a possible MVP guy, and a catcher hitting very well that plays above average defense. Odd as it sounds, i cant think of another team in the NL that have a trio of positions players that is clearly more solid as those 3.

      • As much for not doing much with Bucs as for not failing enough with Giants? A double agent!

        I don’t think Ish would be in the running for that anyway. Gotta be a straight up vote between Frieri and MMartinez.

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