Maybe one of the hardest parts about rooting for a franchise that went 20 years in between winning seasons was the false hope. The prospects and players that were supposed to be the ones that could put the Pittsburgh Pirates on their backs and take them back to relevancy. The Chad Hermansens that were supposed to be transcendant talents that never materialized into anything, or the Jason Kendalls who fell short of superstardom after promising starts to their careers.
And so I don't think that it's much of a coincidence that a month after the Pirates' first playoff run in two decades concluded, that Andrew McCutchen won the 2013 NL MVP Award in a route. Before the results were revealed tonight, McCutchen was considered a pretty heavy favorite to win the award. As it turns out, he won in a landslide; the only two voters that didn't put him in first place on their ballots were the two writers from St. Louis that voted.
It's hard to do justice to Andrew McCutchen at this point. For a long time, he looked like an upper-echelon "toolsy outfielder" prospect; speed, great defense, gap power, and good enough plate discipline to round the package out. Through the minors and the first three years of his MLB career, he was always solid and occasionally spectacular. His home run power would pop up here and there, or he'd go through an extended stretch with a high batting average or a really impressive OBP, but up until 2012, he never really put everything together all at once.
Last year, he did. He hit .327/.400/.553 with 31 homers and 29 doubles and six triples, and he probably wouldn't won last year's MVP Award if the Pirates hadn't faded down the stretch. They did fade last year, though, and McCutchen did a little bit, too. Coming into spring training a lot of people (myself included) wondered if McCutchen had hit a high-water mark as a hitter in 2012. He'd never hit .300 for a full season at any point in his career, and a bunch of his on-base percentage was tied up in that number. Coming into this season, I expected 'Cutch's average to settle back down to around .280 while he kept some of the power gains he made last year. I figured he'd be a better hitter than he was from 2009-2011, but that he couldn't really approach what he did in 2012.
I was wrong. McCutchen hit .317/.404/.508 this year in a tougher offensive environment. His wRC+ this year (155) nearly matched his number from last year (158). He kept his average up, and while he gave a few home runs back, he replaced most of them with doubles, so his slugging percentage and isolated power stayed up. Instead of fading with various injuries down the stretch, his best monthly OPSes were in July (.994), August (1.019), and September (.994). His defense and baserunning both improved this year. This was more of a coronation than a debate; there's no better or more complete player in the National League than Andrew McCutchen right now.
Over the last two seasons, McCutchen has hit .322/.402/.531 in 314 games. Those numbers come with 67 doubles, 11 triples, 52 homers, 47 stolen bases (in 69 attempts), 148 walks, and 233 strikeouts. He played decent center field last year and very good center field this year. Before we put 2013 to bed and move into the offseason let's take a minute to appreciate Andrew McCutchen. For so many years, we all wondered what sort of player it would take to lead the Pirates out of the wilderness and back into relevance. Now, we know exactly what that player looks like.