Respecting Andrew McCutchen

The NL MVP race has a lot of good candidates. Clayton Kershaw is having an amazing year for the Dodgers. Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter have been fantastic for the Cardinals. Joey Votto is his usual excellent self. Paul Goldschmidt is the run production candidate, and has had a great season on his own merits. This feels like the kind of year where a lot of different guys are going to get votes, and the winner probably won’t be unanimous.

But let’s not let the reality of a solid field of candidates obscure the fact that Andrew McCutchen is pulling away from the field. He might not look like a traditional MVP, but McCutchen is having a remarkable season.

McCutchen is going to be seen as the “WAR Candidate”, because he isn’t leading the league in any of the traditional metrics that MVP voters have used to pick their winner. He has just 19 home runs, putting him in a tie for 15th with non-MVP candidates like Adam LaRoche. He’s tied with Marlon Byrd for 10th in RBIs. He has a shot at leading the league in batting average, but he has to pass three guys to do it, and leading the league in BA isn’t as prestigious as it once was.

But once you put the triple crown numbers away, McCutchen’s greatness shines through. He’s 4th in the league in doubles, 10th in triples, 7th in walks, and 5th in stolen bases. Oh, and he plays a pretty mean center field, ranking 4th among NL CFs in UZR this year.

Need more? McCutchen is also #5 in the NL in baserunning value from things other than stolen bases. Baseball Reference tracks a stat called “bases taken”, which measures how often a baserunner goes more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double when possible; McCutchen has done this 65% of the time, against a league average of 40%. No NL regular has been as good at this as McCutchen.

How about durability? He’s played in 141 games, and of the NL MVP candidates, only Joey Votto (147) and Paul Goldschmidt (143) have played more often, and with all due respect to first baseman, they don’t play positions that require as much physical exertion.

McCutchen is basically a player with no flaws. There are no holes to poke in his resume. If you really like players on winning teams, well, the Pirates are headed to the postseason for the first time in 20 years. If you put a lot of emphasis on late season performance under the theory that those games somehow mean more, well, McCutchen is hitting .371/.457/.608 since the All-Star Break. No matter what narrative you think an MVP somehow needs to live up to, McCutchen fits the bill. You cannot construct a reasonable test for MVP that Andrew McCutchen does not pass. I’m not even sure you could make an unreasonable one.

I love Yadier Molina, and there’s little question he’s underrated by current metrics that don’t quantify his value to the Cardinals pitching staff. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, and is having his best season yet. Joey Votto remains consistently under appreciated. Matt Carpenter has been one of the primary reasons the Cardinals are an elite team yet again. But Andrew McCutchen has been better than all of them.

Among NL hitters with 500+ plate appearances (sorry, Jayson Werth), McCutchen leads the league in wRC+. Even if you think everything about WAR is absolute bupkis, McCutchen has earned the top spot simply through his hitting. Votto and Goldschmidt have been terrific, but neither one has been as good at the plate as the Pirates center fielder. And then there’s everything else that he does besides hit, which no other candidate (perhaps besides Molina, depending on how much value you want to give him for the parts of catcher defense we aren’t capturing) can really keep up with.

This is all just the long hand way of spelling out why McCutchen has racked up +7.5 WAR this year, and has a pretty good shot at finishing north of +8.0 on the season. Carpenter and Votto are tied at +6.0, while Molina’s at +4.9 plus whatever bonus you want to give him for being an elite defensive catcher. The truth of the matter is that, right now, McCutchen is kind of blowing away the field, at least on the hitter side of things.

If you think that pitchers should be evaluated solely by the runs they allow, with no attempt to extract defensive performance from run prevention, then you could still make a strong case for Clayton Kershaw. But even then, using RA9-WAR puts Kershaw marginally ahead, making it a virtual tie.

I know that it’s somehow considered less valuable to be good at everything rather than great at one thing and lousy at a few others, but let’s not let our national bias towards specialization cause us to overlook the sensational season Andrew McCutchen is having for the Pirates. He isn’t the only NL player having a great year, but his great year is a bit better than the others.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


94 Responses to “Respecting Andrew McCutchen”

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  1. Eminor3rd says:

    I’m astonished at how he remains underrated despite all the publicity the Pirates have been getting. Didn’t he fall to like 25 on the ESPN Franchise Player draft? Someone took Cespedes ahead of him, lol.

