As the centerpiece of the Pittsburgh Pirates' 2012 turnaround, Andrew McCutchen has been thrust into the National League MVP conversation. Right now, he is probably the favorite to win the award.
McCutchen has long been underrated, so it is good to see him getting the national recognition he deserves. But he is more than just an MVP candidate.
McCutchen is a five-tool talent who has improved in every one of his professional seasons, to the point where he is now the best player in all of baseball.
A Balanced Weapon on Offense
There is nothing Andrew McCutchen cannot do on offense. The combination of his approach, bat speed, power, and speed make him a threat every time he steps in the batter's box.
McCutchen has been a good all-around hitter for years, entering the league as a lead-off hitter for the Pirates in 2009 and posting an on-base percentage of .364 or better in each season. He has clearly taken the leap in 2012, with an other-wordly .426 OBP despite a walk rate that is actually his lowest as a Pirate.
Because of his quick bat, McCutchen does not strike out as much as a batter with his overall profile would expect to. Because of his speed, McCutchen routinely legs out infield hits that others would not. But McCutchen's power is what has propelled him to his elite status.
The Pirates' center fielder leads the majors in slugging this season, and it isn't all that close. Second-place David Ortiz' slugging percentage is closer to sixth-place Ryan Braun's than it is to McCutchen's. Given how much McCutchen brings to the table other than his power, he has definitively been the best hitter in baseball this year.
At this point, there are really only five players in the conversation for best in baseball, based on hitting prowess alone: McCutchen, Joey Votto, Ryan Braun, David Wright, and Mike Trout.
An All-Around Player
McCutchen augments his value as one of the best hitters in the game with above-average defense and baserunning.
While advanced metrics do not seem to like McCutchen's defense, scouts have always expected to be a well above-average center fielder. Game tape would support this assessment, and it is likely that if McCutchen is not yet elite defensively he will be at some point due to his natural talent and instincts.
McCutchen is also a weapon on the basepaths due to the same speed that garners him so many infield hits.
In addition to being one of the best hitters in baseball, Andrew McCutchen is a plus defender at an elite position who adds value with his baserunning. The only player who can realistically compete with McCutchen is Mike Trout.
The Perfect Combination of Experience and Potential
It is admittedly difficult to determine who is a better player between Andrew McCutchen and Mike Trout: the ultimate exercise in nit-picking. But McCutchen gets the nod because of his experience.
What Trout is doing in his first full season is incredible, but McCutchen is performing at the same level with several past years of solid play behind him. McCutchen is only 25, so while Trout's youth is valuable McCutchen's skills will not be declining in the near future.
Pirate fans have waited a long time for a superstar to replace Barry Bonds. Their patience has finally been rewarded: The best player in all of baseball currently plies his trade in Pittsburgh, and he isn't going anywhere soon.