Andrew McCutchen Shows Why He’s The Obvious MVP For the Pirates

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/” 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.

  • Great point but the photo looks like he’s like 60!

  • This article has been much needed, especially the first two paragraphs. Thank you. That is all.

  • I thought team MVP went to the player who was the biggest upgrade at his position compared to the prior year?

    • That would be MIP….Most Improved Player

      • I wonder if there is any analysis out there about how these MVP candidates are “pitched around.” I am not talking about intentional walks. It seems between the brushbacks and the unhittable pitches Cutch is seeing fewer strikes. He is also showing and voicing his frustration with it. Maybe it is true of all these MVP types. Our 4 and 5 guys terrify no one and it seems the opposition is taking their chances more and more with those behind Cutch. No surprise.

  • Bell just went yard in the FG….2 run shot

  • I have said all along that Pirates win the Central. I would make only subtle trades, no big splashes….I would look at David DeJesus, Tyler Clippard and maybe Ben Zobrist….We need another BP piece and an upgrade the bench. Tabata would be up here as well. I read these wild stories of Tabata being a notorious womanizer on road trips and tries to pull DR players into his nonsense. If Polanco and Locke/Morton fall completely to pieces we always have the waiver deadline August 31 to address needs.

  • You could go back to 2009 and he’s still #2.

  • While I would agree that cutch is the pirates mvp this year my question is this, where did you get that pic? Looks like cutch has been moved to the #2 position, to put it nicely.

  • But is he the league MVP?

    • If season concluded today, Harper would likely be unanimous selection for NL MVP. Point of story is Cutch is MVP of Pirates. As he goes, so goes the team.

      • I just really have a hard time sometimes with the MVP discussion. Has Harper been the best player in all of major league baseball? Yeah, probably so far. But his team also is drastically underperforming to this point. iF his 2nd half doesn’t match his first half, which is entirely possible since his first half OPS was something like 1.170…then maybe Cutch does get some first place votes and move into contention. Harper deserves the award right now, despite the fact that his team has underperformed, but that is not always the case…he’s just been that damn good.

        • IF Harper had not been playing……instead of being in contention, his team would be looking like the Reds right now. Only thing stopping Harper will be health, similar to Stanton (last year and this year) and Goldschmidt last year

        • Harper has the Nats in 1st place despite serious injuries to Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, and Jason Werth – plus less serious injuries to Denard Span, Doug Fister, and Stephen Strasburg. That’s six very good players who have all had DL stints – and they are still in 1st, largely due to Harper.

      • mysonisnamedafterRoberto
        July 12, 2015 1:48 pm

        Scott you are right. Harper is statically having a historic season. But what Cutch does transcend the statistical data. His leadership on and off the field is measured but should be. Cutch is one of the top three players in the game right now when you consider the whole ballplayer.

        • I’d have to disagree. He is amongst the top ten without a doubt, but top 3 is kinda ridiculous. Harper and Trout are definitely 1 and 2. Stanton is better, Goldschmidt is better, Cabrera maybe not because his defense is so poor….and there are some young players like Machado and arenado which aren’t far behind. I’d say probably 5th best position player at best, 7th at worst. Still- that’s pretty awesome.

      • Cutch is nowhere near close to league mvp, Honestly, not even in the conversation this year……yet…..I was in the camp early in the year where I thought he was no longer going to be the player he had been because of his legs…..and while the basestealing tool is all but gone, nothing else is. He is not on the downside as I thought he may be, on the eye test (again I will not use UZR to judge a player’s defense) defensively he looks much better this year , similar to 2013, and his clutch numbers with 2 outs at the plate cannot be argued with. Team MVP, absolutely. at least on the hitting side.

        • I wouldnt say “nowhere near” if he keeps raking at this clip and we win the Central, he will be in the convo….

          • He will get votes…and deservedly so.

          • notice i said yet in my statement. precludes the rest of the season

          • I saw the “yet”…My issue is the “nowhere near”

            He’s certainly in the convo, especially after last night.

            • Yeah, he’s 5th in WAR in the NL in position players. MVP generally carries the notion that your team contends, so Frazier (ahead in WAR), Goldschmidt (ahead in WAR) and Stanton (ahead in WAR) seem unlikely to actually win.

              Of players near the top in WAR on a contending team, its Harper-Cutch-Posey. Cutch certainly seems in the thick of the MVP situation unless they give it to a guy on a terrible team.

        • Poll the GMs and ask them after Trout who would you build your team around. Bet Cutch is the next in line. That’s MVP enough for me.

          • i dont think i have that access, but if you took cutch that early i think youd be silly