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  2. IZZY2112 says:

    I feel pretty confident that if the season were to end today, it would be a competition between McCutchen and Kershaw. I think most mainstream writers have been picking those two over others. Maybe if Arizona was in a playoff chase, Goldschmidt would win.

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  3. Andy says:

    Is McCutcheon the poor man’s Mike Trout? No disrespect intended. They both do everything well, but Trout is just a little better at everything, at least offensively. Seems to me they are very similar type of players, and they both suffer in MVP voting because of the lack of specialization, as the article puts it.

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    • I’m not trying to be rude when I say this (because people misspell it all the time, including Pittsburgh and national media members), but his name is Andrew McCutchen.

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    • Brandon says:

      Wow. Look at their lines – other than K%, Trout is just slightly better in basically every category.

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      • RC says:

        He’s also 4 years younger, which is a big deal.

        Also, saying .336/.437/.567 is a little better than .326/.405/.519 is a bit of an understatement. 30 points of OBP and 50 of SLG isn’t a little.

        McCutchen is great, but Trout is something totally different.

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        • beejeez says:

          And yet 200+ points of OPS doesn’t seem to convince Trout fans that Cabrera may be a little more valuable.

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        • Steve says:

          This is about McCutchen being the NL MVP. If Trout were in the NL then he probably does get MVP over McCutchen but he’s not so he’s irrelevant to this article. He would get my vote for AL MVP over Cabrera though.

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        • Eric J Feczko says:

          @beejeez:

          and yet 29+ stolen bases, and 28+ UZR/150 doesn’t seem to convince Cabrera fans that a top-defensive, basestealing centerfielder with an OPS over 1 is more valuable than a horrific-defensive, piddling slow third baseman with an OPS over 1.2.

          You don’t need UZR to note that the difference in defensive value for position and quality of play is vast between these two players. Hitting (let alone OPS) is far from the only facet in baseball. Trout is superior to Cabrera in literally every other aspect.

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        • ricer says:

          OPS difference is less than 100 now FYI.
          Cabrera’s OPS has fallen below 1.1.

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        • Brian Cartwright says:

          neither Trout nor McCutchen throw very well – but that’s about the only weakness I can find for either. There should be our two MVPs

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    • Luke in MN says:

      McCutchen definitely suffers a bit by being in a world that also includes Trout. Buxton gets comparisons to Trout and McCutchen often, and it’s absolutely absurd, but I know myself and other Twins fans will have thoughts like, “Gee only a McCutchen comp, not a Trout comp?”

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  4. olethros says:

    As a Cardinals fan, I support this.

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    • Brian says:

      I’m a Cards fan too and I agree. Not only that, I think McCutchen will win the award. Kershaw will be in the running, but no way the BBWAA gives the MVP to a guy who only win 16-17 games (Cy Young, sure, but Verlander had to win 24 games to snag an MVP). Molina and Carpenter are defensible choices, but there’s no consensus accumulating around them. McCutchen has the stats, the narrative, the gaudy stretch-run numbers. I think he should be and will be the MVP.

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    • Gary Meadows says:

      +1 here

      I think Yadi would have made it a pretty awesome trifecta had he not missed time with injury. You’d have two great, albeit very different hitters, both of whom are underrated by traditional stats, and the wildcard pitcher who might be the most dominant player in the game right now. It’d be a fun vote, that’s for sure.

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  5. #6org says:

    #6org

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    • Schide says:

      Thank you for your support for the Pittsburgh Pirates as the 6th best organization in all of baseball.

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    • Spit Ball says:

      Yeah, I’m having a lousy day too. Bringing up this old stupid line and pinning it on an awesome writer and cancer survivor does not make me feel better. I’m just glad Dave endures and continues to challenge my mind.

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      • #6org says:

        Awesome writer? He is constantly wrong and has zero credibility as an analyst.

        Cancer survivor? I wouldn’t put it past him to have faked the whole thing for attention.

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        • LK says:

          I must say, it’s pretty difficult to erase any doubt whatsoever about whether or not you’re a dick with only 2 comments. Well done.

