Over the last six weeks, Andrew McCutchen has gone from the front-runner for the National League MVP award to just one out of a group of contenders. Yet McCutchen remains the most valuable player in the NL, even though the Pirates' dream season has taken a turn for the worse.
The Pirates are 2-11 over their last 13 games, falling out of wild-card contention over that stretch. During that stretch, McCutchen has hit six home runs. While his struggles in August were well-documented, McCutchen cannot be blamed for the Bucs' most recent fall from grace.
The MVP award is an individual award based on a season's worth of play, and over the course of this season McCutchen has produced better than any other player in the National League. His 7.5 WAR ties him with Ryan Braun for the best total in the NL, and this total includes poor defensive ratings for McCutchen that most scouts would say are inaccurate.
McCutchen has been the best offensive player in the league, and he has been so while playing a good center field. His August struggles are more than offset by how far he outpaced the rest of the field during the season's first four months.
But the MVP award goes to the most valuable player, you say, not just the best. And Braun and Buster Posey are both playing in pennant races, so they get extra credit.
Or, as one scout put it in a recent ESPN article: "If the Pirates wind up finishing in third or fourth place, could they have finished in third or fourth place without Andrew McCutchen? I think you know the answer. But would the Giants have won their division without Buster Posey?"
Yes, the Pirates could have finished in fourth place without McCutchen because the Cubs are rebuilding and the Astros are historically bad. But would the Pirates be within one game of .500, with a chance of ending a 20-year losing streak, without McCutchen? Would the Pirates have revived interest in baseball in Pittsburgh without McCutchen? Of course not.
Nobody picked the Pittsburgh Pirates to make the playoffs this season. No ESPN personalities. No scouts. Nobody even picked the Pirates to flirt with .500 this season. This team has significantly outperformed expectations, and McCutchen sits at the heart of that. That clearly makes him valuable.
Given the likelihood that at least a small subset of voters will keep Braun off the ballot due to this winter's steroid allegations, the MVP race will almost certainly come down to McCutchen and Posey.
Posey has had an excellent season, announcing himself on the national stage with elite offensive numbers from the catcher position. He is a worthy MVP candidate and deserves all of the attention that he has received.
But McCutchen should not be punished for the fact that the San Francisco Giants have a better pitching staff than the Pittsburgh Pirates; that is not something he should control. Andrew McCutchen has been the best player in the National League over the course of the entire season, not just the last six weeks, and he deserves to be named the MVP.