Over the last two seasons, there has been a trend in Pittsburgh. Find a surprising player who is having a great season, and suggest that he’s the real MVP of the team. Last year it was Russell Martin and Josh Harrison — two players who had great performances and played big roles in the Pirates’ success. This year there are some early rumblings for Francisco Cervelli, who has been a big surprise after coming over from the Yankees in a trade to replace Martin. And it’s almost like these topics come up because the real MVP of this team is so good and so automatic that he gets disqualified because he’s expected to be this good.
Make no mistake about it: Andrew McCutchen is the MVP of the Pirates. And with this, there should be no debate.
Last night’s heroics aside, the Pirates have plenty of examples to show why McCutchen is the heart of this lineup and the team. Take the start of the season for example. McCutchen posted a .571 OPS through May 6th, which marked the end of a five game losing streak for the team, and marked his low point on the year. Since that point, McCutchen has been back to his old self, with a .351/.449/.607 line in 256 plate appearances. The Pirates were 12-15 through May 6th. They have been 40-20 since then.
Granted, this could be chalked up to coincidence. More people than McCutchen were struggling in April and early May. And it’s not just McCutchen turning things around since that point. But there’s a definite correlation between McCutchen heating up and the team heating up.
You could also look at last year’s infamous hit by pitch in Arizona. McCutchen went down after being hit in the back, and the team proceeded to go 5-10 with McCutchen out, starting with that game. He returned, resumed his MVP numbers, and they went 24-13 the rest of the year.
Once again, maybe it’s not all McCutchen. There were several other players that went down during that 5-10 stretch, and they all started to return around the same time McCutchen returned. But that’s another recent example of how the team struggled the moment McCutchen went down.
But if you want proof that McCutchen is the MVP of this team, then you don’t need heroics, or correlations between him struggling and the team struggling. All you need to do is look at the results. From 2012-2015, McCutchen ranks second in all of baseball in WAR, and first in the NL. The only player better during that time has been Mike Trout. If you are the best player in the league, and a perennial MVP candidate, then you are absolutely the MVP of your team.
Sunday Night – 8:05 PM start
Tim Cooney (0-0, 3.95 ERA) vs. Francisco Liriano (5-6, 2.99 ERA)
Left-handed rookie Tim Cooney will make his third start for the Cardinals. He came up for a spot start in April 30th and was hit hard against the Phillies, going 2.1 innings allowing three earned runs on seven hits. He was called back up to the major league squad to start on July 2nd, and the results have been better since. He gave up two runs in six innings on July 2nd against the Padres, and he allowed one run in 5.1 innings on the 7th against the Cubs.
Cooney was on the fast track to the majors after being drafted in the third round of the 2012 amateur draft out of Wake Forest. In 14 starts for Triple-A Memphis this year, Cooney was 6-4 with a 2.74 ERA in 88.2 innings.
While researching the scouting report on Cooney, I found that Derek Shore of “The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com” broke it down well:
“In 2014, we learned that Cooney is one of those good/bad kind of pitchers. If his stuff is playing that night and the match-up is favorable, he can be dominant. When it’s not, he can be beaten up pretty badly at times.
Cooney does not overpower anyone, but has plus command and an ability to change speeds with his four pitches. They include a high 80s-to-low 90s fastball, his best secondary pitch – a change-up that he can rely on in any count – and two breaking pitches that somewhat lag behind, a curve and a slider. The use of both will be limited at the highest level but offer a different look in odd counts.
The lack of a dependable breaking pitch is limiting him in trying to put away left-handed hitters and making him use his change-up more often, resulting in more home runs allowed. Holding big flies to a minimum will be a key if Cooney is ever going to be a big-league starter every fifth day.”
According to FanGraphs, Cooney’s fastball has averaged 89.5 MPH in his three starts. At the major league level this year, he has split up the usage of his curveball and changeup, averaging 74.3 MPH and 82.3 MPH, respectively.
Francisco Liriano takes the mound for the Pirates, and he has been very consistent for them over the past month and a half. Since being rocked against Minnesota on May 19th for seven earned runs in two innings, Liriano has a 2.08 ERA in 60.2 innings. That does include the debacle in Washington a few weeks ago, where nothing seemed to go right for the Pirates (five runs in 5.2 innings for Liriano). Over that span, opponents are hitting .193 with a .498 OPS against Liriano.