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        • Eminor3rd says:

          Wow. What an asshole. Don’t you have a job to do or something? I’ll never understand the brain of the internet troll.

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        • chuckb says:

          Douche.

          And a coward, to boot, since you don’t even have stones enough to include your name. It’s really easy to be so ballsy when no one knows who uuou are.

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  6. Bay Area Bucco says:

    No doubt he’s MVP. Especially in terms of “most valuable.” the pirates hitting as a team i kind of bad, and they would be nowhere without him

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  7. “You cannot construct a reasonable test for MVP that Andrew McCutchen does not pass. I’m not even sure you could make an unreasonable one.”

    Challenge accepted: “XX RBI, that doesn’t really do it for me. He’s not even the best RBI guy on his own team.”

    That’s an actual thing someone who is paid to analyze baseball said about two weeks ago. It’s not a reasonable test, but it’s a test a lot of people still employ.

    Seriously, though. Hard for me to argue for anyone other than Cutch as of this moment.

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    • Schide says:

      Harold Reynolds?

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      • Bucco in STL says:

        It was on MLB Network, but I don’t recall if it was Reynolds or not. Same commentator then tried to present Puig as a possibble NL MVP canidate, which was quickly ridiculed with the clever quip “…and how many RBIs does Puig have?”

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        • JMo37 says:

          If I had to bet it was Amzinger, the host of what used to be TWIB and is now the “Player Twitter Poll Question”.

          How can you replace TWIB in baseball with ‘tweeter’ anything??

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  8. Thought says:

    “I know that it’s somehow considered less valuable to be good at everything rather than great at one thing and lousy at a few others, but let’s not let our national bias towards specialization cause us to overlook the sensational season Andrew McCutchen is having for the Pirates.”

    I don’t think the bias is “national” so much as it is “natural”. There is a preference for “superb at one thing and OK at others” over “great at everything” in almost every field.

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    • Mcneildon says:

      Yes, I believe the Well-Rounded Man was thoroughly disparaged by F. S. Fitzgerald in the Great Gatsby. And, Robert Redford played Gatsby and…The Natural. Ergo, natural bias.

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  9. Eric J Feczko says:

    A center fielder who has a .397 wOBA (fourth in the NL) and a 158 wRC+ (2nd in the NL behind Werth)? He’s an excellent defensive centerfielder who is hitting like a first baseman. That’s an MVP season, no question.

    Even ignoring advanced stats, he still has a .405 OBP (3rd in the NL) and 27 stolen bases (2nd among NL centerfielders). On top of that, he’s one of the prime reasons the pirates are winning this year. By any argument, McCutchen should be the NL MVP.

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  10. Youthful Enthusiast says:

    FWIW, McCutchen has a higher WAR than Miguel Cabrera, the “runaway” AL MVP.

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    • Andy says:

      He’s fortunate, though, that Hanley Ramirez has played only about half a season. Ramirez WAR is currently 4.8. If he had played in all the Dodgers’ games and maintained that pace, his WAR would be 8.9. Not to mention that the Dodgers started their remarkable turnaround just about when RAmirez and Puig joined the team.

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  11. Seth says:

    He’s definitely the lead MVP Candidate for name misspelling….McCutcheon. Is there another prominent person named McCutcheon? I have never seen it spelled that way other than people spelling his name wrong.

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  12. murphym45 says:

    As a Cardinals fan, I was thinking about this today as I contemplated the MVP case for Matt Carpenter. Think Cutch has to be considered the MVP favorite, he has excellent all-around production, and the voters will certainly give him bonus points to leading a team out of a historically dark period into the playoffs.
    If it weren’t for Cutch, then I’d say there would be a case for Carp, given his excellent on-base skills, doubles, and solid defense up the middle. He ranks 8th in wRC+, and Cutch is the only player that ranks ahead of him that plays a premium defensive position adequately (sorry, Choo).

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    • rotowizard says:

      I love Matt Carpenter, he’s everything I love about baseball. But, right or wrong, there is no way the voters give the award to a guy with 10 HR who isn’t even considered the best player on his own team.

      Historically the closest thing I could find in recent history are (HR/SB/BA) Rod Carew’s ’77 season (14/23/.388 w/9.5 WAR), Barry Larkin’s ’95 season (15/51/.319 w/5.7 WAR) and Ichiro’s ’01 season (8/56/.350 w/7.5 WAR). There are a few others like Joe Morgan, Willie McGee and Keith Hernandez.

      But Pedroia’s ’08 season is the best comparison, and he was still a near 20/20 player. Traditional stats matter in MVP voting. Even if a guy hit .300 with 5 HR and 5 SB, but had 60 doubles and 20 triples and a wOBA of .450 and played great D and had 9 WAR, I still don’t think that guy wins an MVP vote.

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      • murphym45 says:

        Oh I agree completely, I was just thinking about whether or not there was a real case that he should be considered for MVP. My conclusion was that if it weren’t for McCutchen, the answer would be yes. Regardless, I hope he gets a few votes, he deserves that at the very least.

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    • baseballbaseball says:

      what about david wright? and posey is right there too

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      • Fastpiece says:

        LMAO @ Posey

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        • baseballbaseball says:

          “He ranks 8th in wRC+, and Cutch is the only player that ranks ahead of him that plays a premium defensive position adequately”

          this is what i was refering too. not suggesting any of these players, carpeter included, should win the mvp award….

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      • Za says:

        Wright got hurt at a point where he was leading the NL in WAR but hasn’t played in a month. His team is trying to solidify its hold on one of the top 10 draft slots for next year instead of competing for the playoffs. That also goes against his record. Incidentally, Harvey was leading NL pitchers in WAR when he went down as well.

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  13. cass says:

    Jayson Werth is now the best hitter in the National League? And his team is going to miss the playoffs? Wow.

    I knew he was getting up there, but didn’t realize he had moved into the lead in wRC+. Cutch’s defense is better, of course, but still. Wow.

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  14. baseballbaseball says:

    look back to 2011, elsbury vs verlander. elsbury’s #s are slightly better than cutch this year, and kershaw is slightly better than verlander. interesting comparrison anyways. if you voted JV in 2011, how do you not go kershaw in 2013?

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  15. Utah Dave says:

    As a long suffering Pirates fan I really hope Cutch wins the award. If you take him off the Pirates I don’t think they are a playoff team. And he is solid in every aspect of the game – both measurable and immeasurable. But if the D-backs were going to make the playoffs I think one could make a pretty strong argument for Paul Goldschmidt.

    I watch the Pirates almost every game (okay, I couldn’t stand to watch most of last weekend in St. Louis) and he just keeps on getting hits and getting on base two or three times almost every night.

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    • Bip says:

      As someone who rarely watches the pirates, so this is named inhea limited sample, he impresses me as the kind of player who is always having fun, and has a very upbeat personality. I’ll be really glad if he wins, and I’m a Dodger fan who’s rooting for Kershaw

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  16. August Fagerstrom says:

    “Plays a pretty mean center field”?

    We’re talking about the guy with the career -15.9 UZR over 5 seasons, correct? Didn’t we lambast the voters when he won the Gold Glove last year? Come on Dave, you know better than to use single-season UZR numbers

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    • Bob says:

      As one whose watched McCutchen’s last five years of baseball pretty much everyday, his defense left a bit to be desired (arm isn’t that strong or accurate, trouble on balls over his head), and last year he won a GG based on his bat. But this year, he’s been an absolutely amazing CF, and almost all of his flaws are gone (arm still isn’t great, but now more accurate, can go and get anything that any other CF could and more). There were times the Pirates used extreme OF shifts to cover PNC, and one can argue that killed his UZR for a time. But now with Marte flanking that gap, he’s in a more normalized spot.

      So yeah, he plays a pretty mean CF.

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    • Utah Dave says:

      Can’t question the numbers. But the MVP is based on what is done this season. If a guy hit .220 with 10 HR and 45 RBI one year and then .330 with 35 HR and 130 RBI the next year, does he become less eligible for the MVP because of the previous season? Or have I missed your point?

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    • chuckb says:

      Unsurprisingly, someone misstates single-season UZR numbers. The issue with single-season UZR numbers is not that they might be horribly wrong. The issue is that it’s not enough of a sample to be predictive. It is very likely that the numbers are close to being correct; i think Dave has estimated +or- 5 runs or so. They’re just not dependable for making judgments about how well the fielder will play in the future.

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  17. Mike B. says:

    So McCutchen is kind of the 1991 Terry Pendleton of this season. In ’91 Pendleton did lead the league in hits and batting average, but it was his very solid all-around performance (including good defense at third base) that got him the MVP award.

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  18. Lil Bow Wow says:

    I never got the respect I had coming, either.

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  19. Mike Y. says:

    Dave, you are spot on. Is “being good at everything” the new market inefficiency?

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  20. Hurtlockertwo says:

    I hope he wins MVP, Pirate fans nave suffered long enough.

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  21. Tim says:

    Baseball Reference tracks a stat called “bases taken”, which measures how often a baserunner goes more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double when possible; McCutchen has done this 65% of the time, against a league average of 40%. No NL regular has been as good at this as McCutchen.

    Treating this as a skill is kind of ridiculous. Obviously it’s going to matter far more where the ball was hit than anything involving the runner, and a season’s worth of sample size is pretty small.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      And yet, all of the guys who lead the league in bases taken rate are fast and all the guys who are bad at it are slow. What an amazing coincidence.

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    • cass says:

      Have you ever watched an actual baseball game, Tim? You’ll notice that the slow players and pitchers usually don’t go from first to third on a single, but the faster players quite often do.

      I don’t know how anyone could be reasonably familiar with the game of baseball and not think this is a skill. This isn’t complicated. You’ve never been frustrated by pitchers or catchers standing on second after a well-hit single? Really?

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  22. Don says:

    He should score a few points for his resemblance to Omar Little, too.

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  23. chuckb says:

    What about Brandon Phillips, RBI machine. He’s got to be a top 5 guy easily.

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  24. Shauntell says:

    Don’t understand why Kershaw is considered by far the leader of the pack for the Cy, even in these circles. Harvey’s FIP and K/BB are considerably better, and he still has a .5 WAR lead while throwing 30 less innings than Kershaw. And Wainwright is right there as well…

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    • TheGrandslamwich says:

      A .5 difference in WAR when both players are at the top of the game is really splitting hairs. And then in RA9-WAR, which many people prefer, Kershaw has a 7.8-6 advantage over Harvey. Harvey may have the better rate stats and thus a better FIP, but there is no way that would overshadow Kershaw’s dominance and ERA over what will likely be 50+ more innings.

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  25. Freezy says:

    Complete joke if anyone makes the argument about RBIs. The dude gets walked to get to whoever is behind him every time a guy is in scoring position. At least watch a game or two before saying that. Also, take a look at how difficult it is for a righty to hit a homerun or find a gap at PNC. He is the first person in twenty years to give the Pirates a glimmer of hope. This team doesn’t come close to being successful without him. He flipped an entire franchise around.

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  26. Well Really says:

    Will McC actually win? Yes, he’s pulling away, but not as much as Trout and it’s generally accepted that Trout won’t have a chance in hell.

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  27. Geoff Williams says:

    “He has a shot at leading the league in batting average, but he has to pass three guys to do it, and leading the league in BA isn’t as prestigious as it once was”.

    Last year both batting titles were won by the MVPs. I agree BA is losing prestige and BA was not the reason Caberra beat Trout.
    I think that a few MVP voters do put a lot of weight on who win the batting title and will continue to do so for a while.

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  28. Carter says:

    Chuckb, you represent everything that is still wrong with baseball today. You said Phillips has to be in the top five RBI machine! Brandon might be the third best player on his team this year. Votto is better, and probably Bruce too. RBI means nothing, Batting average means very close to nothing, and so on.

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  29. Noah Baron says:

    I just want to point out that Harvey is still leading the NL in WAR for pitchers. He deserves the CY Young. Is he going to get it? Of course not, because he missed all of September, plays on a bad team, and doesn’t have enough wins. But he sure deserves it.

    Which brings me back to this: Why is Kershaw in the discussion for NL MVP if he isn’t even the best pitcher in the NL? Probably will deserve the CY Young by the end of the season, but still.

    Also, people underestimate the greatness of Harvey and Wright. If they both played a full season and the Mets were decent, they could have swept the MVP and CY Young.

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